Press up wide v narrow

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The humble press up . What a wonderful full body exercise. Used in every exercise class, the staple of any gym program. But oh so many variations… which version should you give to which client, arms wide, arms close, knees down, knees up , legs narrow , legs wide…. So many choices….. so let’s explore them and their bio-mechanical implications.

Which one you give to your client depends on your client’s individual body.

Let’s take a look at a very common position, arms narrow, in martial arts settings they tend to favour knuckle press ups where the elbows flex backwards rather than out to the side…. so, what happens when we lift the weight of our body in this position?

Well we push the forces through the Triceps and Biceps (remembering that the biceps amongst other things flex the glenohumeral joint)…. now imagine that client had protracted shoulders…. we are now favouring Biceps over Triceps due to the shoulder position.

So, in the long term, this will cause a greater shoulder protraction due to the overworking of the bicep and of course chest muscles. The Biceps aren’t that large, a persons bodyweight is a lot to be asking of these muscles…. so, if you have a client who arrives in your gym with protracted shoulders what other press up options are there.

Well let’s explore the wide arm press up… with the arms wide the Biceps and Triceps become stabilisers of the shoulder rather than prime movers. The forces then start to come from the Trapezius, and Latissimus Dorsi muscles. The Rhomboids need to get involved to stabilise the scapular… in short all the muscles that help with external rotation of the humerus, useful if your client is habitually internally rotated… In addition, if the Latissimus Dorsi muscles are more involved, they will help to stabilise the spine so that is a win win, you are helping your client to strengthen their external rotators and their spine at the same time…

Let’s have a think about leg position.

Legs wide or narrow? Well wide legs give a better base of support, narrow legs mean you have to activate your stabilisers more (as long as the hips are inline with the body while doing this exercise, a sticking up bottom is the subject of another blog! ) .

So if you have a client with poor core stability, well, narrow legs may be helpful here as they will have to activate their core in order to stabilise… leg….even harder, you now need to stabilise further to stop the pelvis from tilting. I would suggest a one legged press up really is only for those clients you know to have great core strength, otherwise the resultant pelvis rotation is likely to damage the lower back over time.

Knees or Feet?

Well this is simple progression, knees = shorter lever, so less control needed for the core and less strength needed in the upper body. Legs = longer lever, more core strength and upper body strength needed….

If using this for CPD, have a go at this question.

You have a client in your gym who has recently returned after having a baby. She is finding the baby is getting heavy and her neck, arms and shoulders are feeling very tight and stiff. She also has lower back pain.

Have a think what bio-mechanical presentation are you likely to to see. Where are her pelvis and shoulders likely to be positioned? Which press up position is likely to be the best one to start this client off in and why? How would you progress this client and why? What other strength work could you do to help this client? If a hands on therapist what other tools do you have to help reposition this client?

Then write it all up in your CPD log. For our FREE CPD logbook, click here

Reinge Education provide CPD courses for therapists and trainers across the country, these are in both an online format and in face to face workshops. Our unique combination of knowledge allows us to provide a fresh approach, looking at how anatomy affects function within the body, merging therapy and sports science to give a unique perspective.

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