I saw a BBC nature documentary recently which dramatically showed killer whales eating seals on a beach.

Call me a weirdo if you wish, but this reminded me of pushups.

The pushup, next to the squat is one of the most basic ‘gymnastic’ movements you could ever do.

Basic does not mean easy though.

In 2007 I was involved I a study which tested how much of a persons body weight was involved in a pushup.

The test used over 150 test subjects and weighed them.

Then the test subjects were weighed in a plank position, both at the top and bottom of the plank, with their hands on the scale.

The conclusion of the test was that, on average, the test subject weighed 75% of their full body weight, whilst doing a pushup.

I’ve often wondered about the conclusions of the test so, since then as a comparative test, I’ve noted that anyone who cannot bench at least 65-75% of their body weight tends to struggle greatly with a full range of motion pushup.

The main difference between benching and pushups is your back position and how your core muscles are engaged.

A weak core will certainly mean your pushups are doomed!

Just like anyone involved in strength and conditioning I’ve seen my fair share of pretty pushups and hideous looking pushups that resemble the beached whales or seals, rolling and flapping around.

There is even a 1 minute pushup test that is one several “fitness assessment” tools used regularly in the UK by personal trainers.

This test in particular does not require a full (chest to the floor) range of motion so I’ve never liked it much.

Range of motion on a pushup is funny for beginners because they nearly always only go half way down.


Most of the time I’m convinced it’s because either someone showed them once that not going all the way down was acceptable OR they think that if they go beyond a certain point that they will either do a spectacular face plant into the floor, or they will go all the way down and lack the strength to push back up without performing the beached whale maneuver.

The most common error in a pushup is due to a weak core.

If you lose your plank position it happens in 2 ways:

1- Your belly sags and the first thing to touch the floor will be either your knees or your belly.

2- You try and fix the sagging midline error above by over compensating and lifting your bum in the air too high, doing your best Great Pyramid of Giza pose.

When you add these 2 errors together to the pushup motion we end up with the beached whale or snaking movement that looks great if you’re a breakdancer but it’s decidedly not a pushup.

Shoulders should be stacked over the elbows. Elbows should be stacked over the wrist and when you do a pushup, the elbows should be more tucked in than flared out.

In order to correct these errors I introduced the ‘raised bar pushup’ into the CrossFit Brit programming and for most people this has improved the basic pushup.

A basic goal is to be able to complete 20 perfect pushups.

If you are unable to complete 20 strict pushups you should ask your coach what to do.

Within a month of doing a basic plank and pushup program 3-4 days a week you will see a noticeable improvement.

Here is a decent video demonstrating and explaining the humble pushup:

You can read more about pushups here too.