Often times you will hear people complain about certain exercises because they feel pain when performing them. Consequently, what they often do is either keep doing the exercise through pain (very stupid), stop doing the exercise because it always bothers them, or they stop training all together. There are always ways to work around injury (specifically a shoulder one) and the push-up is one that usually gets thrown under the bus. Shoulder health from proper push-up form via proper scapular function and position can certainly help with nagging injuries associated with benching.
The scapulae are pivotal in that any altered scapular muscle function, weakness, or mobility + stability can result in shoulder joint problems (impingement, rotator cuff tears, labral tears, tendonitis/tendinosis). Remember that the scapulae are part of the glenohumeral joint, the better the mobility+stability of the scapula, the better the function of the shoulder joint. What do most people do when they have shoulder problems? Go right to those external/internal rotation rotator cuff exercises. While these are not bad they comprise 1 piece to the puzzle in regard to shoulder health. So what can a push-up do?
In the above picture you can see the muscles that help upwardly rotate your scapula, the lower trap, serratus anterior, and upper trap. With regard to benching (if you’re doing it correctly) you want your shoulder blades packed back and down, basically when you bench your shoulder blades should get squeezed tight together throughout the entire set. This provides a stable safe base from which to push weight. As a result, the scapula cannot move freely and is unable to protract forward allowing for proper serratus function. If the serratus does not function properly, it can lead to impingement problems in the shoulder.
The push-up performed correctly involves…
- Keeping straight light from back of head to heel in line
- Elbows tucked to 45 degrees
- Think of pulling yourself to the floor
- Be sure to engage in full ROM and to push your body all the way away from the floor (which will engage serratus)
*On a side note, I am growing out a beard, so yes that is a shaved head + beard = awesome.
Another option that can be a great addiction to a warm-up or as part of a program is the Scap-Push up into Yoga Push Up. This gets the serratus in all its functions, protraction and upward rotation (which you do not get with a normal push-up). This is a great “bang for your buck” because you get a hamstring stretch and hip and spine dissociation.
These are just some good suggestions to improve shoulder function. Once good form is accomplished you can elevate the feet on a push-up which has been shown to increase serratus activation or add resistance.