What is a fitness regime without the payoff? Exercise is great. It keeps us healthy and in shape, which is why cardio is so important. But let us be honest for a second: We also work out to look good. In fact, a major motivation for resistance or strength training is sculpted muscles.
Push-ups are one of the ways that we can work those upper-body muscles to perfection. Being a bodyweight exercise, the humble push-up only requires your body weight and a tiny bit of space, and it remains one of the most effective bodyweight exercises.
This exercise is popular because it is accessible. You will need precisely zero pieces of equipment to execute a push-up. Meaning that you can do a push-up in your living space or at the office (if that is your thing). So, if you can do a push-up anywhere, it has got to be pretty easy, right?
Not so much. It takes effort and good form to pull off the perfect push-up. If push-ups were easy, then we would not be reading up on how to do them. There are things you have to do to execute the perfect push-up. Failure to do these things makes the exercise less effective, leaving you wondering why you see no improvement to your physique.
Let us go over the basic form of the push-up and how to do the exercise with perfect form.
The push-up, at a glance
A push-up starts with you in a high plank position, with your arms extended and your hands directly under your shoulders. Your feet should be close together. Your body needs to be perfectly straight, like a plank. Lower yourself by bending your arms at the elbows. All the while, your body should remain perfectly straight. Your lowered body should graze the floor, just a little. But it should not rest on the floor.
Now push yourself back up by straightening your hands. Remember to keep your body as straight as a four-by-six on your way to a high plank position. When you are back in the high plank position, then you have completed one push-up. But only if you kept your body straight as you lowered your body and raised yourself back up.
Sounds straightforward enough, right? In practice, it is not that cut and dry. Especially when you are starting out. The sheer effort needed to perform a single push-up can tempt a person to adopt lousy posture. Here are some common mistakes that people make as they try to get through a few reps:
1) A sagging midsection
The perfect push-up is a challenge, especially if you have not yet gotten the hang of it. As you lower yourself, your body might decide to help you down by curving downwards. Resist the urge to leave your mid-section slack.
A proper, effective push-up is all about that straight body. Engage your glutes and abdominal muscles while you are in the high plank position then lower your body while keeping these muscles tight. Raise your body while still keeping the glutes and core engaged.
2) An arched body
We have gone over how to lower (and raise) your body while keeping your midsection from sagging. Now, you need to keep your butt from pointing at the ceiling. As you raise your body, it will try to help you up by arching upwards. What your body is trying to do is lift itself in the most efficient way it can.
Again, you simply need to tighten your stomach muscles and your glutes. This will force your arms and core to do all the heavy lifting. So instead of letting your body lift itself, your arms, shoulders, chest, and back will push against the ground and lift your bodyweight.
In summary, you keep your body from arching or sagging by tightening the stomach and butt muscles. This cannot be emphasized enough.
3) A poorly-positioned neck
Another thing that causes terrible push-ups is how we position our necks. Not only will bad neck posture lead to a lousy push-up, it can make the exercise a lot more challenging. A proper push-up needs you to hold your neck in a neutral position. This means you should keep your eyes locked on a spot on the floor. Said spot should be about one foot in front of you.
A neutral neck position allows your body to form a straight line, from the legs to the neck. Just to recap: You should keep your body straight by tightening the glutes and the core, and by keeping your neck in a neutral position.
4) Bending the elbows all wrong
As you lower yourself, pay attention to how your arms bend. Do not let your bent arms flare outwards to form a T-shape with your body. Instead, your body should look more like an arrow when viewed from above.
Tuck your arms close to your body, at a 20 to 45-degree angle. You will need to flex your shoulder muscles downwards and outwards to keep the arms from bending outwards.
5) Poor breathing
With all these things to remember, you could easily forget to breathe. So breathe. Breathe in on the way down and breathe out on your way up.
6) Poorly placed hands
If you want to exercise your chest muscles to the maximum, place your hands directly under your shoulders. Any wider and you could develop shoulder pain and have to settle for underworked pecs.
Choose quality over quantity
Even experienced people can do sub-par push-ups when they are going for numbers. Remember to take it slow. A few perfect push-ups are better than 50 questionable ones. Take your time and perfect the push-up. Once you get it right, you will be impressed with the results of your workout.
We hope these tips answered all your questions about push-ups. Sign up for one of Evolve MMA’s complimentary introductory WarriorFit classes to learn more about push-ups and other exercises that strengthen your core muscles. The signup form is right below.
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