Three ways to improve your push ups (and everything else)

I’ve said this many times before, but the push up is one of those “just do it” exercises. We head into the gym, bootcamp session, P.E. class, yoga studio, sports training etc and the assumption is that we can do push ups, or if not, then the missing link must be someone standing there yelling at you to “keep going” (because that will fix the problem…).

In the same way a beginner doesn’t just walk into the gym and start back squatting rep after rep with their body weight on the bar, people don’t just miraculously develop the strength, body awareness, control, and endurance to instantaneously perform multiple (let alone quality) push ups. 

To quote USA gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer – “Slow down, where’s the fire?”.

There’s an inverse, exponential relationship to most exercises, where the slower and more controlled you perform them the more benefit they’ll provide.

Three ways to improve your push ups

Learn how to posteriorly tuck your pelvis

The effectiveness of your push ups as well as the benefits that transfer to everything else start with your ability to create tension. Like dropping a rock into a pond, tension is created in the center of the body and irradiates out to the extremities.

Your pelvis is the center point of your body, so if you can maintain a posteriorly tucked pelvis then the surrounding musculature will be in an advantageous position to “activate” and transfer force. 

This sounds complicated, but all you need to do is tuck your pelvis under, as if you were pulling your pubic bone at the front of your pelvis up towards your sternum, and vice versa.

Glutes, quads, and abs squeezed – full body tension
No muscular tension – Spine is arched and joints are jammed to create stability

Control your shoulder blades

The more control you have over your shoulder blades, the better your performance, and less chance of shoulder injury. Until you can learn to resist and control movement, you can’t effectively produce movement.

As you lower down into the bottom of the push up, squeeze your shoulder blades together and resist them shrugging up to your ears.

Squeeze shoulders together and resist shrugging
Shoulders shrugged up and collapsed forward

As you push up out of the bottom and reach the top of the push up, push your shoulder blades forward as if you were reaching out in front of your body to hug someone.

Shoulder blades pushing forward to end range of motion
Arms extended but shoulder blades not pushing forwards

Understand how to progressively overload your training

If push ups are such a challenge for you that you can’t maintain your pelvic position, manage movement at your shoulder blades, or prevent your elbows from flaring all over the place, the answer isn’t “just do more” to get better.

You need to modify the movement in a way which allows you to tick all the above boxes, and then progressively increase the difficulty of the movement.

Elevate the level of your hands to a position where you can perform quality reps. Then next time you perform push ups lower your position a little, and so on and so forth.

How can improving your push ups improve everything else

Creating tension, having awareness and control over your pelvis and shoulder blades, and knowing how to progressively challenge yourself in order to effectively become stronger transfers to every exercise, not just push ups. 

You should approach any exercise in the gym with the same mindset and checklist – Do I know how to organise my body? Do I know how to control, resist, and produce movement? Do I know how to regress and progress the movement to get better?

Lastly, the gym is really just a movement supplement, a way to prepare you for real life.

Knowing how to move well and developing strength is cool in the gym, but it transfers out into the real world. 

Getting better at push ups will make you a better human in general, will make you more resilient to injury, and provide you with physical independence long into old age (something you can’t buy).

It doesn’t matter, until it matters.

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