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Mastering the Perfect Push Up: Plus 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Push Ups - One of the most fundamental strength building exercises. Everyone has done them. And there's a reason why push ups are so common. They develop strength in your arms, shoulders, core, back, glutes and more!

But there's one problem...

Most people don't look so great when they do push ups. There's an entire laundry list of mistakes people tend to make during push ups. Improper push up technique can cheat you out of a great workout, or even worse, set you up for injury.

But whether you are an adult Martial Artist, a parent of a child struggling to achieve awesome push ups, or just someone who wants to get fit....


I've got some great tips to help you avoid the four most common push up mistakes.

But first, let's take a second to go over proper push up technique.

The Proper Push Up:

Start by placing your hands on the ground a little wider than shoulder width apart. Extend your legs straight behind you so the balls of your feet are supporting you on the ground.

Maintain a straight line from your head down to your feet by squeezing your core muscles. Lower your body to the ground. Be careful not to flare your elbows out too wide.

Just before your body touches the ground, push your self back up to the starting position while keeping a straight body.

If you're having some trouble, don't be afraid to start with modified push ups on your knees. It's always better to a modified push up correctly rather than a standard push up with poor technique.

Mistake #1: The Mountain Peak

The Problem: The body is in a pike position. This means the hips are elevated above the rest of the body, resembling a mountain peak. This problem is caused by relaxed gluteus and hamstring muscles.

The Solution:

Superman Holds. Train yourself to engage the muscles of your posterior chain (back of your body) by holding a superman position. While laying on your stomach, lift your arms, head, chest and legs off the ground. Once you've got it, make sure you keep those same muscles tight during your pushups!

Mistake #2: The Spaghetti Back

The Problem:

The back is in an arched position. The hips drop below the rest of the body like a wet spaghetti noodle. This problem is caused by relaxed core muscles.

The Solution:

Elbow Planks: Place your elbows on the ground, underneath your shoulders. Extend your legs straight behind you so that your are supported on the balls of your feet. Engage your core muscles to maintain a straight body line. Be sure that only your elbows and feet touch the ground. Once you've got it, make sure you keep those same muscles tight during your pushups!

Mistake # 3: Arms Too Far Forward

The Problem:

The hand placement is set too far forward, usually underneath the head. This limits your ability to recruit the proper muscle groups for a proper push up. Also it can add unnecessary stress to the shoulder joint.

The Solution:

Push up planks. Practice holding the push up plank position. Make sure your hands are placed directly underneath the shoulders. If you need extra help, use a mirror or have a friend check your position.

Mistake #4: The Half Push Up

The Problem:

Full range of motion is not achieved during the downward motion of the push up. This is usually due to underdeveloped arm and shoulder strength. This is the most common push up mistake that I see. Because it's so common, I've got two solutions for you to make sure you can fix it fast!

Solution #1:

Full Drop Push Ups. Perform your push up as normal. But, as you reach the bottom of the movement, allow you body to lay flat on the ground. This ensures that you have full range of motion. It also gives you a quick break before having to push back up into the push up plank position.

Solution #2: Pad Assisted Push Ups: Training pads can be stacked underneath the chest while performing push ups. Lower your body until your chest touches the top pad. Be careful not to let your weight sink into the pad! As you develop strength, gradually remove more and more pads until you can do a proper push up with full range of motion. If you don't have pads at home, you can substitute throw pillows or a stack of books. They work just as well!

Alright! Those are my tips to help you master the perfect push up. It may seem tough at first. But, with a little practice anyone can get it!

Once you get the standard push up down, you can move on to more difficult variations: knuckle, finger tip, diamond...

The list goes on and on.

Let me know how it goes!

Brian Schmidt

Master Instructor

Traditional Martial Arts Center

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