Pushups are likely one of the oldest forms of strength training. With zero equipment required, anyone and everyone can use this primitive form of strength development, right? You might be surprised by our answer. No, pushups aren’t for everyone. Well, at least not yet. Your brain and body is set on task completion, not task efficiency. Poor performance during a pushup will not only leave you struggling to raise and lower your body, but can also increase your risk for shoulder, neck, and low back injury. Whether your looking to shed some winter pounds or get back your pre-pregnancy body, you should avoid a common mistake: jumping to the hardest level of exercise seeking maximum gains. You wouldn’t walk over and pick up the heaviest weight at the gym, right? (Please say no). At the surface, pushups seem like fairly harmless, but be aware–they can cause injury.
Performing a pushup properly requires a prerequisite of core, upper and lower body strength. In the presence of weakness you’ll not only struggle physically, but you’ll squirm and wiggle yourself into recruiting neck muscles or dragging through your low back. A standard pushup may be overshooting your current level of strength. Luckily, simple modifications can alter the effect of gravity, making the task progressively easier or harder. The key is to recognize a key compensation that can reveal weakness and that you’re overshooting your ability.
In a culture where more is better or getting fitter faster is more appealing, we often substitute quantity and difficulty for quality. The answer lies in marrying quality and difficulty. Undershoot and you’re going to miss out on the desired benefits. Overshoot and you’ll likely be seeing us as a patient. There’s no shame in making an exercise easier. If you’re ego doesn’t support knee pushups then perform them at home and forgo the traditional pushup while at the gym.
Simple changes in relation to gravity allow you to find the perfect resistance for your pushups. As we progress from a vertical to horizontal position we find the growing effect of gravity. Starting at a wall and progressing horizontally to the ground can determine the desired amount of resistance.
A strong core is required for a proper push up. Locking in through your lumbar spine provides stability and reduces risk of injury. Actively contracting your “core” muscles during the push up will help support your spine and prevent a dragging movement. You’re looking to raise your chest, torso, and hips as a stiff unit. If you’re unable to stiffen and rise as an entire unit you’ll need to make the exercise easier.
Here’s a quick video showing what to look for when assessing your pushup strength.