One of the most popular strength training exercises is probably the push-up. It is a strength exercise that you can do anywhere. If you do them fast enough, it also gets your heart beating pretty quickly (adding a cardio effect). However, this is an exercise that I see people doing incorrectly more often than not. It is extremely easy to injure neck, shoulders or low-back if done incorrectly.
Here is a list of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with push-ups and how to correct them if you find yourself slipping into bad habits.
Wrists in Line with Shoulders
This does not mean your wrists have to be directly under your shoulders. It means your hands should not be above your shoulders vertical to your body, i.e., in line with your neck or head. If your hands are too far forward, you will feel the push-up movement mostly in your shoulders. This is putting too much weight in your shoulders and could injury your shoulder joint.
Your hands can be any width (horizontal to your body). If they are wider than your shoulders, you will feel more in your chest. If they are closer together or directly under your shoulders, you will feel more in your triceps, which is typically harder but still a safe push-up.
If you feel pain in your low-back when doing a push-up, you are probably letting your stomach drop towards the ground. However, you may not feel pain but are still letting that stomach drop down. Try doing a push-up in front of the mirror. Your low-back should be completely flat, where most people have a downward dip in the their low-back when lowering down and/or pushing up.
To correct this, keep your stomach tight the entire time. Try to keep your tailbone or buttocks tucked under. Only go as far down as you can keep your low-back flat and do not let your hips go lower than your shoulders.
If you cannot do a push-up without letting your low-back dip down, the stomach muscles (abdominals, obliques, TVA) may need to be strengthened. Until they are strong enough, try doing push-ups on your knees or not lowering down as low towards the ground.
Head in Line with Shoulders
We have the tendency of leading with our head with many exercises. Our neck and shoulders try to help out with these exercises. Unfortunately, this puts unwanted strain on our neck muscles and upper traps. Pay attention to your head and neck alignment to see if your head is hanging below your shoulders or feels like it is closer to the ground than your chest. Your neck is part of your spine so it should stay in alignment with the rest of your back. Think of your head as an extension of your spine.
If this is occurring, the chest or tricep or shoulders or combination of those three may not be strong enough to support full body weight. Until they are strong enough, try doing push-ups on your knees or not lowering down as close to the ground.
This being said, some people have the tendency of looking up, maybe into a mirror, when doing push-ups. You should be looking down at the ground in between your hands to keep the back of your neck long.
When done correctly, a push-up can be a full body exercise. Obviously, the focus is chest (pectoral muscles). The secondary muscles are triceps, shoulders, and abdominals. The legs should be working the least, but they are still helping to support the lower body.
Last but not least, don’t try to touch your chest to the ground or even get that close to the ground until you have eliminated the three issues listed above.
As always, contact us with any questions!