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Press Up Perfection!

Press ups are easy, right?


Many people take bodyweight exercises like the press up for granted assuming it’s something you can just crack on with without trouble. Like any other lift the press-up has a skill element and there are as many things that can, and do, go wrong when it’s performed.

These issues aren’t just seen in beginners, under fatigue these are the sorts of errors that start to creep into almost everyones efforts! The main errors we see are; Poor Shoulder Position, Lumbar Extension, Incorrect Neck Position and an underappreciation of hand placement!

The Terrible ‘T’

Okay so let’s start with shoulder position! We often see people assume the ‘T’ position shown in the near right picture. This position puts further undue stress on the shoulders during the movement. The ideal position for your shoulders is at a 35-45 degree angle so your body makes an ‘arrow’ shape (Pictured far right). Also pulling your arms right into your sides is not beneficial either, this increases the likelihood of anterior movement of the humeral head which, in plain english, places further stress on all of the structures at the front of your shoulder.

T Position


If your stomach hits first, you’re doing it wrong!

Another problem often apparent with the press up is not regarding it as a WHOLE BODY exercise. Many assume it’s all about your chest and shoulders, done correctly your abs, glutes and quads should all be feeling the work! This is often manifested as a poor spine position, particularly lumbar extension as in the near right picture.
This is also seen under fatigue when the ability for the core musculature to maintain a neutral spine is diminished.

To brace your abdomen is simple. Firstly force all of the air out of your lungs, your stomach should tighten and your abs should be working hard! Now simply maintain this tension (while continuing to breathe!). By doing this you will maintain the natural ‘neutral’ curvature of your spine as in the far right picture!

Lumbar Extension

Good Back

There’s no brucie bonus for poor neck positions!

Want to see a good Bruce Forsyth impression? Ask most people to do do a press up and you’ll see some fine chin poking examples!!

This is a strategy many use as a compensation for weakness somehwere within their kinematic chain. Poking the chin forward uses irradiation, which is basically allowing a stronger contraction of muscles by activating and contracting other muscles. If you lift a light bag you feel few muscles working, as opposed to lifting a heavy object when you can feel the tension throughout your body. This is what is happening with the chin poke, a neutral spine does not just apply to the low back. We want to see the head maintained in a neutral position as in the far right image.

Chin Poke

Neutral Neck

A quick word on hand placement

Most people flop down into a press up position and rip straight in! Now we know from previous blog posts that our shoulders are optimised for force transference when they are in an externally rotated position. We also know that irradiation causes increased muscular activity in surrounding muscles to those working, however, this isn’t always a bad thing. So this is where we need to pay a little more thought to what our hands are doing.

Firstly gripping the floor as hard as possible whilst performing press ups uses muscle irradiation to our advantage as it helps to increase the activity in our rotator cuff muscles helping stabilise our shoulders! To this gripping we also need to add thinking about screwing our hands in to the ground. Forcefully gripping and screwing in the hands creates an external rotation force at our shoulders which helps to optimise how the force is transferred across the joint. Something as simple as this can go a long way to a more stable and shoulder and you should instantly feel more powerful during your press ups!

Press Up Or Shoulder Pain? Or Simply Want To Improve Your Press Up Technique?

If press ups are causing you pain, don’t worry a sports massage from ProSport Physiotherapy may be all you need!

We always assess first to find the true cause of any limitations in your movement or performance and can help reduce pain and correct movement to give you a pain free press up!

We can also combine soft tissue massage and muscle activation techniques to help you perfect the muscle recruitment of your press up technique!

Want Access To All Our Exercises And Techniques? Try Our Inner Circle…

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