Are Your Push Ups Putting You At Risk?


This moderately advanced exercise is great for improving shoulder stability, core strength, and strength in your chest and shoulder muscles. However, if you are performing this exercise with poor movement patterns you are putting your shoulders at risk for injury. I would recommend reading our plank article before this one as this will help improve your scapular mechanics for the push up. Once you have mastered the concepts in the plank article (Can You Plank Without Pain?) it will be easier for you to master the push up and keep your body injury free.


This exercise will help:

  • Increase shoulder stability
  • Improve core strength
  • Improve strength in chest and shoulders

If you are performing this exercise incorrectly you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Neck pain
  • Knee pain

How to Perform Correctly

If you are having trouble performing the push up correctly from the toes you can drop down to your knees; however, you still need to be able to activate your core from this position. It is very common for people to want to use their quads to perform this movement.  Reference the pictures below for proper placement of your knees to ensure that you are not making this mistake.

Top 3 cues:

  • Keep your shoulders directly over your hands
  • Don’t chicken wing your elbows out
  • Keep your belly button tucked to your spine

Push Up Drills

The following drills will help improve your mechanics and positional strength to help ensure that you are protecting your body from an injury. If you are already experiencing pain during this exercise, focus on these drills for a few days before attempting a full push up from the toes. You can also perform modified push ups while you continue to focus on these drills. This will help decrease some of the irritation you may be experiencing while you work on improving your movement patterns.

Anterior Deltoid Scrub

This mobilization will help decrease some inflammation and pain you may be experiencing in the anterior (front) portion of the shoulder.  This can be caused by poor movement patterns.

Banded External Rotation

This exercise will help increase activation of postural muscles that will help keep your shoulder girdle in proper position to decrease risk of injury.

Dying Bug

This exercise will help engage your deep abdominals muscles. When you are able to activate  your deeper abdominals you will be able to perform your push up with better form and less pressure through your shoulders.


In summary, the push up is a great exercise to build core, shoulder, and chest strength.  When the push up is performed with incorrect form it can cause some injuries.  Try these convenient and effective drills to help decrease your risk of injury. If you are still experiencing any of the symptoms listed above please feel to reach out to us for a free discovery consultation!

-Dr. Chelsea Schuman, PT

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