Why We Don’t Do ‘Girl Push Ups’ and What We Do Instead

Main Points:
1. The push up is not only a foundational upper body strength exercise, it is also a dynamic core stability exercise.
2. If you cannot perform full-length push ups, there are better alternatives than the kneeling push up that are safer and have a much higher return.
3. Appropriate exercise selection + consistently excellent technique + smart work is key to progressing safely. 

Gabriella O’Grady

The push up is one of the most universally recognised bodyweight exercises around, which when performed correctly demonstrates not only fundamental upper body strength and stability, but also one’s ability to generate whole body tension and core stability.

That’s right, push-ups are essentially a core exercise too.

The function of the outer core muscles is to resist movement of the spine. That is to absorb and transfer force. It provides a robust platform from which movement of the extremities, such as pulling, pushing, carrying, throwing, striking, jumping and catching, and running can occur. In the push up, the function of the core, particularly the anterior wall known as the rectus abdominis is to provide an anchor for expressing pushing force, and to resist movement of the spine into extension.

Unfortunately push ups are rarely performed correctly. This can often be the result of improper instruction and technique, inadequate upper body pushing strength and control, but more commonly the main culprit is a lack of sufficient core strength.

Firstly, here are some examples of improper push up technique:

1. Head Back, Flexed Hips, Chicken-Winged Arms
2. Poking Head, Rounding Upper Back, Sagging Lower Back
3. Combination of Errors


One of the more traditional approaches to addressing the inability to execute a push up is to regress to a kneeling position, as you can see in pictures 1 and 3. This makes the exercise easier as this set-up cuts the body in half, shortens the lever and reduces the load. Unfortunately there are a few problems with this version of the staple exercise. Firstly, the kneeling position with knees slightly bent tensions the tissues at the front of the thigh that cross both the hip and knee joints, namely the rectus femoris muscle.

Much like a pulley system, in the bent knee set-up this increased stretch can pull at the attachment site of the pelvis and effectively pull it into an anterior tilt. This forward rotated pelvis reduces bracing and tension capabilities of the anterior core musculature and glutes. Since quality push up repetitions require the ability to generate a strong bracing strategy with your abs and glutes to maintain the position of your pelvis and spine, performing the push up from a kneeling position is not ideal.

Further, the sagging low back position at set up can cause compressive stress to the lumbar region of the spine as it is driven into excessive extension, which is exacerbated with the increase of pushing force through the arms. The shoulder could also be at risk due to the forward weight shift that can occur and subsequent increased support load if there is also poor scapulohumeral rhythm and stability to handle it. This could lead to some of the more delicate structures in the shoulder having to take up much more of the slack.

When you have all of these other areas of passive restraints take up the workload of mitigating forces, at best you fail to actually target the intended movement, make little progress if any and may simply have to recover more. At worst you might get hurt.

The push up is one way to challenge and develop the skill of whole body bracing and torso control, which helps to distribute load across more area, and performing them from a long lever position is how we do it.

Here are a couple of the progressions that we use, along the way to performing full-lever push-ups from the floor:

1.Hands Elevated Push Up (gradually lower the height of the bar as you progress)
2.Band Assisted Push Up (band thickness and tension while determine the amount of assistance offered)
3.Push Up (this was Gillian’s first ever set of full push ups)

While we are working our way through the push up progressions we will also supplement with direct pillar work. Here are some of the progressions that we use to enhance anti-extension strength of the anterior core:

1. Front Plank
2.Ball Rollout
3.Wheel Rollout

As mentioned earlier, the key to training that improves movement quality and  quality of life is appropriate exercise selection + consistently excellent technique + smart work.




Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness located in Surry Hills, Sydney. danny@centralperformance.com.au


Danny James is the Head of Personal Training and Strength and Conditioning services at Central Physio and Performance Fitness, located in Surry Hills in the Sydney CBD area. danny@centralperformance.com.au




The Benefits Of A Pre-Activity Movement Screen


Once the athlete or client’s training goals have been established it is important that we as coaches identify potential limitations and risks that may impact our chances of success.

Simple logistical constraints such as availability of training time and equipment can be a limitation and need to be considered, however these are of lesser importance than reducing the risks that are inherently involved with training in the weightroom or practice.

Before seeking enhancements in fitness, the Strength and Conditioning professional’s primary concern is injury prevention. If a client or athlete is hurt through the training process it will be necessary to place restrictions on their program which may slow the rate of improvement towards the goal. For the athlete or client, an injury can mean diminished movement capacity and quality of life. Injuries can lead to missed practice and missed games, lost opportunity and income, and perhaps the end of a career. These are all very possible scenarios and all parties involved should be leaning as close as possible to the side of prevention.

