I think I can get away with stating that pushups are the most common and basic exercise after walking/running of course. And with good reason. They are extremely simple and highly effective. But it’s that same simplicity that makes it so easy to perform incorrectly and moreover, inefficiently. Sometimes you try your best but for some reason you don’t get results, probably due to lack of proper goal setting or less knowledge.
- You Focus on Quantity instead of Quality
Pushups, or really all exercises if we’re being honest, should always be about how well you perform them versus how many of them you perform. Anyone can do bullshit pushups. Next time you’re around friends’ kids or nieces/nephews, have them pump out a few pushups. They’ll drop down and do the wobbliest, smallest range of motion push up you’ve ever seen and probably quite a few of them too. But are they getting a workout from them? The answer is no, and neither are you if you’re pumping out pushups even resembling that form or speed.
Hand in hand with a focus on quantity comes a focus on speed. And if your primary focus with pushups is speed, you’re doing them wrong. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you performed 100 pushups, all in 1 minute, if they aren’t quality pushups. This is simply because when performing shitty pushups you are not activating your muscles to the fullest extent. Maybe you did 100 pushups, but you’ve really only done maybe a quarter of the work required for any meaningful size or strength gains.
- Your Body is Misaligned
As mentioned earlier, because pushups are so simple, it is also very easy to perform them very inefficiently, if not incorrect altogether. Focusing on quality necessarily means focusing on your body’s positioning at every point of the exercise. Any slight adjustment in hand width, hand direction, elbow direction, feet positioning or even ground elevation can activate different muscles and shift the workload.
Whether you are just a beginner, or consider yourself a seasoned veteran, it doesn’t hurt to make sure your basic pushup form is correct. You’d be surprised how many people do regular pushups incorrectly simply because they’ve allowed a bad habit to become the norm. Don’t worry about any alligators, Spiderman’s, or any other fancy and comically named pushups until you are certain that you perform normal pushups correctly and efficiently each and every rep.
Be aware of your body and its positioning at every stage of the exercise. Feel each different muscle group being activated as you move through a rep and correct anything that feels as if it is placing too much strain on your joints.
- Your Elbows are in the Wrong Position
Now that we’ve established a focus on quality pushups versus pumping out as many crappy ones, we can determine just what makes a quality pushup. Spoiler alert: It’s all about form. If your body and movements are correct, the results will follow.
The elbows play a big role in the pushup movement. Your arms are levers performing the motion while your elbow acts as the middle fulcrum that can make or break any pushup.
Too close together and tucked into your body you’ve now shifted the exercise significantly. Pushups in this position will seem more difficult and awkward. This is because you’ve taken a significant load off of the chest work and transferred it to the triceps. Though you might feel a decent burn in the tri’s, there certainly are more effective exercises for triceps but more importantly this places an unnecessary strain on the wrists.
On the other side of the coin is having your elbows too far out. Pushups with the elbows flared too far outward are equally incorrect, inefficient but far more dangerous than elbows tucked in.
Having the elbows out at excessively wide angles shifts the workload away from the chest and shifted to the shoulders and the elbow joints themselves. With this form, work is being improperly loaded elsewhere and your pushups are not activating as many chest muscles. Shoulder injuries and some cases of tennis elbow are not uncommon from doing pushups with elbows too wide.
So, if you don’t want elbows too close, and we definitely don’t want them too wide, where then do you want your elbows? You guessed it: Somewhere right in between. Because we all have different bodies, measurements and proportions it is difficult to say precisely where you should place your elbows but a good rule of thumb is to start at about 45 degrees from your body. Start at this angle and play around with slightly narrower if it feels right.
- Your Hands are in the Wrong Place
Your hands are where the whole exercise grounds itself. Having those in the wrong place can sabotage the effectiveness of the entire exercise from the very start. This also opens up the body to risk of injury, namely, the wrists.
You should have your hands slightly lower and wider than your shoulders. Any wider and you start to severely decrease the range of motion and the overall power. Any closer and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the proper elbow angle and we’re presented with all those issues again.
Even the direction you point your fingers matters for a proper pushup. So for those of you that have all 10 digits, you will want to point them directly ahead or pointed slightly outwards, but not too much. You want to keep your wrists straight and your middle finger should be aligned with your elbow. If your middle finger and elbow are aligned and you have your fingers pointed too far inward it will make the elbows want to flare out.
Chris Ruden has his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and is an entrepreneur, model, and motivational speaker. Despite his congenital birth defect leaving him with only two fingers on his left hand and a shorter left arm, he is an Elite Powerlifter that has type 1 diabetes and works on an insulin pump. He has broken a number of state “powerlifting” records in Texas and Florida and he is showing the world that LIMITATIONS ARE SELF IMPOSED!
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