The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Pushup - Part 1: The Mechanics
PART 1 - MECHANICS
Seemingly simple, the pushup--done correctly-- is a challenging measure of upper body strength, shoulder flexibility, wrist flexibility, and core strength (yes, really...all of that).
You can tell a lot about a gym or a trainer based on how they teach (or don't teach) the pushup, and what path they use to build pushups in their clients. This is Part 1 of a 3-part blog series to develop correct pushups in volume. We'll define correct as: body position and range of motion that challenge and assess the measures listed above. Here are the key elements to a correct, full range of motion pushup.
- Body in plank position with head neutral (look about 2 feet in front of your fingers).
- Feet & legs completely together.
- Quads, butt, and belly squeezed tight.
- Shoulders directly above elbows, which are both directly above the wrists.
- Hands at, or slightly wider than shoulder width with fingers pointed forward. Place the thumbs beneath the point of the shoulder as a good guide.
- Keeping fingers pointed forward, twist arms so your elbows point mostly backward.
SCALING (modifying based on ability)
- If unable to hold a plank with hands on the floor for more than 10 seconds, elevate hands while maintaining the plank body position.
- Lean slightly forward to stack shoulders nearly above elbows and wrists. The higher your hands are elevated, the further your shoulders will be behind your elbows.
- You can use a bench, a desk, a table, or even luggage in your hotel room to elevate the hands.
A note about scaling. We don't generally use knee-pushups in our progression. We are not absolutist about this, but have found developing and maintaining the full plank from the beginning of the progression more beneficial in the long run (improved core and shoulder stability that carry over to other movements).
Holding a correct plank position is challenging (even those who can do lots of pushups). Our first step in teaching pushups is teaching the correct plank position, and then increasing duration of plank holds (gradually over weeks).
- Bend elbows and shift weight slightly forward (you'll be on your toes)
- Elbows track 45 degrees back (not out to the side)
- Head stays neutral (don't bow your neck)
- Maintain tight plank from setup (butt, quads, & belly squeezed)
- Lower body as far as possible without losing plank - this generally places the lower portion of the chest very close to, or in contact with the ground
- At the bottom, the elbows should be directly above the wrists
SCALING (modifying based on ability):
- As with the plank, elevate hands to scale the pushup.
- At the bottom, your elbows will be slightly behind your wrists.
- You may or may not contact the object used to elevate your hands; if you do, it will be lower towards the belly (instead of the chest). If your chest contacts the object, then you're elbows are likely shooting out to the sides instead 45 degrees back.
- As you progress in strength over time (weeks), you can decrease the elevation of your hands.
THE ASCENT (press)
- Maintain plank with neutral head.
- Squeeze butt and quads hard to ensure they don't lag behind.
- Press firmly through flat hands.
- Establish plank position at top with shoulders, elbows, and wrists stacked.
- Don't tuck chin on the way up, keep head neutral.
SCALING (modifying based on ability)
- Same mechanics as listed above
- At the top, your shoulders will be slightly behind your elbows
THE FULL PUSHUP & SCALED PUSHUP
Even weathered pushup veterans may find themselves challenged with these mechanics. It's OK to decrease volume, or, when form begins to fail, scale your pushups; it will pay dividends in the long run.
Part 2 of "How to Get a Pushup" will have a step-by-step progression to get you to your first pushup, or to increase the quality and quantity of your existing pushups.
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