Push ups are one of the most fundamental exercises out there but unfortunately many people are doing them wrong.
Don’t be one of them!
All of the time I’ll see videos of people with their backs bent and sagging and their elbows flared way out to the sides.
Doing push ups like this not only steals power from the exercise and wastes a lot of its potential but also can place excessive strain on your elbow joints.
Learning how to do push ups properly is vital for anyone who wants to perform this exercise on a regular basis and get the most out of it.
And who wouldn’t? They’re a great compound exercise that you can do anywhere without any equipment at all.
So read on to learn about the right way to do push ups.
P.S. I’ll even throw in a small secret near the end that applies to far more than just push ups and can help you to apply more power to many different exercises.
Keep your elbows close to your body
There are two main reasons to keep your elbows close to your body.
The first is that it reduces the strain put on your elbow joints. When you allow your elbows to flare way out to the sides, as most people do, you are dramatically increasing the torque on your elbows when you push off of the ground.
For some people this may not be a problem but for others it can be. Especially for those whose elbows already have a lot of strain on them from other sources such as tennis or even desk jobs which inflict repetitive stress injuries from too much typing.
The second reason is that keeping your elbows in tight to your body forces you to generate the majority of the power for the exercise from the central core of your body; i.e. your chest and the front of your shoulders.
And similar to the bench press working your chest and shoulders is really what a push up is all about.
Here’s how to make sure you keep those elbows in tight to your body.
First make sure that your hands are placed under your shoulders.
Meaning that they are not moving too far away from your body to the left or the right.
The second thing that you want to make sure of is that the angle of your hands is pointing your fingers either straight ahead of you or slightly away from your body.
Looking down at your right hand try to imagine that it is sitting on a clock and you want it angled towards one o’clock.
Then look at your left and imagine you want it pointing towards eleven o’clock.
Doing this will ensure that your elbows stay tight to your body throughout the push up.
The other thing to check is that you have a nice 90 degree angle at your elbow when you’re at the bottom of your push up.
Your upper arm should be parallel with the floor while your forearm is perpendicular to it at the bottom of the exercise right before you start to push off again.
This will drastically reduce the torque placed on your elbow joints and ensure that you can still keep doing push ups comfortably for your entire life.
Keep your back straight
It’s important to keep your back and body straight throughout the push up for two very good reasons.
I’m sure that you’ve heard of the plank before and probably were even subjected to that crazy year where people kept posting strange pictures of themselves performing this exercise in odd places.
Well, the truth is that the plank really does do a good job of strengthening your back and stomach muscles but it can be kind of boring… well maybe that’s just me.
But the good news is that by doing a push up with good form you are automatically doing planks without even meaning to.
In fact you’re doing something even better than a plank because you’re not just holding a static position. You’re holding that position while you’re moving your body up and down, therefore increasing the effort that your core has to exert during the exercise.
However, all of this goes out the window as soon as you let your hips sag down while you do your push ups.
You’ve instantly taken away the benefit that your stomach and back were gaining from doing push ups just to make the exercise a little bit easier.
Don’t do it! It’s not worth it.
The second problem with not keeping your back straight is that it can even lead to lower back pain for some people.
So make sure to keep your body in a straight line throughout your push ups to gain the most benefit you can from them while helping yourself to gain a strong and healthy back and stomach.
Keep your abs tight and squeeze your glutes for more power
Most people know about keeping their abs tight as it’s necessary to maintain a straight body throughout the push up but there is another trick which can greatly enhance your strength.
By squeezing your glutes, the large muscles in your posterior, you can really propel yourself through your sets and even add to your personal best for number of reps too.
It may sound funny at first but it’s no joke.
Pavel Tsatsouline talks about this in his book “Kettlebell: Simple & Sinister” and the reason is basically psychological.
You see, by keeping our central trunk tight and strong we are supporting and bracing both our spine and protecting our internal organs at the same time.
This sends a message to our brains that it’s essentially safe to “take the breaks off” on our muscles.
By bracing our trunk and squeezing our glutes we are telling our brains that our spine is protected and secure and that it’s alright to allow some serious exertion without there being any danger to the core of our body which must be the medium through which much of this effort passes through.
If you don’t believe me go ahead and try for yourself! You’ll be amazed.
This technique can be applied to many different exercises; even something as simple as bicep curls.
However, for exercises where you are gripping an object be sure to squeeze hard as this also has a similar effect to contracting our cores.
The reason I didn’t mention the grip strength before is because it can’t really be applied in the case of a push up.
Anyways, I hope that you’ve gotten something useful out of what I’ve been talking about and that you can apply it to your own fitness routines for some benefit.
Until next time, stay strong, healthy, and happy!