Push It....Push it Real Good!

Besides listening to Nickleback, I'd venture to say the push-up is one of the most hated activities by both men and women.  I say that, of course, not as a dig at Chad Kroeger and his recent divorce from Avril Lavigne (which will undoubtedly give Avril fodder for at least 2 more albums)....but to state the obvious: Nickelback ruins Thanksgivings.  Sorry, but it's true.

Oh, and push-ups are pretty tough too.

Anyway, the push-up is not only a test of upper body strength, it's a measure of *total* body strength.  And, while I've written about this subject before, I realized that I left a few things to be desired.  

Plus, I now have a few additional readers than simply my immediate family.  (You're the best, Mom!!)

To make a pretty sweeping generalization, I hardly ever see a push-up performed correctly in a commercial gym.  Further, anytime someone mentions a push-up contest to me, I secretly groan inside.  Push-up contests always end up being a battle of the ugly, as they tend to break down pretty quickly into some type of weird push-up/down dog/worm type of movement.

Sidenote: Yes, I know you could do 100 push ups when you were younger. In a row.  While also reading the newspaper.  With perfect form.  Too bad everyone else on the internet could say the same thing.. ;)

Like most exercises, the quality of push-ups tends to decrease pretty quickly when the quantity increases.  Exhibit A:

Now, I didn't only post this video to bash Jillian Michaels (although it appears I can't pass up the opportunity!), but I wanted to expand on three common mistakes that she and Travis Stork are making in their push-ups.

 We call this picture "meathead porn."

We call this picture "meathead porn."

First, around the 0:57 mark, both of their spines start to resemble a question mark.  I like to call this position the "ass-out, first cousin type of hug," and usually that gives everyone the visual. Why is it a bad thing?  Core strength isn't about how many sit ups you can do, but it's the ability to resist forces.  Above, we can see that both of their "cores" aren't doing the job, and since their midsections are sagging, important things like discs, ligaments, and bones are the only elements that are keeping them together.

We want to actively stabilize our core, rather than use those passive structures.  When performed properly, someone's back is going to stay absolutely straight or even be a bit rounded to bring on some posterior pelvic tilt....with NO movement during the push-up.  That, and that alone, will indicate core strength.

Second, arm and hand position are like, sort of a big deal.  Both Jillian and Travis are far too wide in their push-ups, and as Jillian gets tired, her elbows start to flare out.  Ideally, we're looking at around a 45 degree angle for our elbows to be away from our body, but everybody is going to be different based on limb length, bone structure, etc.  The closer we get to 90 degrees, though, the more provocative the movement will be, and the higher our chances are for shoulder impingement (ouchie!)

And finally, we get to proper head position.  What you'll tend to see during a set of push-ups (as well as the video above), is we try and cheat the movement by moving our chins forward.  The human body is amazing at compensating, and by edging our heads forward, we reduce the distance we have to cover.

The irony here is that while we're doing our best to keep our spine straight, we conveniently forget that our neck is part of our spine as well.  By keeping our head back and tucking our chin, we take the stress off our necks and make it much more of a "core" exercise.

And finally, I figured it'd be a great idea to throw in how I usually program and progress the push-up.  If you can already do push-ups, more power to you, but for those that can't, feel free to start at the top:

  1. Elevated Push-up
  2. Push-up on the ground
  3. Feet Elevated Push-up
  4. Feet Elevated Push-up with Bosu Ball (yes, I'm a contradiction....although this is the only exercise for which Bosu Balls are appropriate)
  5. Transition to a One-Arm Pushup (which can often start at an elevated pushup....we've come full circle!)

I'll wrap this one up by saying that with push-ups keeping thinking quality over quantity.  Try to perform them with mastery and grace, rather than trying to hit 20 or 50 in a row. 

And always remember, less is more.

....especially with Nickelback.