Push ups are a great strength exercise. They strengthen your core, biceps, and triceps; they also require no equipment and can be modified for difficulty-level in a number of ways.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your push-ups. You should have more-or-less a straight line from your head to your heels, with your hands placed directly below your shoulders. You also want to keep proper alignment in your neck, so don’t drop the head, and instead keep your gaze at the floor.
In the lower position, make sure you lower yourself by bending your arms - not by dropping your chest. Also think about keeping your shoulders neutral, as opposed to shrugging them towards your ears.
One common error is allowing the hips to drop towards the ground. This is hard on the back but can be remedied by keeping the core tight throughout the exercise. This is demonstrated in the picture below. My head is also lowered, putting the neck out of alignment.
If a regular push-up is too difficult to do with proper form then it is more beneficial to do a less intense version of the exercise. This could mean push-ups from the knees, again with a more-or-less straight line from your head to your knees this time. Another option is to anchor your upper body higher than your feet. To work towards a full push-up, try doing a few full push-ups with perfect technique and switch to an easier version when your technique begins to fail in the full version. Check your form in a mirror if you are unsure.
If you choose to do “skier push-ups” or “military push-ups”, targeting the triceps, focus on keeping your elbows close to your torso throughout the push-up.
To add difficulty to the exercise, try the famous clap push-ups, or push-ups with a cross-over shoulder tap. The latter require more power than regular push-ups but are less intense than clapping push-ups. Walk-over push-ups are another option, with a difficulty level somewhere between these two.
Another one I enjoy is a push-up to an unstable plank position. This is also a good challenge for balance.
Two last variations to try are push-ups with staggered arms, and push-ups bringing the chest all the way to the ground and lifting the hands off the ground between each push-up. Both of these options increase the difficulty level of the exercise.
Recently a friend who has had shoulder surgery in the past asked how she should modify push-ups to avoid getting a sore biceps tendon. The recommendation here is to use a less intense version of the push-up (from the knees or with the upper body elevated) and instead do more repetitions. If it’s a rotator cuff injury, it is also a good idea to avoid going any further down than a 90-degree bend at the elbows. Lowering your chest below that point will cause the humeral head to glide forward in the socket, placing strain on the rotator cuff and anterior stabilizing structures. This advice comes from my very helpful brother in-law, Wil Hunter, of Eramosa Physiotherapy in Orangeville.
Thanks for reading - now get back to your workout!