Push-ups are great for building overall body strength and integrating that strength through the upper back, shoulders, arms, and core. They make the entire muscular system work hard, not just the muscles that are doing the pushing. The rest of the body has to struggle to stabilize the body as it moves through space.
If you watch closely, you’ll find people doing push-ups in some funky ways. Truthfully, there is no one way to do a correct push-up. Humans weren’t created with an instruction manual that said specifically how to get up off the ground.
On the other hand, for strength, stability, muscle, and joint health, there are some versions that are probably more effective than others. One common technique that I believe not optimal is the position of the lower back. Many people keep their lower backs too arched. Generally, push-ups are taught with a “neutral” spine position, meaning that the lower back remains in the same naturally arched position that it is in when we are standing. It’s called lordosis. Your natural lordosis is “neutral”, in that it’s neither flexed forward nor over-extended backwards. Neutral, or close to neutral, is probably how you do them, or strive to do them, whether you are aware of it or not.
The problem is, for many people, their naturally arched lower back is actually over-arched (overly extended), and they don’t know it.
Lower Back Pain and Extension
One fairly common issue in the general and athletic population is that many people are living an “extended” life. What I mean is that their lower backs are too arched. This often causes back pain somewhere in middle of the lower back, above your butt and below your mid-back.
I’ve helped numerous clients rid themselves of this back pain without expensive trips to the chiropractor or physical therapist, but the process is too complicated to explain here. One easy thing to do is become more aware of your over-extended nature, during every day life and during exercise. The push-up is an easy exercise to modify to make you less extended while also increasing difficulty.
The “Ribs Down” Push-up
There are a number of benefits to performing the push-up as I demonstrate in the video.
First off, it’s much harder. Many people who have become confident about their push-ups are completely humbled by this version. Holding your ribs “down” and your lower back flattened is quite difficult as you are actually doing the pushup. You’ll have to fight against your body’s natural pattern to extend (arch) as you move towards or away from the ground.
Second, your abs, particularly the obliques, have to work really hard to maintain your ribs “down” position.
Third, if you get extension based back pain while doing push-ups, this version may enable you to do the pushups without aggravation. This modification can also be used during planks, since a push-up is really just a moving plank.