Keep’um tucked…

Question:Do you have any research that says that elbows out pushups can cause injury or are less beneficial than elbows in?

Is it ever OK to do an elbows out pushup?



Hi Jack:

Thanks for the question!  Yes, there’s a bunch of research out there that supports the importance of keeping the elbows tucked during the pushup, most of which is found in health-science related journals that you have to pay for…but why pay when we can give it to you for free; Steve does a great job diagnosing the pushup, HERE

My quick concise answer to your questions regarding the injury implications of performing pushups incorrectly is, yes, you’re putting yourself in a compromised position by letting the elbows flare.  Not only are you creating all sorts of torque around the GH joint, but your scapular stability is compromised as well.  It may not happen immediately, but over time, you’ll likely develop an injury from the repetitive stress.  Not to mention the countless other imbalances being created by absorbing and producing force incorrectly.  

Additionally, from a performance standpoint, it’s certainly not advantageous to the press with flare.  Case and point, the picture below of some Detroit Lions linemen jamming the tackling sled…no elbow flare there…

  But celebrate with flare…absolutely…

Finally, do I ever think it’s okay to perform an elbow flared pushup…not really.  The only circumstance that I’d turn my head is during a testing scenario.  Well, let me qualify that, a testing scenario that I’m not conducting.  This may be applicable to military personnel.  If they are going to let you flare, and you’re more accustomed to this style, I’d probably roll the dice.  Conversely, if I’m testing athletes or the general pop at SAPT, less is more in my opinion; I’d rather see 5 perfect reps than 30 crappy ones. 

 Just keep’um tucked…


How Low Should You Squat?

I was hanging out with some good friends of mine over the weekend, and one of them asked me about a hip issue he was experiencing while squatting. Apparently, there was a "clicking/rubbing sensation" in his inner groin while at the bottom of his squat. I asked him to show me when this occurred (i.e. at what point in his squat), and he demoed by showing me that it was when he reached a couple inches below parallel. Now, I did give him some thoughts/suggestions re: the rubbing sensation, but that isn"t the point of this post. However, the entire conversation got me thinking about the whole debate of whether or not one should squat below parallel (for the record, "parallel," in this case means that the top of your thigh at the HIP crease is below parallel) and that"s what I"d like to briefly touch on.

Should you squat below parallel? The answer is: It depends. (Surprising, huh?)

The cliff notes version is that yes in a perfect world everyone would be back squatting "to depth," but the fact of the matter is that not everyone is ready to safely do this yet. I feel that stopping the squat an inch or two shy of depth can be the difference between becoming stronger and becoming injured.

To perform a correct back squat, you need to have a lot of "stuff" working correctly. Just scratching the surface, you need adequate mobility at the glenohumeral joint, thoracic spine, hips, and ankles, along with possessing good glute function and a fair amount of stability throughout the entire trunk. Not to mention spending plenty of time grooving technique and ensuring you appropriately sequence the movement.

Many times, you"ll see someone make it almost to depth perfectly fine, but when they shove their butt down just two inches further you"ll notice their lumbar spine flex (round out), and/or their hips tuck under, otherwise known as the Hyena Butt which Chris recently discussed.


If you can"t squat quite to depth without something looking like crap, I honestly wouldn"t fret it. Take your squat to exactly parallel, or maybe even slightly above, and you can potentially save yourself a crippling injury down the road. It amazes me how a difference of mere inches can pose a much greater threat to the integrity of one"s hips or lumbar spine. The risk to reward ratio is simply not worth it.

The cool thing is, you can still utilize plenty of single-leg work to train your legs (and muscles neglected from stopping a squat shy of depth) through a full ROM with a much decreased risk of injury. In the meantime, hammer your mobility, technique, and low back strength to eventually get below parallel if this is a goal of yours.

Not to mention, many people can front squat to depth safely because the change in bar placement automatically forces you to engage your entire trunk region and stabilize the body. You also don"t casino online have to worry about glenohumeral ROM which sometimes alone is enough to prevent someone from back squatting free of pain.

Also, please keep in mind that when I suggest you stop your squats shy of depth I"m not referring to performing some sort of max effort knee-break ankle mob and then gloating that you can squat 405. I implore you to avoid looking like this guy and actually calling it a squat:

(Side note: It"s funny as that kind of squat may actually pose a greater threat to the knee joint than a full range squat....there are numerous studies in current research showing that patellofemoral joint reaction force and stress may be INCREASED by stopping your squats at 1/4 or 1/2 of depth)

It should also be noted that my thoughts are primary directed at the athletes and general lifters in the crowd. If you are a powerlifter competing in a graded event, then you obviously need to train to below parallel as this is how you will be judged. It is your sport of choice and thus find it worth it to take the necessary risks of competition.

There"s no denying that the squat is a fundamental movement pattern and will help ANYONE in their goals, whether it is to lose body fat, rehab during physical therapy, become a better athlete, or increase one"s general ninja-like status.

Unfortunately, due to the current nature of our society (sitting for 8 hours a day and a more sedentary life style in general), not many people can safely back squat. At least not initially. If I were to go back in time 500 years I guarantee that I could have any given person back squatting safely in much less time that it takes the average person today.

Great Warm-up Movement You've Never Tried

MB Push + StartWhat is it? A great warm-up tool for getting the CNS firing and reminding the body how to produce a lot of force against the ground. The movement approximates the start for a sprint event. You can’t get as low as you do in the blocks, but it helps teach and reinforce how to produce great amounts of force as you are falling forward.

Why use it? See above, plus it’s fun!

Who should use it? Any athlete that is concerned about a “quick first step.”

If I were to coach myself based on my demonstration in the video, I clearly need to work on allowing myself to fall a fraction of a second longer and spend another fraction of a second extending through and taking advantage of the triple extension moment.

