Convenient exercises that can be performed anywhere, pushups make up parts of certain physical education classes and personal training programs. While pushups may seem easy enough, many individuals struggle in order to complete just one. With the large number of muscles required to perform a pushup, there are a variety of reasons why some people are unable to complete them successfully.
It is a common misconception that the only muscles to benefit from a pushup are your chest muscles. A variety of different muscles -- including the anterior deltoids, triceps and abdominals -- are used to completed a pushup. Your chest muscles, primarily the pectoralis major, along with the anterior deltoids on the front of your shoulders raise and lower your body during a pushup. Located on the backs of your upper arms, your triceps aid in the pushing movement and arm extensions that occur during a pushup. Your abdominal muscles help stabilize your body and maintain the alignment of your neck, spine, pelvis and hips during a pushup.
Performing a pushup at first can be difficult. When you begin performing pushups or engage in a new exercise program, your muscles may be weak or stiff as the result of a lack of prior physical activity. With weak arm muscles, you may find it difficult to support your body using your arms. To increase your upper body strength, you can complete tricep extensions and bicep curls using light weights. You also should stretch prior to performing pushups to loosen your muscles and joints and to help prevent pain and injury.
Shoulder instability also can lead to difficulty in performing pushups. The shoulder is the joint in your body with the greatest range of motion. As a result of this extreme range of motion, your shoulder is susceptible to injury. Shoulder instability can occur when the upper portion of your arm is forced out of your shoulder joint, either through an overuse injury or a traumatic injury. Once you have sustained this type of shoulder injury, your shoulder has a greater risk of a future injury. Repetitive shoulder injuries can lead to chronic shoulder instability, a painful condition that produces a feeling of your shoulder giving out as you participate in activities, like pushups, that require use of your shoulders.
One of the main reasons why individuals have difficulty performing or cannot perform a pushup is a lack of proper pushup form. To complete a proper pushup, you should start with your face facing the floor. Your arms should be extended and positioned shoulder-width apart. Your back should be flat, and your feet should be close together, with the toes and balls of your feet on the ground. Slowly lower your body until your chest reaches the ground. To return to the starting position, push your body back up slowly as you extend your elbows.
- "Essentials of Personal Fitness Training"; National Academy of Sports Medicine; 2008
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Chronic Shoulder Instability
- Georgia State University: Upper Body Strength-Training Exercises