This classic exercise is not easy. Since the entire upper body is supported with only the scapula, shoulders and arms, it requires a high level of stabilization. All of the joints in the upper body should be centered and stable in a neutral position: the wrist, elbow, shoulder, scapula and neck.

Start Position: Plank position with hands positioned under shoulders, scapula neutral and flush on ribs, with head and neck, rib cage and pelvis in a long line. Hands flat on the ground with fingers spread wide, index finger facing forward and weight through the entire hand – especially the thumb and index finger. Weight bear through toes with heel rocked backward so they are directly over the toes. Engage pelvic floor and deep abdominals to keep pelvis in neutral and engage obliques to keep ribs from dropping. Tighten quadriceps and engage gluteals and hamstrings so there is energy through legs and out to heels.

Inhale: Keeping the scapula stable and flush against the rib cage, and the elbows pointing backwards, bend elbows, to lower the body toward the ground. The head should be in its neutral alignment with the spine.

Exhale: Extend elbows and return to start position.

Do not let the ribs drop, and/or the shoulders, hips and the belly sag. The most difficult part of a push-up is keeping scapula flush to rib cage during the exercise. If the rib cage drops (as shown below), it pulls the scapula out of neutral.

If the deep stabilizers are not able to hold neutral in any one of the joints of the upper body, strain and/or pain may occur. Common complaints include tightness and compression through the neck, strain or pain at the shoulders and wrists, or strain at low back. If you experience any of these symptoms you may need one of the easier variations of the exercise that are described below.

Exercise Variations

  • Wall push-up: Facing a wall with your hands against the wall and in front of your shoulders.  This position decreases the amount of body weight that your upper body is required to support.
  • Push-ups prep: Perform the exercise with your knees touching the floor. Again, results in less force through hands and upper body.
  • Wide arm push-up: Hands in a wider position with your upper arm perpendicular to the side of your body.This increases the amount of work for the muscles in your chest, but it is harder to stabilize the scapula.