Push ups – the purest, most powerful tool in your training arsenal. That is, provided you know how to use it! In this article, I’m going to show you 3 common mistakes made while doing push ups and some quick fixes you can use right now to make your push up safer, more efficient, and much more effective.
Put simply, there’s doing push ups, and then there’s doing push ups well. Now, you already know that sagging your head or hips toward the floor is a mistake, which is why I have not included it on this list. Aside from that obvious one, here are the three most common push up technique mistakes I see plenty of athletes and even fitness trainers making.
Common Mistake #1 – Arm Angle
Put simply, the longer the lever arm, the less leverage you have, and the shorter the lever arm, the more leverage you have. When applying this to the push up, to maximize your ability to create force and get better leverage on each rep, keep your elbows closer to your body instead of flaring them out at a 90-degree angle, which is typical for how most people do push ups.
The Quick Fix: Keep your elbows closer to your sides at roughly a 20- to 40-degree angle from your body. This shortens the lever arm, which gives you an immediate mechanical advantage when doing push ups.
Common Mistake #2 – Elbow Positioning
When done well, the push up strengthens the entire upper body pushing musculature, including the chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, many people allow their elbows to move past their wrists, either behind or out to the side of the wrists. This not only places unwanted stress through the elbow joint (which elevates risk of an overuse injury at the elbows), it also makes the push up less effective because it reduces the chest and shoulder involvement, and makes it more of a triceps-dominant movement.
The Quick Fix: Keep your elbows above your wrists through the entire push up action. Your elbows should form a 90-degree angle at the bottom position of the push up.
Common Mistake #3 – Hand Positioning
If your hands are pointed slightly inward, as is often the case in how many people perform push ups, it usually encourages people to flare their arms out away from their sides, which is the issue we covered in mistake number one. Not to mention, pointing your hands inward also forces for your elbows to move out beyond your wrists in the manner I just addressed in mistake number two. In short, better hand placement encourages better elbow alignment and shoulder positioning.
The Quick Fix: Turn your hands outward slightly, pointing your fingers outward, away from the middle of your body at roughly a 45-degree angle. Doing this will help keep your elbows and arm in a better position for maximizing strength and minimizing unwanted joint stress.
Practice and play with these quick fixes until you’re comfortable and stronger with your push ups. If you still struggle with the basic push up, then these quick fixes can be applied to push up progressions such as knee push ups or incline push up. Keep a strong count on your push ups with a slow controlled downward phase of about 2 seconds and a fast/explosive upward phase for 1 second. Keep all these fixes in mind and work on full range of motion and I promise you’ll see a big progression within your push up ability and strength.