The Dogma of the Week: Are Pushups Bad?

Happy Monday to all and welcome to the newest installation of The Dogma of the Week!

For this blogpost, I’m going to discuss an exercise that is dogmatically thought of as being effective and functional, yet it can be one of the most destructive exercises a person can do. This exercise is the pushup.

At one point in my career, getting clients tired was my main prerogative. What I was finding as I went along through my career as a trainer was that clients would inevitably come to me with some type of pain, laziness, or a complete lack of motivation. This is because I was unaware of the damage I was inflicting upon them over the long term. The pushup was once a staple in my regimen due to how effective it was when it came to getting a client fatigued during a personal training session.

If I felt they weren’t tired enough, I would tell them to do pushups, or I would throw a variation of a pushup into the session so that it would obliterate them during the workout. Subsequently, I began learning about forward head posture, internal shoulder rotation, thoracic flexion and scapular elevation. Luckily, I started to see the link between the new information I was learning and how that associated to the personal training workouts that I was giving my clients and I. I learned the implications of using an exercise like the pushup was compounding the problems of a person involved in a culture that continually promotes sitting while simultaneously stressing. This is because the muscles that are stimulated during the pushup are the same as the ones stimulated at work when you’re sitting at your desk.

If we look at the anatomy of a human body and how it functions optimally in nature, you might notice that a person would not find themselves in a pushup position very often. In fact, most of the positioning a human would be in if they wanted to be successful in nature, would be in a standing position. It is from a standing position that we can walk, throw, sprint, jump, etc. If you train a human to have their body in a position where they are on all four limbs, you are typically going to train them to move in a manner befitting that of our ancestors (eg: monkeys).

The most influential factor that made humans different from our ape ancestors was the fact that we walked on two feet, enabling us to utilize our hands, hence pushing us further into the evolutionary process. If we diverge from these biological inclinations, it is invariably going to lead us into a process of degeneration and dysfunction.

Here is a video of me demonstrating what a pushup may do to your functional capabilities, and an alternative to help you bring your body back into is biologically balanced position. Enjoy!

2017-01-18T20:27:14+00:00

10 Comments

  1. Alanna July 16, 2012 at 2:06 am - Reply

    Thank you so so so much for writing/talking about this. I realize I use push ups way too much in my training and with my clients. That is going to change now. 🙂 At my site I do a lot of workouts without equipment, and that makes me do a lot of exercises on all fours. I need to get creative and find alternatives for that, I see.

    You are amazing and I want to learn more. How can I do that? Do you have internet courses or can you maybe direct me to where I can learn more about this?

    • Naudi July 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the positive feedback Alanna!

      I can’t say I really know of anyone else who teaches what I do specifically. For now, I would suggest checking out my human foundations and human performance videos so that you can get an understanding of the thought process it takes to understand what may be functional and what wouldn’t be. Thank you for watching!

  2. Bobby Fernandez July 17, 2012 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Could it be that the forward head posture and internal shoulder rotation are a result of a failure to properly stabalize the scapula and neck with the posterior muscles during the full range of motion? I’m not partial to the pushup but feel it is not necessarily the pushup’s fault that you developed your postural deficiencies. I agree that one must be properly trained to push prior to incorperating the pushup in to their workout but hesitate to declare the pushup will categorically lead to disfunction.

    • Naudi July 17, 2012 at 11:49 am - Reply

      I completely agree that scapular stability is crucial when it comes to doing a pushup with minimal damage. However, if u take in the context of how much protraction and inward rotation of the shoulder is promoted within our culture, it becomes perplexing to me as to why someone would want to effectively stimulate the tissues that would aggravate the problem further. By stimulating the pecs, u automatically put strain on the clavical, scapulae and humerous anteriorly, and its inevitable that a posture will round withhin time (especially if u have great mechanical orietation in the area, like I did when I messed up my rotator). With that said, my real question is why a person would do a pushup when there are several other exercises that could give u real benefit without compromising your structure integrity. I can think of over 3 to 400 movements (many of which are on my youtube and website) that would give me much better result than a pushup for functionality. Hope that explained my position a little better. Thank u for watching 🙂

      • Bobby Fernandez July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm - Reply

        Yes, I share your desire to avoid unsupported protraction and any movement, loaded or unloaded, that would engage that same motor program. My contention is with your premise. I don’t agree that a pushup is inherently stressfull (in an anterior direction) to the clavicals and scapulae. When I perform a pushup, my scapulae are secured in retraction and depression so as to “glue” them down to the rigidity of my rib cage. To me, this teaches proper function in that anytime I reach forward in that pushing motion, I automatically brace for a load and depress and retract about the scapulae. All this can be said for the head and neck position after proper pushing form is learned. I appreciate the feedback as these are merely theories of mine. As I said before, I’m not married to the pushup, just need to be convinced it’s worth avoiding and can be replaced with something just as cheap,easy to teach to the untrained individual and familiar.

        • Jason August 1, 2012 at 6:06 am - Reply

          Bobby, you’re right my man. The pushup is not a bad movement nor is it counterproductive in a training program. Just like any other movement, when you perform it wrong, yes, it can be detrimental. Pushups are great for shoulder rehab and ailments like “winged scapulae” as they excite the serratus anterior which play a part in scapular position. Here are two decent articles discussing the matter:

          http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_repair/pushups_face_pulls_and_shrugs

          http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/everything_pushups

          • Naudi August 1, 2012 at 6:27 am

            Even if a pushup is done correctly, the pec over-stimulation in a pushup inevitably will lead to imbalance. One must look at the context of how much a human would be on all fours in nature doing a pushup to verify the necessity in doing a pushup. A bigger problem I have with people doing pushups is that they will work more on that rather then working on something as important as a gait. With that said, the mastery of an efficient gait cycle is something of extreme complexity and requires a ton of coordination a integration of all systems if it’s done correctly. The pushup on the other hand doesn’t require a ton of coordination to master (neutral spine, extended thoracic, scapular stability). My perspective is that there is a ton of other movements you can do on your feet (things that our biology demands) that will carry a whole lot more into reality than something like a pushup. With my pros and average joes, I’ve pretty much eliminated the exercise altogether and I am having no problem with them elevating performance without it. If you look through my gallery of videos, you will see the few hundred exercises I have discovered that will replace a pushup and in in turn, replace that dysfunctional movement with something functional. Thank you for checking out the site and have a great day :^)

          • Jason August 1, 2012 at 6:36 am

            Yeah, of course everything has it’s place. Like performing a pushup as a means of shoulder rehab or correcting winged scapulae. Though there are many movements that can help fix these types of ailments, I’m not sure that playing with gait patterns is one of them. Obviously, gait plays an important role in posture, but I’m speaking from a rehab standpoint. I’m going to go with the Physical Therapists on this one. Either way, love the site.

          • Naudi August 1, 2012 at 9:13 am

            I’ve dealt with clients who have shoulder pains quite frequently, and never needed to do a row or even a pushup. Although there are things one must do to get at what is creating the shoulder dysfunction, getting at the gait pattern is where the real root of the problem is. If you want a permanently pain free body, a good walk is the way to go. Have a good day Jason!!! :^)

  3. amy claroni July 18, 2012 at 4:31 am - Reply

    Thank you for the knowledge. I am so glad I found your site. I am a natural figure/bodybuilder athlete and I really try to keep myself healthy and in amazing shape for the long road ahead, competition or not. Knowing how to correctly perform exercises and be efficient is priority. So thank you Naudi, for the education.
    Amy

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