Maintaining Forward Body Positioning
The push-up is a full body exercise, plain and simple. Tension needs to be developed from head to toe or form will fail leading to an inefficient and injury causing exercise. This starts with maintaining a forward body position. The eyes should never travel below the hands with the shoulders positioned directly over the hands. Practice this simplified kneeling exercise to perfect your positioning. When you progress to a full hand and foot push-up position make sure to engage the ankles. Think above performing a static calf raise to maintain a forward body position.
Note: The further forward the more difficult the exercise. As the hands travel down the body we shift into a planche position. This opens the gates to a world of complex and complicated gymnastics strength exercises.
Posterior Pelvic Rotation | Tucking the Pelvis
While mastering the forward weight shift you may have noticed tension develop through the abdominal muscles. This is a key sensation to maintaining spinal and pelvic stability. It is very common for the lumbar spine and pelvis to arch causing excessive compression to the spine and SI joints. Developing an isolated posterior pelvic rotation can be difficult as it is not a common movement for the body to perform. Practice in non-weight bearing positions first. Once you are able to isolated the movement combine with the forward weight shift exercise from above.
Note: A posterior pelvic rotation will engage the abdominal and gluteal muscles. Feel for tension and engagement through these muscles. This is confirmation that you are performing the exercise properly.
Scapular Protraction | Pushing the Shoulder Blades
"Push the Earth down" is one of my favorite cues to engage the upper body, specifically the scapulas. This movement completes the subtle rounding effect across the posterior chain (back). This is how we know the full abdominal complex is engaged, stabilizing the spine and pelvis throughout the exercise. Similar to the posterior pelvic rotation exercise above, scapular protraction is a tricky exercise to perform. Consider trying the reverse push-up position exercise below. This will assist with locking out the elbows to isolate the scapular movement.
Note: As the scapulas move it is very common for the spine to collapse and abdominal tension to disengage. Make sure to maintain a posterior pelvic rotation throughout the range of motion of the exercise.
Shoulder & Elbow Rotation
If the front of your shoulders and neck are burning at the end of a set of push-ups your form needs to improve. Developing external rotation through the shoulder joints will allow for targeting of the triceps and posterior shoulder muscles. Think about keeping the point of each elbow tucked tight to the body, DO NOT ALLOW YOUR ELBOWS TO FLARE OUT. You can also think about screwing your palm into the ground or increase pressure through the pinky side of your palms. Keep experimenting with these cues until you are able to develop tension through the triceps.
Proper Form & Progressions
Once you are able to connect all of these cues together, simultaneously, should you wander into more complicated push-up progressions. It takes a high level of mental thought and physical stability to perform this challenging exercise with perfection. Below is a simple to difficult progression of several push-up variations. Try to connect to cues learned above to each exercise.