Push-ups have been done for thousands of years. They are a great way to build your pecs and a basic exercise for bodyweight training. To progress to more advanced push-ups like clapping push-ups you need a perfect control of a normal push-up. To achieve perfect form, you should avoid these five 5 common push-up mistakes.
Push-up Mistake 1: How Low Can You Go? (ROM)
When doing a push-up, the full range of motion (ROM) is very important, especially if you want to progress. By performing the push-up incorrectly, or by going just halfway you miss out on a lot of gains. A full ROM push-up means you touch the ground with your chest. But more importantly, you push yourself out with a scapula push-up.
When you extend your arms try to push your scapula further up by squeezing your chest in adduction. This activates your serratus anterior, which is located from the first 8/9 ribs between your chest and back and inserts under the scapula. This muscle is a local stabilizer for the scapula and pulls it forward around the thorax. Its main function is protraction of the shoulder blade needed for a full ROM push-up. The picture below shows an activated scapula on the left and an inactivated scapula on the right. Most people push up as shown on the right. To make full progress, please make sure to pay attention how you push up.
How to Avoid this Mistake
First, start with scapula push-ups to notice the difference. You do this by keeping your arms extended and push your shoulders in a protraction. When you achieve control over this you can do incline push-ups. That means your arms are elevated. These are easier to perform and make it easier to learn to control the movement in a push-up. But remember, your chest has to touch the elevated platform in this case. If you struggle with the downward movement, start with negative push-ups. You do this by starting in a protracted position of the shoulder blades. Then go down as slowly as possible until you touch the platform or ground. Repeat this with 3 sets of maximum repetitions until you can do a regular push-up.
Push-up Mistake 2: False Positioning of the Upper Back/Shoulder and Scapula
There is more besides using your serratus anterior to create more ROM. The positioning of your shoulders and upper back is important for a full ROM as well. Common mistakes are a hunch back (flexion of the spine), shrugged shoulders, protraction of the shoulders in the down warded movement and a goose neck. If you are do one or more of these, you create a body position that is quicker to the floor and causes bad posture.
How to Avoid This Mistake
You can practice the correct positioning of the back and shoulders before you start. If you notice any changes, stop and put your body back into the correct postion. You can do this by sitting on all fours with your hands under the chest. Now extend your upper back by pressing the chest a bit forward and rotate your shoulder blades in retraction. Make sure your shoulders are retracted and depressed and you hold a small nod movement in your neck.
Note: only when you push to the full ROM you may protract your shoulders!
Push-up Mistake 3: Hollow Back
This mistake often comes due to fatigue or not contracting your core muscles. For the first reps your back is straight, after that it collapses like a pudding. If you start with a hollow back you may notice that your hips/belly button get to the floor faster than your chest. Let someone check your position to see if you are doing this.
How to Avoid This
Start on all fours and flex and extend your back as much as you can. Then try to find the middle of these two extended positions and your back will be in the correct position. Make sure you contract your abs. These will fixate your back and offer stability which prevents injuries and gives more gains in return. Make a small posterior tilt of your pelvis, contract your glutes and legs. Now your lower body should be in the right position.
Push-up Mistake 4: Placing of Elbow Flare
Placing your hands inward and your elbows outwards can cause injuries. The elbow and shoulder joints are put under much more pressure and your triceps cannot support the chest fully. In addition, a full ROM is not possible in this position.
How to Avoid This Mistake
Place your hands under your chest. And have your elbows aligned to your body. Next, when you go down, make sure your elbows point towards your legs. If you have trouble with this, try this at a wall or as knee push-ups to get the technique under control.
Push-up Mistake 5: Speed
The last common mistake is speed. The faster you perform your push-up the less gains you will get. Sure, you can perform 50 push-ups in a minute, but how effective were they? Try this for yourself: do 30 push-ups in 30 seconds, wait 5 minutes and do 5 in 30 seconds. Which one is more difficult?
You cannot do push-ups very quickly and have a perfect form at the same time. Furthermore, you need time under tension to create gains. So, reduce your speed. Maybe you can only perform half the reps you used to do but it will be more effective.
How to Avoid this Mistake
Count! Science based evidence states that a rep which lasts around 8 seconds gives you the most profit: 4 seconds eccentric phase (going down), 2 second hold, 2 seconds concentric phase (going up). If this does not suits you try 3-4 seconds eccentric phase, 1 second concentric phase. Eccentric movements create up to 20% more gains therefore this phase is so long.
Make sure your form is correct to progress with your push-ups. If you want to know more, feel free to ask us for help. And speaking of building pecs, what do you think is the best exercise for those? Push-ups or chest press? Click here to find out.