In order to attenuate the likelihood of an injury occurring we need to be aware of the factors that heighten risk. As it relates to endeavours of physical activity, it is documented that the main contributory factors to injury, in order of greatest to least are:

1. Previous injury
2. Right vs left side asymmetry
3. Motor control deficit
4. BMI
5. Poor training Choices

Knowing the evidenced predictors it is imperative that we use a system of screening and assessment that identifies these factors before implementation of a proposed training solution. Such a process would be highly influential toward addressing an individuals needs, maximising the return on our efforts and minimising future risk.

We use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as the first step of our appraisal process. The FMS is a system to evaluate current movement quality for people who wish to increase physical activity. It is designed for those that do not have pain or injury as a way to prioritise further assessment where necessary, and help decide the appropriate entry point for an individual onto the training path. It is simply the beginning of the information gathering process.

FMS what

The screen is composed of seven fundamental movement patterns and three clearing tests that require a balance of mobility and stability and place the individual in extreme positions where deficits in these areas are noticeable. The FMS aims to set a minimum standard of movement competency, provide insight into potential movement problems if the baseline is not met, and guide appropriate exercise selection and progression. If an individual can not display an easy access of fundamental movement availability as per the FMS criteria, then the training program becomes dialed to match the outer reaches of the individuals current ability. A low FMS score does not necessarily exclude an individual from the training process. It simply means that our exercise selection is directed towards not exploiting those areas where limitation is present. Advancing into higher-stage activities with a movement foundation that is poorly prepared incurs a greater training cost and if the athlete is not injured, at best there will be a higher need for recovery to offset the increased physiological price and a reduced level of preparedness can result.

Low Score = You can still go, you just might need to go a little slower for now
Low Score = You can still go; you just might need to go a little slower for now

The screen is an objective, reliable and repeatable baseline standard of movement, that filters out many of the contributing factors to damage risk such as poor movement quality, right-left asymmetries and presence of pain. The FMS is not a diagnostic tool, however, presence of pain while undertaking the screen is a red flag that requires treatment by a medical professional until it is resolved.

As Strength and Conditioning practitioners, we would like to know if joints can get into trainable positions that we need to meet our end goal – where training those positions only contributes and does not impair movement or system, and produces a more robust and prepared performer. In under fifteen minutes, the FMS can provide an answer. It is a first stage audit of our exercise choices and a guide for best practice.


Lauren and Bella


Gathered here are some of the better reads that I’ve come across recently, bookmarked in one convenient location to refer to later. I hope readers will also find something interesting and of benefit as well.


”As complexity raises, meaningful statements lose precision and precise statements lose meaning.”
Lofti Zadeh

10 Leaders Share The Habits That Help Them Be Freakishly Productive
From Entrepreneur

Resources To Keep Yourself Updated
By Iraki Nutrition

Peer Leadership: 8 Thoughts On How To Make The Most Of An Opportunity, Others And Yourself
Guest post by Greg Robins of The Strength House and Cressey Sports Performance on PeteDupuis.com

Building Bridges: leveraging Your Employer To Enhance Your Personal Brand

5 Habits Of Effective Coaches
also from Greg Robins

8 Must Read S&C Articles

from Science For Sport

Five Resistance Elements that Develop Athletes
from Carl Valle at SimpliFaster

Why and How We Program Breathing Exercises 
By Kevin Carr of Movement As Medicine

Periodisation for the Everyday Athlete
by Mike Robertson

Wellness Monitoring
From Greg Dea

http://www.elitefts.com/coaching-logs/the-four-essential-steps-your-athletes-need-to-take/ and

from Mark Watts at EliteFTS

A Simple Approach to Running Analysis for Clinicians
from Chris Johnson at Zeren PT and Performance via Mike Reinold

Solving the Riddle of the Shin Splint
by Ken Jakalski

Nervous System Training 101:The Creation of Superhuman Strength and Athleticism
from Joel Smith and TrainHeroic.com

3 CNS Hacks For a Better Workout and

Jeff Moyer Q&A on Strength Training Dose and Transfer
from Joel Smith at Just Fly Sports

Guidelines for the General Preparation Phase 

Writing the General Preparation Phase

and Free Downloads
By Coach Nick Newman

Purposeful GPP: Applying Science to Your Conditioning
From Bryan Mann at EliteFTS

from Science For Sport

Agility In Team Sport: How To Crack the Code
by Carl Valle at SimpliFaster

Barriers to Championship Performances  and again

from Altis and FreeLap USA
from Freelap USA and Altis

The Terms Of The Deal
The Scientific Principles Of Strength Training
By Dr. Mike Israetel of RenaissancePeriodization.com and Juggernaut Training Systems

