How Push-Ups are Punishing Your Posture
An Anvil Training Article
Written by Tyrel Dyson (Introduction and Edit by Marshall Officer)
Cover Image Source: https://dod.defense.gov/Photos/Photo-Gallery/igphoto/2001270154/
Anvil is not a group of fitness professionals who have spent our entire lives studying the science behind what you should and shouldn’t do in the gym. We aren’t doctors, or physiotherapists, or personal trainers. We aren’t experts in any medical field. But we are a group of Australian ex-infantry veterans with decades of training experience between us, in and out of the gym. We have made every mistake under the sun, and we have learned from those mistakes - which drives us to bring you the most relevant and high quality information, so you can educate yourself and take your own training to the next level. What this means is that we aren’t going to give you the perfect combination of exercises, sets and reps that will solve all your lifting problems and give you consistent, injury free gains for the rest of your life. We are striving to take our training that extra step further, and in the process, use our personal experiences to help you take your training to the next level and hopefully, avoid the mistakes (and related injuries) that we made in the process. We are constantly learning, and we try to cater to an audience who is also constantly searching for more information just like us.
Anyone who has spent time instructing or coaching, not only fitness but in any other area, will know that there is no “one size fits all” solution for everyone. This is especially true when it comes to physical exercise, as individual anatomy varies so much from person to person. It is important to take all information as a guide, and ensure everything you implement in your training program is done safely and, preferably, with some supervision from a qualified professional who can adjust your personal technique to prevent any long term damage, ensuring your training is as effective as possible . That being said, Anvil Founder Tyrel Dyson knows how the military emphasises push-ups as a fitness standard, and he has put together the following article for some guiding principles specific to shoulder health and push-up technique for anyone who experiences pain or postural imbalance (thanks to a career of doing max effort push-ups).
What Push-Ups Are Doing to Your Posture
The Australian Army fitness test for entry has three components: a Beep Test/Shuttle Run, Sit-Ups, and the age-old classic, Push-Ups. We could spend days on end debating the standards set and achieved for entry into the Army, and whether or not these exercises are the best reflection of somebody fit and strong enough to carry out basic training - but we will leave that discussion for another day. The go-to Army exercise for developing bodyweight strength, demonstrating physical prowess (no matter the time or place), or just implementing some “corrective physical training” in the event that someone is taking too long or doing the wrong thing, is the Push-Up. Unfortunately, doing so many push-ups, usually past the point of technical failure, has a bad habit of causing more harm than good. Speaking from personal experience - after a few years in the army, I started to have a persistent, sharp stabbing pain in the front of my shoulders. This was a combination of multiple factors, the two main ones being lazy posture and poor exercise selection for the rest of my training program. Luckily, once I located the source of the pain - my issues were easily fixed, and within a week or two that frustrating shoulder pain was a thing of the past!
The military tends to focus on an anterior-dominant training protocol. In one of my previous articles, I discussed the benefits of training the posterior chain, especially for roles in a military or law enforcement environment. Because of this preferred training protocol, military members can develop a posture with anteriorly rotated shoulders because of tightness in the chest and arms. This is made worse when your gym program adds anterior volume, through exercises like bench press, curls and shoulder press (also conveniently known as the ‘military’ press).
When addressing anterior dominance, it all comes down to balance and stability within your own training. To have a stable shoulder, you need to have a balanced program - at the very least doing a 1:1 ratio of back/pulling movements as opposed to chest/pressing movements. Ideally, we want to favour the posterior pulling movements using a 2:1 ratio of pulls to pushes. Keep in mind, the physical training you will do in the morning for work will probably contain a lot more pushing volume than pulling, especially if you are following a traditional military PT program.
So how can this be implemented easily at an individual and small group level? A very simple way to adjust this push/pull ratio is to superset your push ups with a similar amount of face pulls or lying heaves. You can do this during your warm up, or throughout the session, to ensure that a sufficient amount of back volume is being applied to counter the amount of pressing you are conducting. A second important consideration is your posture throughout the day. Try focussing on keeping your shoulder blades in a “semi-bench-press” position. This position has your shoulders pulled back, while maintaining a conscious effort of lightly pulling your shoulder blades back and down towards your opposite back pocket. Holding this position can be difficult, so it is important to remember that you do not need to be constantly squeezing with the same kind of tension you would achieve before a heavy bench press. The goal of holding this position is to actively correct the forward rotation of your shoulders and balance your posture overall.
The image above shows the ideal position is the “anatomical position” (bottom right). The arrows indicate a diagonal downwards pull in order to draw the scapula into the correct position. This will leave you standing with a “proud chest”, and will help develop a stronger, healthier upper back in the process.
Finally, a quick note on push-up technique - arm positioning is crucial to avoid shoulder impingement and other long-term shoulder damage. You want your arm to be roughly at a 45-degree angle from your torso, as opposed to the extremely common 90-degree arm position straight out to your side. Lowering in this 45-degree arm position will lead to more engagement from your lats, and pressing from this position will more effectively distribute the effort between your shoulder, chest and triceps muscles. When adjusting to your new arm position, your push up total may drop for a short time. This is completely normal, as your body adjusts to a different (safer) movement, and in terms of shoulder health and mobility - this new position will allow for longevity and greater overall strength output (once your body becomes familiar with it). The image below demonstrates how you should ideally look from above when conducting push-ups to maximise shoulder stability.
In conclusion, when adjusting your technique, make sure you do so gradually and without over-training. Any adjustment can potentially lead to injury if you attempt to force your body to adjust to a new movement pattern too quickly. Nobody is built exactly the same, so a little bit of testing, adjusting and discomfort is expected when implementing better technique. If need be, film yourself or get the opinion of a qualified professional to ensure you are training as safely as possible.
Train smart, train hard.
Anvil Training and Development is a group of Australian veterans who care about the physical and mental health of veterans and emergency service workers. We’re passionate about ongoing education and working with others to implement positive change.
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(Article Edited, Proof Read, and Fact-Checked by Charlotte Officer)
VES Mental Health Resources: https://anviltd.com/pages/ves-australian-mental-health-resources
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