There’s nothing worse in the gym than being slightly aware that your form on an exercise is wrong. You know enough to think that people might be watching you, but not enough to change what you’re doing.
Yes, it appears that many of us, from the 14-year-old boy working out in his bedroom to the devoted bodybuilder using them as a finisher exercise, is performing the push-up wrong.
“Anyone who has even the slightest interest in working out, has probably tried to do a push-up at least once in their life,” says Hasick.
“They are one of the oldest and most widely known exercises on earth. But, due to its simplicity, it is either overlooked or not performed properly.”
Mistake 1: You’ve got a case of the chicken wings
As Hasick explains, the further we place our arms out to the side, the greater risk we run of seriously irritating our shoulders. This is what is known as the “chicken wing” and is unlikely to build you a big, beautiful chest.
“The quick fix is to tuck your elbows against your ribs, allowing your shoulders to sit backwards and down in a scapular [shoulder blade] retracted position,” advises Hasick.
“This opens up your pecs and anterior shoulder, allowing the force production to be made through the pecs, triceps and serratus anterior without compromising the position of the head of the humerus inside the glenohumeral joint.”
If you’re scratching your head after that quick anatomy face-punch, Hasick has another way of describing what’s happening when you perform push-ups with your hands all over the place.
“Simply put, you won’t get a kinked shoulder and sore traps if you do it this way.”
Mistake 2: You drop way too quick
Despite the name, a lot of people forget that the push-up actually involves two stages: letting yourself down, and then pressing yourself back up. As it turns out, if you drop it low like there’s a household fire, you’re unlikely to be getting as much benefit out of it as you think.
“Avoid letting gravity do the work for you. The eccentric, or lowering phase when time is spent under tension, also helps to build strength,” says Hasick.
“The way to fix this is to aim for three seconds of controlled eccentric loading on the way down. Make sure you are squeezing the floor with your fingers and maintaining a hollow body position by squeezing your abs.”
Mistake 3: You’re advertising your booty too much
All of us like to show off the goods at the gym, but when you’re doing push-ups it’s important that you don’t sit with your bum too high in the air, as this removes all of the tension in your abs.
“If you aren’t maintaining a perfect hollow body, this is a clear indication that you’re not engaging your core,” says Hasick.
“To beat this, try engaging your glute and abdominal muscles by squeezing the cheeks together and sucking the belly button in. This will help tense your butt and raise your lower back.”
Mistake 4: You’re only half-repping
I don’t know what it is about push-ups, but as soon as anyone tells us to drop and give ’em 20 we feel the need to do them as fast as possible. Maybe it’s the influence of watching all of those American military flicks, but when it comes to push-ups, most of us are serial offenders of the half-rep.
“Far too often people don’t go deep enough or high enough, but you can’t improve or get stronger, by doing a half push-up,” says Hasick.
“Producing a full range of motion will ensure that all of the fibres are being recruited and producing force for longer. Despite what the ‘gym bros’ tell you, hitting full range at the top of a push-up and ensuring lock out is not a rest position.”
If you’re confused about how to do a full rep, Hasick recommends lowering your chest all the way to the ground (without resting on the ground) and then all the way up until your arms are straight.
“Try to straighten your arms at the top of every push-up and be conscious that your upper arms and triceps are fully extended, with your hands pressing the floor away and flaring your shoulder blades,” says Hasick.
There’s huge benefits to doing them correctly
It’s all well and good to know how to do a push-up correctly, but unless you’re entering some kind of contest, most people would question why they should do them at all. But as it turns out, the push-up is pretty much the king of do-anywhere calisthenics.
“Knowing the proper technique for a push-up is important: It’ll reduce your risk of injury, improve core strength, and for those looking to burn more calories, you can join the party too,” says Hasick.
“All too often people overlook the benefits this exercise can provide. It can do a tremendous job of defining your abs, triceps, shoulders and torso.
“Every muscle in the body has to do its part for the push up to take place.”