Top Ten Must Reads: #10 – #6
Top Ten Must Reads: #5 – #1
Via Juggernaut Training Systems

What Are The Real Elements Of ”High Performance?”
From Chris Gallagher at Freelap USA

Setting Rehabilitation Goals And Reducing Energy Leaks With Movement Efficiency and
Retraining The Injured Athlete, High Performance Training For Sports on The Strength Coach Podcast
with David Joyce

Just Load It
by Erik Meira

Warm Up And Motor Concepts and
Developing a Full, High-Performance Program From The Ground Up
By Charlie Weingroff

Talking About Warm-Up?!?
From Dustin Imdieke of Altis

Warm Ups
from Science For Sport

Your Warm-up Doesn’t Need to Be That Complicated
from Jesse Irizarry at Strength Theory

A Guide To Movement Prep
from Nick Winkelman at Exos

Get More From Your Sprint Workouts
via Bret Contreras

How To Warm Up Before Your Workout

from Robbie Cannon via My TPI

Daily Undulating Periodization & Performance Improvements In Powerlifters
A research review from Patrick Ward

Becoming A Strength And Conditioning Coach
From Michael Favre Via NSCA

6 Ways To Simplify Your Coaching For Better Results
From Eric Cressey

The Ultimate Conditioning Guide

Conditioning And Mental Toughness

3 New Conditioning Rules

The Truth About Injuries
From Joel Jamieson of 8WeeksOut.com

You Need Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio
By Mike Robertson of Robertson Training Systems

Reactive Strength Index
From Science For Sport

Velocity Based Training
From Carl Valle Via Freelap USA

Beast Blog contains a tonne of great content on performance tracking.

Breathe New Life Into Your Performance
From Chris Gallagher Via Freelap USA

A Week At The WAC
Also By Chris Gallagher

Coaching The Individual In The Athlete
From Nick Sheuerman

Coaches Are Not Mind-Readers … The Art Of The Daily Debrief
Insights from Coach Kyle Hierholzer

The 16 Characteristics Of Greatness
From award-winning leadership speaker, Don Yaeger

A Pocket Guide To Coaching Wisdom
From Altis

35 Secrets Of Brilliant Coaches
By Ann Josephson shared on the Strength Coach Blog

Via Negativa
Set And Rep Schemes In Training
Twelve Principles of Agile Periodisation
6 Weeks Running Program for Soccer Players
Running Based Intervals-Velocities Table
By Mladen Jovanovic at Complementary Training

Okinawan Strength: Developing the ‘Iron Body”
By By Dr. Suart McGill via Strongfirst

Exciting Free Content From Dr. Stuart McGill

Human-Specific Training and
The Importance Of Unilateral Training
By Devan McConnell Via Volt Athletics

Commentary From Jeremy Frisch
Saved by Kelvin Giles at Movement Dynamics

Individual Training In A Team Setting

Olympic Lifting For Athletic Performance
From Mark Watts of EliteFTS

Olympic Weightlifting – The Biomechanics
From Strength And Conditioning Research

Olympic Weightlifting
From Science for Sport

Plantar Fasciitis – Important New Research By Michael Rathleff
From Tom Goom, Running Physio

The Complete Guide To Foundations & Fallacies Of Tissue Regeneration
From Dr. John Rusin

Treatment Fundamentals: A Simple Framework To Reconceptualize Pain And Injury Treatment
By Greg Lehman

Back Pain – Separating Fact From Fiction
At Pain-Ed.com

Core Stability: Winning Popularity, Losing Science
By Ramsey Nijem Fitness

Which Strength Sport Is Most Likely To Cause An Injury?
From Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley at StrengthandConditioningResearch.com

Implementing High-Intensity Aerobic Energy System Conditioning For Field Sports
From Dr. Dan Baker Via Freelap USA

Adapting to High Altitude
Via Human Biological Adaptability

It’s All About Motor Control
From Gray Cook at FunctionalMovement.com

Rocky Road To The Top: Why Talent Needs Trauma
Dave Collins and A ́ine MacNamara, Sports Med 2012; 42 (11)

The Science And Application Of Coaching Cues
From Coach Sam Leahey

Coaching Movements And Skills
From Nick Winkelman of Exos featured at On Target Publications

