The most basic and transferable way to teach the fundamentals of athletic movement comes from a push-up. Understand how to do a push-up and you will understand the positional demands and patterns of anything else you will do in the weight room. Here’s what you need to know:
Three rules must be obeyed any time a push-up is done, but the exact style and variation of push-up you are doing depends on your reason for doing them in the first place. Are you an offensive lineman? Well, you might want to practice your push-ups with narrow hand-width to simulate where you will be pushing those ravenous d-linemen. Are you looking to be a powerlifter? If so you might want to practice your push-ups with your hands as wide as your bench press grip. Either way, it’s important to understand the skill-transfer effect the push-up has on everything else you do.
Midline Stability is the first rule of any movement; regardless of what our extremities are doing, there is to be no change in our spine whatsoever. So we can bench press, squat, clean, or wallball all we want, but our spine has to remain rigid and unchanged. Any break in the system is not only a leakage of power, but also potential for injury. Applied to the push-up, midline stability means your butt and abs need to squeeze tight, and head pulled into neutral throughout the entire range of motion.
The second rule of movements is called the Laws of Torque. It states that in all motions of joint flexion, external rotation is needed for stability, and conversely in all motions of joint extension, internal rotation is needed for stability.
Flexion = External rotation
Extension = Internal rotation
In our starting position for the push-up, we spin our elbows pits forward to wind up the shoulder so we are set up for a strong descent to the bottom. On our way back up, we spin the elbow pits back forward to extend the arm and reinforce the external rotation.
The last rule of movement has more to do with body awareness and is referred to as Loading Order; whatever joint moves first is going to take most of the weight. In a push-up we have two options: our shoulders can move first and take the weight, or our elbows can move first and take the weight. In this case, we want the shoulder moving first and the elbow stacked vertically over the wrist. Done correctly it looks like the picture above. Done incorrectly looks like how we used to do them before we learned better…
Train and practice these three steps and you will not only develop the perfect push-up, but the strength which will transfer to other movements and sports.