The Humble Push Up


The humble push up is one of the most well known and effective body weight exercises. Having good technique is a great sign of overall upper body strength, spinal control and shoulder stability.

However, the push up’s celebrity status does not mean that it is always done correctly. Incorrect technique can often lead to neck and shoulder pain or people thinking they are just too hard and giving up altogether.

So I think that we all need a bit of a polish up on push up technique. It is also interesting to note that there are often clinical pilates exercises and yoga poses that utilize the push up position in some form and these tips can be applied there as well.

The following tips when combined together will help prevent push up related pain and have you getting more out of this fantastic body weight exercise.

Hand position

The best place to start with push up technique is your hand position. Without getting this right it will make the other tips more difficult. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart or slightly wider and in line with your chest when you are laying flat on the ground, fingers splayed and pointing upwards as shown below. Having your hands too wide opens you up to shoulder injuries, as this isn’t a stable position for your shoulder and is very inefficient. Hands too close and you are not using your chest muscles enough.


Elbow position

Once your hand position is correct it is then easy to get the elbow position right. In my opinion it is best to have your elbows at 45 degrees to your body. Often people will have their elbows too wide apart and once again this leads to inefficiency and an unstable shoulder position, often resulting in pain.


Shoulder position and scapula retraction

This is probably the hardest part to get right. Firstly scapula retraction simply involves bringing the shoulder blades back towards each other (squeezing your shoulder blades together). The reason for retracting scapula with push ups is to help protect the shoulder joint and place it into its most stable position. Getting this right will often lead to a quick reduction in shoulder pain with push ups.

scapula two

For some people scapula retraction may not be possible whilst doing a push up and will require some further isolation work. We will often work with clients with shoulder pain in the clinical pilates studio with scapula retraction exercises as seen below. This helps them in engage the correct muscles and makes it easier for them to retract their shoulder blades when completing other exercises.

scapula one

Spinal position

The last tip I have to share is about getting the spinal position right. What we want to see with a push up is a fairly straight spine with no big dips or arching through the back or neck. It is often seen with people that have neck pain, that they will drop their head forward with a push up which places further strain on their neck. In the clinical pilates studio we can help teach correct head and neck positioning to assist with the push up and throughout daily life.


Implementing all these tips will take some time so don’t be afraid to try one or two at first and slowly implement them all over time. If you are a regular with push ups don’t be disheartened if you find you can’t complete as many push ups as normal as it will take your body some time to adjust to the new technique. If you are new to push ups, that’s perfect as you are working with a clean slate!

If you have any further questions please speak with one of our practitioners to help you push Beyond and move through life.

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