Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Troubleshooting the Push-up

Since this blog has been getting more and more new readers, I wil be featuring some past articles from my newsletter. Here is one on the push-up:
The push up is widely accepted as the most common and popular upperbody exercise in most fitness texts and gyms around the world. However, as bodyweight training programs and bootcamps become widely popular, this basic strength builder becomes more and more of a key component in programs and should be given the attention that it deserves. Let's take a look at why the push-up is frequently used:

1.) Can be performed anywhere (bedroom, hotel, prison, playground, gym, etc)
2.) Exemplifies strength and basic conditioning
3.) Reputation for its use in military training
4.) Gives a 'measure' of upperbody strength
5.) "Macho" exercise

With the popularity of bootcamps and the "pressure" to perform this and many other exercises utilizing bodyweight, many repetitions become wasted on poor form due to dysfunction and muscular imbalances that are not addressed properly. Think about this: when exercisers (beginners & intermediates) are in a group training atnmosphere, they feel compelled to do whatever the instructor tells them. Chances are the instructor is a "fit & able" person and can perform the suggested exercises flawlessly. However, a small group of the class attendees may execute the push-up with a number of flaws that although, get you through the exercise, they don't give you the best benefit of the exercise.
Lets look at some poor patterns we can observe while a push-up is being performed.

1.) The cervical spine will usually fall down and mis-align with the rest of the column. This can be due to weak cervical muscles and tight rear erectors. Nonetheless, this is a example of tightness/weakness. Most people perform this have a tendency to be desk jockies that develop tightness in the neck. As the weight of the skull perpetuates forward with the change in bodyweight distribution (static prone), the cervical flexors of the neck overactivate and draw the chin down. The erectors behind are too weak or under-active to do anything about it and what you have is a "chin to floor push-up."

2.) Excessive lumbar curve - I admit, this is not thebest picture for this example. Usually when people have an excessive lumbar curve, they have a tendency to "look up" as they push. This photo is not too bad. However, it can be due to failure to brace the abdominals and "tighten" the region. Most beginners and intermediates will not know how to "do" that.

3.) No scapular retraction is simply due to poor scapular recruitment as a stabilizer. Most people will be able to do this when they are standing upright, but when you lay them on all fours, and their bodyweight becomes the load...its a whole different story. Usually this dysfunction is combined with the head jutting down towards the floor. The scapular stabilzers/retractors/depressors are rarely trained in individuals that demonstrate this and usually complain of shoulder discomfort.

4.) Again, this is not the best picture for "sagging abs", but if someone is having trouble bracing the core and holding their bodyweight up, they will have a tendency to let the torso protrude down. The power of gravity is too much for these people and they lack overall core strength.

5.) Lack of range of motion (ROM) is simply due to weakness. Pinpointing the weakness is something else. Usually, the scapular muscles need to be strengthened and the hip region needs isometric work (planks, side planks). Once those are addressed and noticeably improved, then upperbody work (including anterior delts, triceps, and chest) should be focused on. Because the push-up is a closed chain exercise, one should practice it from a modified stance (on knees or against a smith bar). This will help individuals understand the transfer of bodyweight and concentrate on core activation, bracing, and stabilization.


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