Anatomy Of A Pushup: Get The Proper Pushup Form

Anatomy Of A Pushup- Proper Pushup Form | EMAC Certifications

Anatomy Of A Push Up: Get The Proper Pushup Form

Here, you’ll learn

  • Joint motions in a push up
  • Muscle actions during the push up
  • Proper pushup form and technique
  • Common mistakes during a push up
  • Pushup variations

Joint Motions In A Push Up

A pushup is a compound exercise involving motion at both the shoulder and elbow joints. Additionally, there are other joints that remain in a neutral position to get the most out of it. During the acceleration part of the movement, the shoulder will go into shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction, and internal rotation. The elbow, or humeroulnar joint, will move into and out of elbow flexion. Lastly, as you push up and out of the bottom of the exercise, the scapula will move into full scapular protraction.

Muscle Actions During A Push Up

There are different types of muscle actions that occur during movement. The first is an eccentric contraction. This is when a muscle is lengthening out and the eccentric phase of an exercise is usually when you are lowering the resistance down. In this instance of a pushup, the eccentric phase of the exercise is when the body lowers to the ground. An isometric contraction occurs when there is no visible movement but tension remains on the muscle. In the instance of this exercise, it occurs at the bottom of the exercise. Lastly, the concentric phase of a movement is when muscles shorten and produce force. Therefore the pectoralis major is contracting concentrically to lift the body back up to the starting position (hand plank).

Muscle Actions At The Shoulder Joint

Since most people think about muscle contractions in the concentric phase, this is the anatomy we’ll cover. A muscle responsible for the most force is the prime mover, and personal trainers use the word agonist. In the pushup, the pectoralis major is the prime mover at the shoulder joint. However, there are other muscles responsible for assisting the prime mover. When muscles “help” the prime mover they are acting as synergists. It isn’t their job to do all the work, but they help out. In the case of a push up, the synergists at the shoulder joint include the anterior deltoid and the latissimus dorsi.

The floating scapulae are also part of the shoulder muscle group. During this exercise, they will move into full scapular protraction at the top of the exercise and during concentric acceleration. During the eccentric phase, however, the scapula should remain relatively neutral. This happens when the serratus anterior works to stabilize the bone. Therefore, the muscular anatomy of a push up during scapular protraction includes the pectoralis minor and serratus anterior. Lastly, the muscles of the rotator cuff will serve as stabilizer muscles to the shoulder joint.

Muscle Actions At The Elbow Joint

Given the humeroulnar joint only moves in the sagittal plane, it will only go into flexion and extension during the pushup. Therefore, the prime mover, or agonist, is the triceps brachii. And, the opposing muscle, or antagonist, is the biceps brachii. Some people think the tricep is the assistant mover, synergist, during a pushup. This is incorrect, however, because you should be thinking of joint motions during the exercise rather than the exercise itself.

Muscle Actions At The Hip

The lumbopelvic hip complex must remain neutral during the pushup. In most exercises, this is easy to accomplish. Here, however, the resistance is the gravitational pull on the bodyweight where the center of the body is impacted most. So, the transverse abdominus (a deep muscle of the core that wraps around the spine) must isometrically contract to keep the body in a neutral position.

Similarly, the glutes will need to contract. Most people consider the gluteus maximus to be the lower body. However, it crosses the hip joint, therefore it’s considered one of the core muscles. To keep a neutral spine, the glutes must also isometrically contract during the entire exercise. 

Muscle Actions At The Knee

It’s common for people to allow their knees to bend during the pushup. However, unless you are performing the push up with your knees on the ground, they must remain straight. This helps to engage the gluteal muscles and keep the hips neutral. Therefore, the lower body must engage, firing the quadriceps during the exercise.

Proper Pushup Form And Technique

Now that you have an understanding of the anatomy of a push up, it’s easier to understand the proper form for a standard pushup. Follow these guidelines to get the most out of your chest workout.

  • Begin in a hand plank position with the hands shoulder width apart.
  • Slowly lower the body to approximately 90 degree flexion in the elbows.
  • As you lower to the ground, keep the scapula (shoulder blade) neutral by engaging the serratus anterior.
  • Engage the core muscles and keep the erector spinae muscle neutral.
  • Continue activating the quadriceps through the entire movement.
  • Using upper body strength, push yourself away from the ground.
  • As you push up and out of the movement allow the shoulder blade to move into full scapular protraction.

Common Mistakes During A Pushup

Avoid these common errors personal trainers correct clients during a pushup:

  • Arching of the lower back
  • Excessive rounding of the lower back
  • Dropping of the head
  • Extending the neck and looking forward
  • Allowing the knees to bend if performing a standard push up
  • Moving into scapular retraction at the bottom of the exercise
  • Performing a pushup before perfecting form on the modifications first (knees on floor or hands on wall)

Pushup Variations

You can do pushups for all fitness goals including increasing muscle mass, losing weight, and general fitness. Clients will improve their upper body strength as well as develop stabilization mechanisms of the rest of the body.

  • Tricep pushups: Move the hands closer together so the elbows migrate  behind the shoulders rather than out to the side.
  • Handstand pushup: Place hands on floor and kick the legs up against the wall to a handstand position. Perform the pushup upside down to increase shoulder strength and mimic a shoulder press.
  • Dumbbell Pushup: Hold onto a dumbbell with each hand to alleviate pressure in the wrist.
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