Let’s talk about the push up – the full body plank, all the way to the ground and we can’t forget about the getting back up part – push up. Why is this dang thing so hard? We are strong women, but there’s just something missing that is making this move so challenging.
It’s Not All About Those Arms
A huge misconception about the push up is that it is ALL about arm strength. EEEERRRRK…wait a sec. There’s a little bit more to it than that. To move your body as one unit from the ground up, you’ll need a tight core. Core meaning your butt and abs and everything in between. When you squeeze your behind and tighten your center, you’re able to put your pelvis and spine into the proper alignment and recruit your entire midsection for this move.
I’m not here to tell you that you don’t need shoulder stability or arm strength, that’s not it at all. What I will say is that if you’re not able to hold your whole body in a scoop position, which you can see below, a push up will be extra challenging. Your back will start to sag (read: you’ll end up with low back pain) and your shoulders have to take on extra load. So, squeeze a piece of paper between your butt and bear down in your midsection like you got.to.go. You know what I mean?
Can you see the difference above? Try it yourself: one push up with that tight midsection and one without. Notice your back and the front of your shoulders and arms. The second one for me is always so much harder. I read a ton about this idea from Carl Paoli of GymnasticWOD and a lot of these concepts come from his teachings.
I always cue clients to “organize your body” and that means Get. Your. Body. Ready. To. Move. This tight core sets the tone for the rest of the movement. Once that’s in place then your shoulders and arms take over. You will need stability and strength there, but if you don’t have that tight core then we should work on that first. In the meantime, for some reference on getting a stable shoulder, check out this video.
The 1, 2, 3
There’s probably plenty of you who have just achieved your first few push ups after trying out the butt/ab squeeze stuff. If so, congratulations! Below is the rest of the set up for the push up – check-in on your placement and keep on pushing.
- Hands are placed so that your bottom knuckles are under your shoulders with your fingers splayed for a wide base of support.
- Your shoulders are engaged and away from your ears. Try to make as much space between your shoulders and your ears. (Are your abs and butt still squeezing?)
- Lower your body by bending your elbows and extending the shoulders until you meet the ground.
- On your descent you’ll be focusing on keeping your elbows more in than out (think about squeezing an orange under your armpit) and your forearms perpendicular to the ground.
- Push into the ground to reverse the movement and come up.
Why Is This Not Working?
The top three things I see that are causing the push up to be more painful that it needs to be:
- Lumbar extension, aka low back sagging or dropping your hips, see above
- Flaring elbows – save the Chicken Dance for the next wedding you attend
- Shoulder shrugging: you’ll want tons of space between your shoulders and ears
So, you’re still struggling with that first push up or you’re having trouble with some of the things that can go wrong. That’s OK! You have to do what’s in your wheelhouse. Let’s review some modifications because you are stuck with having push up in your program (Did you check out the free ones I send if you sign up for my email? Head on over to the right and grab them!).
The Change up
For when you are strong, but can’t quite complete a comfortable push up parallel to the ground.
Try using some bands: attach a band to a stationary bar above you and loop the band around your hips or chest. You can also try the backpack method as seen below.
For when you are strong, but doing a parallel push up isn’t available to you yet.
Take some of the force of gravity off by slanting your body up to 45 degrees from the ground. Why 45 degrees? Going higher creates a funky position for your shoulder. You can use a box, a bar in a rack, a set of stairs, a chair or anything that allows you prop your upper body.
So there you have it – the “trick” if you want to call it that to the push up – forming a scoop position and squeezing your butt and abs tight tight tight. You can use the modifications 1 for 1 when a push up is programmed in one of your workouts – do you need some? Grab 7 free workouts right here when you sign up for my newsletter. Otherwise, impress your friends with some new push up knowledge and lay some smack down in a contest!