Overall, not too bad for a woman who had a baby exactly one-year ago tomorrow!

The Perfect Pushup: Diagnosing the Pushup

Pushups are probably looked down upon so often because they're the first exercise most people learned in grade school during gym class. They're often viewed as elementary and "too easy" for most, likely because they're not seen as sexy as another popular exercise: the bench press.

The funny thing is, the pushup seems to be one of the most frequently butchered exercises I see on a regular basis. When I walk around most gyms , I cringe at the form I see people using it's honestly very difficult to stop myself from running around like a Form Nazi in order to keep people from injuring themselves.

Today, I'm going to give the most common technique flaws I see take place during the everyday pushup, and some corrections on how to get much more "bang for your buck" from this exercise. The pushup is an AWESOME tool in your training arsenal, but the problem is it frequently isn't executed in a manner that will give people the results they're seeking.

I'll be giving video demonstrations of how NOT to do them, and then a video of what a real, perfect pushup looks like. All this on top of showing a few other pushup variations you can toy with once you master the perfect pushup. Aren't I a nice guy? You can buy me a cup of coffee later, no worries.

Anyway, let's get the geeky side of things out of the way. Here's where I'll be explaining the "why" behind pushups.

Why Perform Pushups?

* They teach you to control your body from head to toe. When performed correctly, they engage countless muscles in the pelvis, abdominals/low back, upper back, and then of course the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The nerdy way to describe the stabilization required during pushups is "lumbo-pelvic stability" which teaches you to control your core in a functional manner, leading to benefits both in and out of the weight room (I'll let you use your imagination here).

* It effectively trains movement of the scapulae (shoulder blades), giving you healthy shoulders for the long haul. Unlike the bench press, a pushup allows the shoulder blades to glide freely. When pushups are performed correctly (i.e. "pulling" yourself to the floor, and pressing yourself all the way up so your shoulder blades protract at the top) you engage the serratus anterior, a key player in shoulder health and function. The serratus, along with the lower trapezius, are two muscles that are pervasively dormant in our population. These two muscles work synergistically with the upper trapezius to upwardly rotate the scapula when your arm moves overhead (think: throwing a ball, or performing an overhead press). In fact, when I worked in the physical therapy clinic, the most common denominator in the patients with shoulder problems was weakness in both the serratus and the lower traps.

* They're a closed chain exercise, essentially making them more shoulder-friendly than the bench press (an open-chain exercise). * When done properly, they'll help boost your bench press, squat and deadlift numbers. Not to mention: aid you in your quest to achieve the look and function of a physical specimen. Hah! Now you're listening.

Anyway, below are videos of me performing various incorrect pushups. The technical flaws may evade you initially, but look closer, and you'll see them. You'll probably see some pushups that you weren't aware were even considered erroneous!

Note: The following 6 videos demonstrate INCORRECT form.

Error #1: Forward Head Posture

This is the most common error that people are unaware of, I believe. You'll see that my head juts forward, hitting the ground before my chest makes contact (the chest should touch the ground FIRST in a perfect pushup).

Error #2: No Scapular Retraction (aka "loose upper back")

Another common flaw most people are unaware of. You'll notice in the video that I "fall" to the ground, instead of intentionally "pulling" myself to the floor. The upper back is loose, there's no scapular retraction (think: pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades), and I'm essentially just letting gravity drop me to the floor.

Error #3: Excessive Elbow Flare

You'll see the elbows make a 90 degree angle with my torso (they should be tucked at roughly 45 degrees).

Error #4: Hip Sag

This is where the person lacks the "anterior-posterior" engagement of the core and the hips/low back sag to the floor (the body should form a completely straight line from head to toe, remaining stiff as a board).

Error #5: Elevated Hips

This is where the butt sticks up in the air. It's another compensation pattern (similar to #4) people slip into when they lack the core strength to effectively resist the pull of gravity throughout their entire body.

Error #6: Looking Straight Ahead/Looking "Up" (no video shown).

This is where people tilt their head up and look straight ahead as they perform pushups. It seems every sports coach tells their kids to do this! Look straight down at the floor when you do your pushups (unless you desire cervical problems down the my guest).

So, what does a Perfect Pushup look like?

Here (at last!) is the correct version:

Key Coaching Cues:

* Hands just be just outside shoulder width, and the elbows tucked at 45 degrees (or less) to the torso. Don't listen to people who tell you that placing your hands wider will give you better chest development! All that will do is fast-track you to shoulder pain and a subsequent physical therapy appointment. * "Pull" yourself down to the ground, actively engaging the scapular retractors and essentially the entire upper-back musculature. * Keep your chin tucked (think: give yourself a "double chin") so you don't "reach for the ground" with your head. * The chest should touch the floor first (i.e. not your hips or your head) * Squeeze your abs and glutes tight throughout the entire movement * Entire body should be perfect alignment, and you should remain as tight as if someone were about to come along and try to knock you over.

Once you master the basic perfect pushup (it will take longer than you think: you should be able to do at least 20 before progressing further), there are a number of ways to increase difficulty. One way is wrap a sturdy resistance band around you, so that the movement will become harder as you reach the top portion of the pushup (as the band tension increases). You can elevate the feet as well.

Both versions are combined and shown in the video, here:

There are a million different variations you can use (in truth, you really don't need many, but it's always nice to spice things up from time to time). You can do walkover pushups, as shown here (much harder than they look!):

Or tempo pushups, in which you perform both the eccentric and concentric slowly:

Or suspended pushups, as Kelsey (my lovely fiancee) is demonstrating here:

The list goes on, but this is more than enough to get you started!

Take home message: you'll receive far greater benefit from performing 5 perfect pushups then you will from performing 20 incorrect pushups. - Steve