Form Fix: The Pilates Push-up

Call me vain but there’s nothing I love more then some well-shaped arms and a strong back when I’m cruising through San Diego in a sleeveless tee. However, a nice looking upper body is useless if you don’t have any strength to go with it, which is why I’m a die-hard push-up fan.

For those struggling with the Pilates push-up, here’s a #FormFix tutorial to get you strong on and off the mat.

Cleaning Up the Push-up

The push-up is one of those underrated strength and conditioning exercises that most people butcher or don’t practice enough. Women have a disadvantage here, primarily due to a lack of upper body strength, which men start working on from the time they are five-years-old, and because we tend to carry more mass in our lower halves (booty central!). Nevertheless, with time, practice and patience, we can all build the strength to do a proper push-up.

To learn how to set-up for your push-up properly you can go HERE.

Taking a quick look at the picture below, you’ll notice that the correct version of the Pilates push-up has a few key points:

First, the body is tight and is in one long line from heels to head. There’s no dropping of the head or sagging of the hips like in the photo underneath. In fact, by contracting my glutes throughout the exercise, I put myself in a slight posterior pelvic tilt and make this more of a “full body” exercise.  Another common mistake is relying on the chest or scapula (shoulder blades) to do all the movement.


You can see in the ‘incorrect’ image that my elbows are winging out far instead of placed close to the sides of my body, and I’m trying hard to push off with my chest and shoulders rather than my whole body. Due to a lack of core and glute strength, we end up hanging out in our hips and ligaments, giving us the illusion that we’ve used full range of motion. Here’s why this is wrong and will end up hurting you in the long-run. The scapulae is very mobile, allowing us to move our shoulders freely into protraction, retraction, upward and downward motions. It is NOT meant to carry the entire weight of your 130lbs+ frame plus gravity, so trying to simply use that and the muscles around the shoulder joint is like trying to push a tractor trailer up a hill with a straw.

The Pilates push-up actually starts standing up with a a curve down/forward fold down to the mat and 3-count walk-out. That’s just the start of the move! But since most of us butcher it once we’re at the mat, let’s focus here.

Some tips:

– Start in a plank position (not shown), with shoulders over wrists, legs together, glutes and abdominals braced

– Shift your weight slightly forward so heels are over toes

– Bend the elbows back, not out on your way down while maintaining that tightness in the body

Here’s the kicker: Only go as far down as you’re able to maintain that strong, rigid line with your body. Novices tend to overachieve a little, trying to take their chest down to the floor when they haven’t earned the right to go that far down yet. I’ll take a strong push-up that only moves half-an-inch down than a sloppy one that makes it all the way to the floor. Most of the time, people can’t push themselves off the floor from here anyway, because they’ve lost proper form and haven’t built up their strength yet.

In other words: You earn the right to do a push-up just like anything else you do in fitness.

You can read all about the progressions to help you master the push-up HERE.

Stay tuned on Instagram and Facebook where I’ll be posting another round of #FormFix tips next week!

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