Coach Like A Caveman – How The Environment Shapes Our Movement
Also with Nick Winkelman on The Strength Coach Podcast

What We Say Matters – Uncovering the Truth About Cueing (Lecture)
What We Say Matters, Part I
What We Say Matters, Part II
With Nick Winkelman on NSCA

Coaching Cues That Actually Work
With Nick Winkelman Via Stack

Coaching Instructions And Cues For Enhancing Sprint Performance
In NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal

35 Recommendations For Building Better Horizontal jumpers
With Nick Newman Via Freelap USA

A Systems Perspective On Motor Control, Part One
From Todd Hargrove at Better Movement

Notes From Frans Bosch – Transfer Of Strength Training: Implications from The CNS
By Simon Nainby at Underground Athletics

Review Of “Strength Training And Coordination: An Integrative Approach” By Frans Bosch
from Todd Hargrove

McMillan Coaches Guide To Strength Development (Series)
With Stuart McMillan, Matt Jordan and Brett Bartholomew

Gill Apprentice Coach Program – April Highlights 2015

Gill Apprentice Coach Program – May Highlights 2015
By Ellie Spain Via Altis

Another Training Talk With Dan Pfaff part 1
Another Training Talk With Dan Pfaff part 2
By Martin Bingisser at HMMR Media with Coach Dan Pfaff of Altis

5 Coaching Cues To Immediately Improve Basic Movements
From Dean Somerset

How Does Foam Rolling Work? And Why “SMR” Should be Called “SMT”
Via Bret Contreras, aka The Glute Guy

Rest, Recover, Regenerate Part 5: Massage
A great series of articles on rest, recovery and regeneration by Pat Ward

Can Stretching Really Make You A Better Athlete? The Truth Behind Static Stretching And Power Development
From Joel Smith via Just Fly Sports

Stretching For Recovery

The Physiological Basis for Tapering in Endurance, Strength, and Power Athletes

The New Science of Embracing Performance Anxiety

Why Do You Lift — Defining Hope, Motivation, and Risk By

Marilia Coutinho at mariliacoutinho.com via Elite FTS

The Top Ten Brain Science And Psychology Studies Of 2015

Questioning the Use of Static Stretching Before and After Athletic Activities

Towards A Grand Unified Theory Of Sports Performance 
By Paul Glazier

Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: a Review of 15 Years

Publications By Brad J Schoenfeld via ResearchGate

Mechanisms of Exercise-Induced Muscle Fibre Injury

The Architecture Of The Connective Tissue In The Musculoskeletal System—An Often Overlooked Functional Parameter As To Proprioception In The Locomotor Apparatus

The Fitness-Fatigue Model Revisited: Implications For Planning Short- And Long-Term Training

Stretching The Truth. A Review Of The Literature On Muscle Stretching

Questioning the Use of Static Stretching Before and After Athletic Activities

Effects of Resistance Training in Youth Athletes on Muscular Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Conceptual Model for Long-Term Athlete Development

Understanding The Stress Response
from Harvard health

The Unhappy Truth About Positive Psychology
By Jeffrey B. Rubin, Truthout

A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love’
From Gordon Morino

US Navy Admiral Bill McRaven’s 10 Lessons From Basic SEAL Training

The Best Job On The Planet (TEDx)
A TED Talk with the exemplary Jeff Oliver

A special mention must be made of Greg Nuckols who puts out a tonne of quality content over at Strength Theory. Highly recommended.

”It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
W. Edwards Deming


The (FMS) kids are alright: Notes from Functional Movement Screen Level 2

FMS certified LOGO

This past weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to Melbourne, Victoria to attend the Functional Movement Screen Level 2 course instructed by the jovial Behnad Honarbakhsh of Functional Movement Systems and Fit To Train, and hosted by Andrew Read of Dragon Door Australia.

As with all of the Functional Movement Systems material, and being surrounded by such an exceptional standard of movement therapists of various disciplines and experience, the weekends curriculum encouraged some frenetic note taking and sparked more than a few light bulb moments throughout. I’d like to share some quick pearls of wisdom with you here, much of which will be familiar to the FMS initiated.

The course was spectacular in its structure, delivery and substance of content, all of which connected and progressed perfectly after the Level 1 course I had attended in Sydney back in 2010. I am now, as I was then, of the opinion that no matter what you take from system itself, the Functional Movement Systems crew are of an exceptionally high standard of professional, and these courses would do well to become a requirement for all fitness professionals and rehabilitation specialists.

Perhaps, some day.

Setting up the Quadruped Rock with Core Activation.
Setting up a Quadruped Rock with Core Activation.

