5 Common Pushup Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them in Your Workouts

Kinesiologist Jeremy Ethier shared his best advice for fixing your pushup form and avoiding injury.

Pushups are one of the simplest bodyweight exercises out there, and can be highly effective in building strength and muscle. However, according to Jeremy Ethier, a kinesiologist and fitness influencer, many people are making small mistakes in their pushup technique which have the potential to lead to big problems, whether that be holding back their progress, or causing pain and injury.

In a recent video, Ethier highlights five common areas that you should pay attention to while perfecting your pushup form.

Elbow angle

“The most common mistake people make with their pushups is flaring their elbows out as a result of using a hand position that’s too wide, thinking that this is going to better target and grow their chest,” says Ethier. “But instead, it does the opposite, while putting our shoulders at risk of injury.”

He explains that when performing a pressing motion, our elbows should ideally line up with our chest fibers, in order to stimulate maximum muscle activation. A wide grip can limit our range of motion, and also forces the elbows out to the side at the lower end of the movement, reducing activation in the chest.

“Use a grip that’s just outside shoulder width or narrower,” he advises. “Then, don’t forget to tuck your elbows into your body instead of flaring them out.” He recommends keeping your elbows at an angle of below 60 degrees from the body (preferably 45 degrees).

Hand orientation

A lot of people perform pushups with their hands turned in slightly, which can lead to the aforementioned elbow issue, as well as increasing the risk of shoulder impingement. Instead, keep your hands in a neutral position, facing forward.

“Just as you would set your feet when you squat, you should actively screw your hands into the ground to promote external rotation of the shoulders before your pushup,” says Ethier. “As you go into the pushup, think about distributing the weight through your hands more externally than internally.”

Not matching your pushup form to target specific muscles

By making minor changes to your pushup form, you’re able to target specific muscles, making this bodyweight move highly adaptable whether you’re focusing on chest or arm workouts.

“If we wanted to make the pushup more chest-focused, then we would want to limit the amount of flexion our elbow experiences by moving the hands back a touch during the setup, and then keeping our elbows stacked on top of our wrist,” says Ethier. “This will place more tension on the chest and less on the triceps.” Conversely, to target the triceps, maximize flexion by tucking your elbows backward and inward, keeping them as far from your hands as is comfortable during the motion.

To target shoulders, Ethier recommends elevating the feet, or performing a pike pushup. “The added shoulder flexion in these variations should add more and more tension to the shoulders, rather than chest and triceps,” he says.

Shrugging

Even with the proper hand and elbow placement, once you start getting fatigued then it can be very easy to let the shoulders hunch up towards the ears. The traps then end up taking some of that pressure in the exercise, and just as important, it can compromise your stability.

“Activate your lats, actively pull your shoulders down and away from your ears into a stable and locked position that you want to maintain in each rep,” says Ethier. “This simple change will add a ton of much-needed stability to your pushup, improve your pushing strength, and ensure that most of the tension goes towards the target muscle.”

Speed

Cranking out reps as quickly as possible might be fine if you’re doing a fitness test, but is not something you should be doing in your regular workouts. Not only can too fast a pace increase the shear force in your elbow joints, but a slowed down movement actually offers a better workout, as it requires control, and increases activation in the chest, triceps and rear delts.

“If pushups are easy for you, instead of just trying to bang out more and more pushups at a fast tempo, slow it down,” says Ethier. “Take at least 2 seconds to perform each pushup, or even 4 or 5 seconds.”

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