Elbow Tracking During a Push Up

To continue to make progress in the gym, you need to spend time mastering the push up. Just because you can "do" a bunch of push ups from the ground doesn't mean for a second that you have mastered them. I will even go as far to say that the majority of people I see performing "push ups" are not doing them well enough. 

It's not just about lowering to the ground and pushing yourself back up. It is about being able to lower to the ground and push yourself back up for years to come. If you perform push ups with poor form, you will eventually bang your shoulders up bad enough to not be able to do push ups at all.

Referring to the diagram above, notice where the subject on the right has placed their hands. Placing the hands near shoulder level is a common push up error. This encourages the elbows to track too high, which puts the humerus (upper arm) at an internally rotated position. This is unstable, especially when loaded with bodyweight (push ups) or with a barbell/dumbbells (bench pressing). The high elbow position also leaves less space for tissues that connect your arms to your torso to function correctly.

The subject on the left is demonstrating proper push up alignments. Their hands are around chest level. This puts the humerus at an angle from the torso. Once the arm is positioned here, a slight effort to tuck the elbows closer to the body will externally rotate the humerus. This stabilizes the shoulder joint and encourages proper function of the scapulae (shoulder blades).

Keep in mind that experienced trainees have the ability to create sufficient stability with improper elbow tracking (elbows tracking high, like the subject on the right). Having said that, if you have always done push ups (or find it more comfortable) with your elbows tracking high, you do not understand how to create this stability. Go back and make your push ups resemble the figure on the left.  

There is more to go over in regards to push ups, but I will save this for later posts. 

The training video below shows several push up variations, focusing on finishing in extreme external rotation. As I said, being able to externally rotate the humerus stabilizes the shoulder joint. Being able to do this will be essential in improving the human flag. 

(The beginning 4 minutes shows me jumping rope to warm up. If you want to get right to the push ups, skip ahead to the 4 minute mark.)  


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