You’re (Probably) Doing Pushups Wrong – Here’s Why
Fix your pushup mistakes!
Most of us (including me!) learned how to do pushups in grade school. Ever seen a grade schooler try to do a pushup? It’s not pretty, and unfortunately, few people ever get better.
Doing pushups incorrectly can lead to back pain and shoulder bursitis, and prevent you from getting the maximum muscle-building benefit from the exercise.
So what are you doing wrong, and how do you fix it?
#1. You’re flaring out your elbows
When seen from above, do your arms form a “T”-shape with your torso? If so, you’re not the only one – that’s the way most of us were taught to do pushups in grade school. But flaring your elbows out (as opposed to keeping them parallel to your body) can lead to rotator cuff injuries and a painful condition called impingement syndrome.
Here’s why: normally, your supraspinatus muscle (the part of your rotator cuff that runs over the top of the shoulder) is protected by a small soft cushion called the bursa. But when you raise your shoulder above 70º that protective cushion shifts and suddenly your supraspinatus tendon is rubbing directly against the hard bony surface of your shoulder blade. This is a normal process of everyday life.
Problems arise when you start putting heavy loads on that tendon without the bursa protecting it (eg in wide pushups). This leads to tendon damage, inflammation, tissue degeneration, scar tissue formation and eventually impingement syndrome, where lifting your arm sideways causes pain.
On a related note, don’t bench press with your arms out at 90º either – it leads to the exact same issues. 45-60º with a grip width that allows your forearms to push straight up at the bottom is ideal. The narrower your grip, the more tucked in your elbows should be.
#2. Your pelvis is dropping
During a pushup, your head, upper back and hips (not butt) should all be in a straight line. If your hips sag below that line, you’re not getting the full benefit of the exercise. You’re also putting extra stress on the the facet joints of your lower spine, one of the most common causes of low back pain.
How to fix it? Squeeze your glutes (your butt) throughout the exercise. I’ll often tell patients to set up in their pushup position with their feet against the wall and push against the wall with their heels while they perform the exercise. When you do pushups that way, you’ll feel yourself tighten your butt, which is exactly what you should be feeling during a pushup.
#3. You’re relying on gravity too much
Don’t simply drop to the floor after a pushup; use your arms and engage your back muscles as you lower your torso down. Pretend you’re doing a row on the way down, keeping your chest puffed out and shoulder blades retracted. This engages the muscles of the upper back, involving them in the workout as well.
Finally, remember that pain is never normal! Sore muscles are normal for a day or two after an intense workout, but if the pain doesn’t go away after a few days call your chiropractor.
Whether you’re a pro athlete, weekend warrior or just looking to tone up, study after study shows that regular chiropractic care is an essential part of reaching your full potential. Ready to get stronger? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
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