No “Girlie” Push-ups

Push-ups are an amazing exercise, and when done correctly is actually a full body movement. Push-ups work, not only the triceps and chest, but also the core (abdominal and lower back), shoulders, rotator cuff stabilization, hips, and even the legs. This is the exact reason why so many people have a hard time doing them. It’s also the exact reason why you will see them used so often in my training. They, not only, work the whole body of the athlete, but a push-up gives me great insight to where an athlete has weaknesses, and also how the athlete is progressing with the training. It’s up there with squats. Now, with all that said, let’s get to the point of this article. I do not allow modified push-ups, also referred to as a “girlie” push-up.

In my years as a trainer I realized one thing, when you constantly perform modified push-ups you only become better at doing modified push-ups, and that’s not very beneficial: especially for an athlete. They in no way benefit the athlete or progress them to being able to perform a correct push-up. When you drop to your knees you automatically exclude the core, hip flexors, glutes, and quads from the party. Further, you reduce the amount of resistance applied on the chest, triceps, and shoulders and lose out on gaining strength in these muscle groups.

“So what should we do?”

This is when a million trainers say the same thing; “Do incline push-ups.” This isn’t completely wrong, and I agree with it, but there’s more to it than that. That’s a band-aide for a wound most likely needing stitches. My question at one point was “why is a push-up so difficult?” I mean it’s simple, right? Drop to the ground and push yourself up while keeping your core tight. So why can’t 90% of my clients do it (including men). Well, let’s think about what I said in the beginning of this article; a push-up is a full-body movement. To perform a correct push-up we have to correct the full body, mainly the core and hip flexors. Here’s what I have done over the years and I have seen amazing results in my young athletes.

First, I work on the athletes’ core strength and shoulder stabilization. I incorporate planks and exercises to strength the rotator cuff muscles, to the point where the athlete absolutely can’t stand them anymore. Then, every time we do push-ups I have them go all the way to the ground and push themselves up. I instruct them to not worm their way up, but to lift their chest, hips, and knees off of the ground all at the same time. It’s very messy in the beginning, but as the weeks go on they are able to push off the ground without worming. That, added with all of the core and shoulder stabilization work (along with all the glute strength work as well), they are eventually able to perform a full and correct push-up. It’s amazing when it happens, and I love knowing that my athletes are not wasting any time or energy on a movement that will never benefit or strengthen them. I will be putting out a video on this progression in the near future.

Mike Euliano NSCA CPT, NASM CPT, NASM FNS