Push ups are observed in a variety of gym settings. Performance can range from being beneficial towards strength, rehabilitation, and conditioning. Conversely, they can be degenerative, painful, and contribute to injury if not done correctly. As a result of the variance observed, numerous coaching techniques are tested to try to find the best approach. While most are beneficial, too many coaching corrections are commonly made during the exercise that leads to over-coaching and confusion. Instead, strive to simplify the process by decreasing coaching cues through teaching proper muscle recruitment, sensory awareness, and advantageous positions prior to performing a push up.

1. Global Stability

Kinetic chain stability is required during the concentric, isometric, and eccentric phases of the push up. Sadly, stability is often sacrificed for a pre-specified goal repetitions as directed by the coach. To succeed at the given task, an athlete tends to develop into an unstable compensatory pattern of neck extension, flared rib cage, and an anteriorly tilted pelvis. To combat this, coaches should create global stability from the Foam Roller Press Up (FRPU) before teaching a push up.

The FRPU is practical & advantageous exercise for the push up. The simple, yet effective exercise, should be given to athletes that struggle with any of the aforementioned dysfunctions. When performing the FRPU, the main focus is directed towards “lifting the belly button toward the ceiling.” This motion engages the obliques to properly position the rib cage & inhibit the commonly desired motion of lumbar extension. The FRPU teaches the athlete how to sense, recruit, and understand the position & muscles that will be required for the push up.

When the athlete is ready and they are at the top position of the push up, the coach simply reminds the athlete to perform a FRPU. This short and direct coaching cue gives the athlete the exact information they need to create a stable anatomical non-compensatory pattern for push up success.

Athletes commonly fall into lumbar extension during the descending phase of the push up. Again, the simple cue of FRPU, should remind the athlete to lift the belly button. In doing so, it will create a slight posterior pelvic tilt to engage the proper muscles and allow optimal movement to occur.

In short, the FRPU can be utilized to maintain position while moving and establish position prior to starting. This will aid in keeping coaching direct, relatable, understandable, and minimal.

2. Scapulo-Humeral Separation

Athletes must have the ability to understand the concept of glenohumeral movement, scapular movement, and rib cage dynamics. These three anatomical segments commonly move disproportionately to one another. This often results in an anteverted shoulder, pinched scapula, and a bilateral rib flare. This will not only impede push up performance, but will gradually produce poor mechanics with concomitant chronic joint degradation. Instead, implement the Half-Kneeling Band Reach with the main goal of sensory and motor learning to control these bodily dynamics during a push up.

The Half-Kneeling Band Reach emphasizes scapula, shoulder, and rib cage movements that are apparent during a push up. Once in the half-kneeling position, perform a FRPU to establish rib cage to scapula congruency, low back inhibition, and oblique facilitation. In addition, ensure there is enough band resistance prior to starting the exercise.

Initiate a rowing movement by conceptualizing scapula & glenohumeral control. Typically, athletes squeeze scapula’s to the rib cage, which contributes to improper shoulder position & impingement. Instead, emphasize “first scapula then shoulder,” to optimize synchrony between the two joints. This phase, equivalent to the downward motion of a push up, seeks for a “soft end” feel (upper left picture) at the glenohumeral joint. This end range will represent soft tissue that is indicative of proper concurrent movement of the two joints. Conversely, a “hard or bony” end feel (upper right picture) displays as erroneous scapular movement combined with forward gliding & rolling of the humeral head in the glenoid.

Lastly, the eccentric phase of the Half-Kneeling Band Reach demonstrates the necessary movement between the scapula & thorax. The shoulder blade must be able to protract “around” the thorax in an optimal fashion for pain-free motion. The scapular muscles work eccentrically to control and slow down the arm. This is needed during the upward phase of the push up to ensure the athlete does not hyper-extend the elbows or cause shoulder impingement. Additionally, the athlete begins to understand how to move the shoulder blade while controlling the thorax.

To summarize, indirect coaching methods for a specific exercise can be effective. It will not only optimize the learning environment, but minimize distractions for the athlete. As seen, the Foam Roller Press Up and Half- Kneeling Band Reach indirectly improve comprehension & performance of the push up. Try this nominal approach to enhance your own method to coaching the push up.