Big 5 – Push up

Big 5 – Push up

The second shape that the shoulders produce during sport/life is the ‘push up’. I call it the push up (because obviously it looks like a push up) but really its just the way you organise the shoulders every time you want to pull or push an object that’s in front of you.

Seeing how the body is organised during movement is easy in the gym, but sometimes we don’t connect the dots so much when it’s sport or everyday life activities. In athletic endeavours the push up shape includes the following movements – Push ups, bench press, burpees, skipping, rows, running, boxing, planks…

In real life the push up shape includes – Typing, opening and closing a door, hugging someone, holding a book/tablet/phone, driving, shaking someones hand.. the list goes on.

This is why the gym is such a good environment to teach skills and diagnose movement because what you do in a strength and conditioning setting is the foundation for movement during life. Once you understand how to move well in the gym you can take those principles and improvise with them however you want in life. It’s really no different than someone understanding music theory, and then melting your face off with some tangent of a guitar solo just for kicks..

Push up range of motion (or lack of) implications and mechanisms

Anatomically, the push up position captures extension of the shoulders (when the upper arm moves behind you) and flexion of the elbows (taking your hand to your face). There is also an internal rotation component that happens along side extension at the shoulders during the movement. This is the same as the previous post about the overhead position, as when the shoulders go overhead the not only flex but also externally rotate.

Normal range of motion when the shoulders are in extension is about 60 degrees. If you’re missing this amount of motion something will compensate to allow you to achieve the finish position (just like in the previous post when going overhead).

Keeping your elbows close to your body, draw them back behind you. If the musculature of your shoulder complex is stiff, short, junky, or dehydrated, you’ll notice the shoulder has to trade off its mechanically stable position for slack in order to reach the same end goal.

What usually happens is the elbows flare out to the side and the shoulders protract forward into a rounded posture. This buys you some room to breathe, but the structure of the joint (congruence) is compromised. It’s in a weaker position to then apply force to an object, and it’s running the risk of injury.

See ‘Range of motion road blocks and detours’ in my post about squatting to see how the body has still created stability in a bad position –

The video below shows how the shoulders compensate to achieve a task when range of motion is restricted

The Fix

To continue the theme of using ‘resting positions’ to improve joint positioning, the mobilisation for the push up shape is called the sink mob. Simply because you could use your kitchen sink to hang onto to create the stretch.

Grab hold of the edge of a sink/table/barbell/fence and take a lunge out. By lowering into the bottom of a lunge you’re putting your shoulders into extension (the bottom of a push up).

Once you’re in the bottom you’ll probably feel some decent tension through the front of your chest and down your arms. Contract against the object, squeezing everything you can around your shoulders for about five seconds and then relax. When you relax you will probably sink a little lower into the position, taking up the slack in the shoulders that you’ve just created. Repeat this process half a dozen times accumulating time at end range of motion.

It’s important that you’re active at end range (contracting) not just to improve range of motion, but so you train your body to be stable at end range.

Once you’ve cycled through a few reps of this come out and shake it off. Try a few push ups to A) see if you’ve made change, and B) to cement this new range of motion.

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