(Editor’s Note: this is a guest blog by our friend Dr. Chris Feil of Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames.)
I don’t care how many times a week you workout at CrossFit, when you were 10 months old, you probably had better push-up form/technique than you do now! How can that be? It’s actually quite simple – a healthy infant trains their stabilizing muscles all day long. They do this by the simple act of crawling. When you think about it, spending all day on your hands and knees does wonders for developing the muscles that run from your back and ribs to your shoulder blades (scapula); these muscles are what we in the rehab community call scapular stabilizers. Specifically, the scapular stabilizing muscles are: lower trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboids. Unfortunately these muscles are often underdeveloped and neglected.
As we get older, we tend to stop using the scapular stabilizing group of muscles in our modern lives. We spend hours sitting or standing with sometimes not so great posture. Even people that “go to the gym” may not have an adequate ability to control their scapula because many of the exercises they preform are pushing exercises (there is a difference between a bench press and a push-up, functionally). It is not coincidence that many of my patients that have shoulder pain and or neck pain/mid back pain, have tight chest muscles (Pec and Pec minor) and tight muscles that run from the neck to the shoulder (upper trapezius and Levator scapula). Typically these muscles tighten because the scapular stabilizing muscles are underdeveloped and under-utilized, leading to a rounding of the shoulders and an observable “winging” or elevation of the shoulder blades.
Back to the baby push-ups; to crawl effectively an infant must be able to keep their shoulder blades “glued” to their rib cage. This allows them to shift their body weight from one arm to the other as they pivot and crawl forward. Without this ability to stabilize their scapula, they would not be able to move from one arm to another while holding up their body. This concept of scapula hugging the rib cage is the big difference between a proper push-up and an exercise like a bench press. Bench pressing is grasping a weight and moving your hands up and down, actually the opposite motion of a pushup, functionally. Preforming a proper pushup is really about using your shoulder blades to lift your torso up and down, much like the infant uses the shoulder blade to control the body while crawling. The concept may seem simple, but most people focus on their arms and hands too much when preforming push-ups and actually put their shoulders in a compromised position leading to increased strain on the shoulder and eventually impairment. Instead, focus on the tips below to help you revert back to your perfect baby style push-ups:
- Start on the ground perfectly flat, lift the hands up off the ground and squeeze the shoulders blades down and back. (Keep the shoulder blades glued to the rib cages during the whole pushup movement)
- Place the hands on the ground using a narrow hand position
- Keep the hands below the plane of your shoulders
- Direct the crease of your elbows forward (toward the direction of your head) as you push up
- Shift the weight in your hands off the index finger and thumb to a more balanced palm pressure
- Keep your pelvis and lower back in a neutral position
- Keep your chin tucked in and your head retracted back.
-Dr. Chris Feil
Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames