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When form meets function, we master physical finesse

Maggie Dugan, Columnist

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When Form Meets Function, We Master Finesse

“I cannot do push-ups, are you crazy?!”

More often than not, I meet this reaction from clients whenever I mention push-ups in a workout. Although the push-up represents the peak of fitness and exercise performance, the idea of mastering it holds a more intimidating connotation. When we envision the perfect push-up, we think of a more masculine movement, where our backs are ramrod straight, head remains above the heart and we allow ourselves to sink with bent elbows until our noses barely graze the floor — not just once, but 50 or 100 times in a row. Maybe that vision is your own ideal, but the singular perfect push-up does not depend on gender or heightened levels of fitness. Instead, it depends on attention to form, which ultimately transforms into success.

Practice makes perfect. By prioritizing quality as opposed to quantity, you pay attention to the form of the movement, allowing your muscles to achieve their full range of motion for a much more efficient result. The push-up itself falls under the category of upper-body endurance with a focus on the pectoralis muscles, triceps and anterior deltoids, according to the American Council on Exercise. However, when completing the proper push-up, core muscles can also be engaged. Ergo, the push-up stands as a staple movement for peak performance and fitness.

When beginning the push-up, you may start on your hands and knees. It is important to keep your hands about shoulder-width apart as well as directly beneath your shoulders in order to maximize the range of motion of shoulder and arm muscles, according to ACE. Next, shift into a plank position by moving your feet behind your torso, aligning the position of your feet with your hips. This positioning creates a straight line from shoulder to feet, so long as you keep your back straight and tuck in your core. Although it may seem natural, pay attention to your body’s tendencies and avoid hunching your shoulders because doing so restricts their range of motion and can cause injury. By avoiding shoulder hunching, your neck will also relax so that your head does not droop below your heart, which would restrict the flow of oxygen to the blood. In fact, your head should maintain the same line as the rest of your body, so that from head to toe, your body remains in a plank position.

Now that you accomplished the preliminary form, the next step is to perform the push-up.

“It is important to ‘pack the shoulders’ by setting the shoulder blades in the correct and most powerful position,” writes Jacqueline Crockford, an ACE certified health and fitness expert. “[This involves] maintaining straight arms and pull[ing] the shoulder blades down the back and together [while performing the push-up].”

Full range of motion comes when you bend your elbows so that they reach a 90 degree angle as you lower your body towards the floor. Do not worry if you cannot achieve the full 90 degrees on your first, second or even 20th push-up because accomplishment of the full range of motion takes practice and persistence. Go as far as your body allows you, listen to it and then with each repetition, you will become better and your body will become stronger.

The push-up possesses more benefits than just upper-body strength and endurance. Proper performance can address imbalances in the body as well as full-body stability, making the body more well-rounded not just in your workout but in everyday activity, according to ACE. If you can only conquer five properly formed push-ups the first time you confront the push-up, I applaud you. By addressing form rather than number, you allow your body to endure the work and stress placed upon it in a manner that will allow it to improve over time. With focus on form, you also take simple but imperative measures in preventing injury. More often than not, injury begins with ignorance to the quality of movement. With the proper care, five push-ups will turn to ten, and then fifteen, or maybe even fifty. Like all other forms of fitness, reaching and maintaining a level of endurance takes time, practice and patience. However, finesse of the difficult, and possibly intimidating, all begins with the form of the perfect push-up.

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