There’s no denying the many benefits of the pushup. Not only is it a fantastic exercise to target the pecs, deltoids, and triceps, but it’s also much more of a full-body movement than people give it credit for. Numerous electrocardiogram (EKG) studies showcase the push-up as one of the most efficient exercises to engage your core muscles.
Moreover, the push-up is a very versatile exercise. It doesn’t require any equipment—just your bodyweight—so it can be performed anywhere, and it can be utilized as a strength exercise, corrective exercise, or as part of a metabolic conditioning circuit to make you hate life
What’s ironic is no one exercise gets more eye-rolls when I put it into a program than the pushup. Despite its well-known reputation as a staple exercise whenever I place it into a program, a lot of the guys I work with give me the look as if to say, “Really, Tony? What’s next? Plie squats and pink dumbbells?”
Funnily enough, despite the hoity-toity attitude, it’s rare for someone to walk in on Day 1 who can perform a properly executed pushup, let alone for several repetitions.
Pushup Mistake #1: You’re Not Using Your Hands
Don’t just place your palms on the ground and forget about them. Spread your fingers out as wide as you can. Grip the floor with your hands and simultaneously drive your palms down and twist them outward as if you were trying to rip the floor between them. Your elbows and biceps should rotate so that they face forward.
This helps provide more stability in your shoulders and tension throughout your whole body, so you’ll be more solid throughout your pushup.
Pushup Mistake #2: You Let Your Hips Sag
Another common mistake is allowing your hips to fall toward the floor. When this happens, it places a lot of stress on your lower back. It’s also just a passive approach. Get active!
To break this bad habit, think about bracing your abs and squeezing your abs throughout the movement. Doing so will elicit more full-body tension and help place your pelvis in the proper position.
Pushup Mistake #3: You Stick Your Neck Out
Poking your head forward as you lower yourself to the ground will place undue stress on your neck and perpetuate many of the common postural issues guys have from sitting at desks all day long.
Instead, keep your head behind your chest as you lower yourself toward the floor. Your chest should hit the floor first, not your face.
Pushup Mistake #4: You’re Not Using Your Shoulders
When you lower yourself toward the floor, your shoulder blades will retract, or come together. As you push away, however, you should allow your shoulder blades to protract. This is often called a “pushup plus.”
Your shoulder blades are meant to move around your rib cage during a pushup, and keeping them “glued” together throughout can cause some imbalances and shoulder problems down the road.
What If You’re Already a Push-Up Rock Star?
If you’re already someone who can perform a solid looking pushup, congrats. You’re like a bonafide unicorn!
As noted above: one of the main benefits of the pushup is how versatile it can be. There are a number of ways to make it more challenging and arduous. Here are two such progressions.
The Chaos Push-Up
This is a progression that’ll humble even the most ardent pushup expert. The added instability from the resistance band will provide more of a challenge to your core muscles and help you build shoulder stability.
Place a resistance band across a pair of J-hooks in a squat rack and assume a standard pushup position with your hands on the band, a little past shoulder width apart, and your feet on the floor.
The idea is to perform your reps while keeping the band “quiet.” It’s going to want to shake back and forth and every which way as you perform your reps, and your job is to prevent that from happening as best as you can. Lower yourself until your chest hits the band and then explode back up.
To make this variation even more challenging, you can either use a thinner band or place the resistance band lower to the ground. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can increase the range of motion by placing your feet on a bench,
ValSlide Bodysaw Pushup
Set up as you would for a standard pushup, except in this case you’ll have a ValSlide (or any furniture glider thingamajiggy) underneath one hand. You’ll then lower yourself toward the floor, “gliding” the hand on top of the Valslide forward in front of you. Be sure to keep your glutes and abs engaged so that your lower back doesn’t overextend.
Don’t be surprised if you wake up the next day and it hurts to cough; your abs will be on fire.