Doing full push ups with PERFECT form isn’t an easy task. Full push ups are basically moving planks that require a great deal of upper body and core strength. Everything from your shoulders to your toes needs to work together for that perfect push up form.
And simply modifying the push up and doing it from your knees may not be enough to help you build toward the full push up. Sometimes even the modified knee push up is too challenging and doesn’t allow you to engage the correct muscles and learn proper form.
If you are ready to improve your upper body and core strength while perfecting your push up form, try these 3 tips to improve your push ups.
Build Core Strength
Full push ups from your toes are basically planks...moving planks that is. That means you have to learn how to correctly hold a plank and engage your core.
One of the best ways to really work on engaging your core during planks is using the Plange Plank. While this plank may look incorrect, it is actually one of the best ways to learn how to really engage your core and even work the muscles around your rib cage!
To do the Plange Plank, set up in a forearm plank position with your feet together and your elbows under your shoulders. Beginners can do this from their knees, or off an incline. From this plank position draw your bellybutton in toward your spine and round your upper back up toward the ceiling.
Do not simply push your butt up toward the ceiling. You may want to even think about tucking your hips under toward your ribs as you round your back up.
Feel like you are drawing in your belly button as hard as possible almost, like a cat trying to cough up a hairball. Hold here and even work to squeeze your legs together as you flex your quads and glutes. Do not simply push your butt up in the air. Also, keep your shoulders aligned over your elbows as you hold.
If your planks really need work, you can find 3 Tips To Improve Your Planks here.
Activate Your Back
Yes...The push up is a chest, tricep and shoulder exercise. But that doesn’t mean your back isn’t also engaged and working! Actually, if your back is engaged and working properly, your push ups will be stronger and your shoulders more stabile.
And if you’ve found you have neck or shoulder pain after push ups, it is because your back ISN’T engaging properly to protect your shoulder.
Getting your back activated and working correctly during push ups is important to not only preventing injury, but also strengthening your push up. Plus, back activation exercises like Scapular Push Ups will also work the muscles around your rib cage, which will further improve your push ups and your shoulder stability!
To do Scapular Push Ups, set up at the top of a push up in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your feet together. Your body should be in a nice straight line from head to your heels. Beginners can start on their knees.
Keeping your body in a nice straight line, and without bending your elbows, pinch your shoulder blades together, pressing your chest toward the ground. Do not tuck your chin or jut your head forward. You are NOT doing a push up. This is a very small range of motion where you are simply focused on pinching your shoulder blades together.
Pinch your shoulder blades together without sagging your hips and then come back into the starting position. This is a small range of motion. Do not try to make it bigger by wiggling your core or bending your elbows.
Use Incline Variations
If we can’t do full push ups, most of the time we turn to doing push ups from our knees. But sometimes even doing push ups from our knees doesn’t help us progress toward that full one.
Why is that?
Sometimes it’s because we don’t have to engage our core the exact same way we would with a full push up. Sometimes it’s because we don’t learn proper form from our knees because even that modification is technically too challenging.
That is why it is important to modify the push up by doing it off an incline. While you can still definitely modify the push up from your knees, if you’re really feeling stuck, you may want to try an incline variation.
To do an incline push up, you’ll have to find something to put your hands up on that is the right height to allow you to perform a full range of motion push up with perfect form. This may be a wall to start or even a bench or table or couch.
But by using an incline, you can use the exact height you need to do a perfect push up from your toes. And as you get stronger and learn proper form, simply find a lower and lower incline! Especially if you’re struggling to keep your core engaged and activate your back during push ups, the incline push up is a must!
To do an incline push up, find an incline, a wall, bench, shelf or bar at an appropriate height, that allows you to drop your chest all the way down while maintaining perfect form. With your hands on the incline, place your feet together and your hands right outside your chest. You may want to set up at the bottom of the push up so that you know your chest will hit the incline right at nipple height between your hands and will be in perfect alignment with your arms forming an arrow shape (->) with your body.
Then drive back through your heels to engage your quads as you brace your core and keep your body in a nice straight line. Press up from the bar, extending your arms out all the way and locking out at the top. Do not round your back at the top and make sure your whole body moves as one unit! Your head should stay in line with your spine and your hips shouldn’t drop. Also, make sure your shoulders don’t shrug and your elbows don’t flare out as you push.
Lower your chest back down to the bar, and even at the bottom of the push up, do not relax. Keep everything engaged so you can press right back up.
Using these three tips you can improve your push ups and build both upper body and core strength!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.