Pearls, in no particular order.

FMS Training Flow
Identify the corrective pattern
Static Motor Control (stability)
Dynamic Motor Control (stability)
Strength/Conditioning (Load the pattern/Save)

Stability is not strength, stability is reflex driven.

Quality stability is driven by quality proprioception.

Quality proprioception is not possible with mobility restrictions.

Corrective Exercise Essentials
Chopping and Lifting
Deadlifting Variations

You do not need to fix everything, focus on the weakest link(s) in the movement chain.

Maintain the squat, train the deadlift.

Most of the human bodies muscles are angular in orientation, and the majority of individual fibres run at several angles relative to the muscles force generating axis (multi-pennate).
– The body (and brain) thrives on diagonal movement.

Check all four quadrants, work on the most challenging.

Achieve proximal stability for optimal distal mobility.

Check the grip, it has connections to shoulder health.

The diaphragm attaches to a lot of stuff
– Screen, correct and evaluate breathing.

Motor learning occurs from the ground up.

Must have a positive short-term response to obtain long-term adaptation.

I still don’t know anything at all.

FMS2, February 2013 - Agoge Performance Training

Photo source: Fit To Train Facebook page

Look you beyond the trees; a forest lies

The introduction of the joint-by-joint theory several years ago initiated a dramatic paradigm shift in the way that I and certainly many other coaches, trainers and therapists view the human body and its movement and training requirements. Although remarkable in its simple complexity, its application woven into the FMS is nothing shy of magic and has become the roadmap for my thought process in my approach to training at Agoge.
Developed by pioneering Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Boyle and renowned Physical Therapist Gray Cook the joint by joint approach views the body as a stacking of joints, each segment with its own specific function within the choreography of biomechanics, and thus its own specific training rules including specific destructive proclivities should these be abused.
Looking at the body from the ground up you will notice what Gray Cook refers to as a pattern of ‘layered opposites.’ Each joint although displaying both mobility and stability, enjoys an emphasis on one or the other and both are necessary.

‘’I define mobility as the ability of a joint system to move through a definable range.’’
‘’Stability can be defined as control of a segment in the presence of potential change.’’
Dr. Charlie Weingroff

The foot is primarily stable, the ankle is mobile, the knee is stable, the hip is mobile, the lumbo-sacral region is stable, the thoracic region is mobile, the lower cervical region is stable and the upper cervical region is mobile. Doubling back, the scapulo-thoracic region is stable, the gleno-humeral region is mobile and this continues along the chain. Charlie Weingroff expands upon the concept here .
We simply could not operate optimally with a string of stacked stiff joints or conversely, a series of mobile junctions without intermittent stability safeguards to control unruly ranges. There must be control (stability) but first there must be an appreciable amount of available movement at a joint or joint system (mobility) for motor learning to occur, and to be able to express that stability. In other words, there must be something to control.

The problem occurs when a joint system that is designed primarily for stability experiences excessive motion and when a segment that is designed for excursion is prevented from travel, causing a compensatory switching of roles along the chain thereby incurring dysfunction and potentially, injury. This means that if breakdown does occur, the site of pain is merely the symptom and the primary cause will generally be located in the segment above or below the problematic area.
Running, landing, squatting and the like on an immobile or restricted ankle with an inadequate collapse space or buffer zone will collect compensatory collapse or mobility from the knee, transferring stressors to those delicate structures tasked with providing stability. The hips, like the gleno-humeral joint, are multi-axial spheroidal joints capable of great mobility however prolonged sitting which has become all the rage these days has the hips locked into stability; therefore, lumbar spine mobility will be gained at the expense of stability to substitute movement unachievable with fixed hips. With this wretched new lumbar mobility, the thoracic area desirous of mobility, will become stiff and immobile, forcing the scapulae to become unstable and wander the ribcage. From this hunched over flexion everywhere posture, attempts now to raise ones arms overhead will not be met with success as gleno-humeral mobility is now lacking.
So it is along the stack, each joint impacting the one previous or following.
Lost ankle mobility, begets knee instability, and knee pain.
Lost hip mobility, begets lumbar instability, and lumbar pain.
Lost thoracic mobility, begets lower cervical instability and gleno-humeral stiffness, or lumbar instability, with the appropriate pain.
These are some of the observable defaults. There are of course exceptions and the algorithm is somewhat litigious. It is after all a concept, however sound, not so much law. The facts remain however; we are an arrangement of alternates and in the context of movement, nothing is isolated. Clear first above and below the conflict. Pull the pattern from the particulars. Step back and look around.