Fit Tip Friday: Why We Don't Do Push-ups

One of the most common things I have seen in my career is shoulder pain, which is related to neck pain.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE treating shoulders, mostly because the "fix" is pretty straight forward and because it dramatically improves someone's quality of life.  Shoulder pain leads to neck pain and lingers around on you like a bad headache.  And guess what?  PUSH-UPS cause shoulder problems unless you are a rock star super star mover.  Read below for more info.

Here's the short and sweet of a very complex situation.  Your shoulders form what we're gonna call a girdle.  And this girdle is very floaty and not attached, in terms of your bones.  So, this girdle is dependent on muscles and tendons and connective tissue to be supportive.  Why is this so important outside of function and not being in pain?  Because your shoulder girdle keeps your head up, which when you consider the fact that we stand on two legs and manage to balance basically a bowling ball at the tippy top of a "stick" (your spine), you can appreciate how important this task is. 

In a nut shell, the muscles on the back side of the shoulder help stabilize this girdle, while the muscles in the front perform actions (this is a bit trite and overly simplified, but go with it).  Push-ups, when done the way most of us do them combined with the fact that few of us are actually strong enough to do them, can screw this whole delicious system up.  This is because they over strengthen the pectoralis muscles (chest).  And when these muscles are overstrengthened, they pull your shoulder forward, which pulls it out of alignment, which makes the stabilizing muscles in the back freak out and work WAY too hard and get knotty, and then puts the shoulder joint at risk for being bone on bone.  What happens after that?  Well, a little sac in that joint fills up with fluid to protect that bone on bone situation.  And when that sac fills up, you feel it.  It aches.  It gets inflamed.  You know.  That feeling.  You also probably develop terrible pain in between your shoulder blades and up the back of your neck because those stabilizing muscles are pissed off and having to do way more work than they are designed to do.  AND, the biggest danger of all is that the more you let this situation go unattended, the more at risk you are for suffering shoulder impingement, rotator cuff issues, and even tears in the shoulder.  NOT GOOD!

I do not ever do push-ups.  I know, I am extreme.  But, as a mother, I spend way too much time already holding kids and bending over and having my shoulders way out of alignment.  I don't do push-ups because they are not effective in giving me the strength I need AND they generally always hurt me in the wrong way.  I do, however, do strategic versions of push-ups, like Monkey Presses and Chinese Push-ups, which load the work into your mid back and core instead of your pecs.   And my arms get just as strong, perhaps stronger, than even the most accomplished pusher-upper.  Additionally, I create workouts that strengthen those tiny muscles on the back of the body instead so that I can further prevent injury and defray the trauma motherhood puts on my shoulder girdle. 

Lemme take a minute and say, for any and all naysayers, that it's not that I think push-ups are evil and are "wrong."  All I'm saying is that having the strength to do them correctly and in a way that does not risk injury takes a whole lot of focused, intense strengthening.  If you have the time and interest to gain that sort of strength and can thusly perform push-ups with good alignment, then please please do.  But, if you can't dedicate that time or if you can't get that sort of one-on-one attention to detail, proceed with caution.  And do some modifications.  It's worth it.  Shoulder pain bites. 

So, yes, I just told it was ok to stop doing push-ups.  Even "girlie" ones.  Tell your boot camp teacher I said so.  Or just do your Daily 15 Momma Strong workouts.  ;)

Until next week's nerd rant ...