You've probably done more push-ups in the past month than you have in a year — or maybe ever. (Thanks, at-home workouts and social media challenges!) But like any good thing, you can definitely overdo it on the push-ups. Especially if you don't have enough counterbalancing movements.
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Jillian Michaels, fitness expert and creator of the Jillian Michaels Fitness App, says that doing too many push-ups creates an imbalance that can lead to injury.
Muscles usually exist in antagonistic pairs (when one contracts, the other relaxes). This means that if you're constantly working your pushing muscles without a complementary pulling exercise, you're neglecting half of your body. This imbalance leads to a hunched-over posture and lower back and neck issues.
"When you do a lot of push-ups, it strengthens your shoulders, triceps, chest, abs and quads," Michaels says. Those are basically the 'Look at me, I'm fit!' muscles that everyone wants to tone. But it's the opposing muscle groups — the glutes, hamstrings and lower and upper back — that "bring balance to your biomechanics," she says.
To keep your muscles balanced, Michaels and scores of other trainers recommend the reverse plank.
Why Your Back Needs the Reverse Plank
You don't typically hear about the reverse plank because gyms are filled with rowing machines and plenty of other pull exercises. But when you're stuck at home, reverse planks are one of very few body-weight exercises that can offset a push-up.
"The reverse plank is an important exercise for at-home workouts and people who do a lot of push-ups because it allows you to train the posterior muscles in the core," Michaels says. That also helps with work-from-home back and other postural issues.
How to Do the Reverse Plank
"Like the name implies, this exercise is simply a plank — but inverted," Michaels says. Instead of holding the position facing the ground on your palms and the balls of your feet, you face up toward the sky, resting on your heels and palms.
- Sit with legs extended and place your hands slightly behind you.
- Lift your hips into alignment with your legs and chest. Rest on your heels and palms, fingers spread.
- Point your fingers toward your feet instead of away, as in a traditional plank.
- Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to hips to feet. And your hands should be directly under your shoulders.
- Gaze straight up toward the ceiling. Keep your chin off your chest, but make sure that your head isn't collapsing toward the floor.
Start with sets of 10 seconds and work your way up, aiming to offset each set of push-ups with a reverse plank. As with push-ups, you don't want to overdo this one either. And since the reverse plank can be too much shoulder strain for some, people with shoulder issues and arthritis may need to seek out a different pull exercise.
Alternatives to the Reverse Plank
Other exercises that help to work your pulling muscles without any equipment are the Superman, Sphinx pose, Locust pose and Snake pose, Michaels says.
Move 1: Superman
- Lie on your stomach, all four limbs extended — arms reaching overhead and legs out straight.
- Keeping your hip bones and stomach glued to the ground, lift all four limbs into the air. As you lift, avoid shrugging your shoulders.
- Hold here for a moment, then lower back to the ground with control.
Move 2: Sphinx Pose
- Lie on your stomach. Bring your elbows to your ribs. Your palms should be shoulder-distance apart and flat on the ground in front of you.
- Peel your chest off the ground and pull your shoulder blades back and down along your spine. Either look forward or rest your neck by allowing your chin to drop to your chest.
- Take several deep, calming breaths here.
- Lower back down to the ground and look off to one side.
Move 3: Locust Pose
- Start on your stomach with your arms by your side.
- Press your hips into the floor, and begin engaging the muscles in your lower back and legs as you exhale.
- Inhale, gently lift your legs, arms, shoulders and chest off the floor. Hold your shoulders square and imagine someone pulling your arms back as you stretch your chest. Point your toes, keeping your feet near each other (they don't have to touch).
- Hold for three to five breaths.
Move 4: Snake Pose
- Lie on your stomach.
- Take a deep inhale and lift your chest off the ground and reach both hands back behind you.
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your gaze forward.
- Take several deep breaths in and when you're ready, slowly release back down to the ground.
Other options include the inverted row and supported back plank. While you'd normally do the inverted row hanging from a bar in a power rack, personal trainer Sonny Weathersby recommends this creative at-home inverted row set-up:
- Grab a bed sheet.
- Tie a knot on the end of the sheet.
- Place the knotted end over one side of a sturdy door.
- Close and lock the door.
- Grab the sheet and recline back (leaning in a fully erect position, being sure not to compromise the lower back).
- Pull up with your arms and back muscles until your chest reaches your hands.
- Lower back down to the starting position.
- Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
You can achieve a good posterior pull with the back plank, too — but you'll have to find two even chairs to prop yourself up on.
- Set up two chairs facing each other and just wide enough apart for you to fit between.
- Support yourself with an arm on each chair, arms bent at the elbows.
- Bend your knees and press into your arms to raise yourself up into a tabletop position.
- Hold for 10 seconds before lowering down.