Over 40 years of martial arts training I figure I’ve done something like 500,000 pushups. Practice makes perfect, so with that many reps under my belt you’d probably think I’d be good at them, right?
Sadly the answer is a resounding “No!”
Or, more precisely, the answer is “Not right now”
You see, 9 months ago I completely buggered my shoulder taking a spectacular fall while racing on an electric skateboard (I know, I know… what was I doing on a skateboard anyhow? I clearly deserved that injury!).
For the first week after that wipeout the rotator cuff hurt so bad that I could barely move my arm and putting on a T shirt was a struggle.
But I did all the right things… I rested the injury, did all the appropriate shoulder rehab exercises and generally avoided activities that sent stabbing pains into the top of my humerus.
It took months and months, but slowly, gradually, finally the shoulder felt good enough to do pushups again.
At first it was just a single pushup. Then, a month later, I managed to do five pushups in a row. And then yesterday I managed to do 20 pushups in a row for the first time without pain. I was super proud of myself.
On a whim I decided to filming myself doing those pushups so I could check for good form. And – holy moley – MY FORM WAS JUST AWFUL!
Take a look at this picture…
As you can clearly see, in my efforts to bang out more pushups and ‘prove’ to myself that injury was healed I was cheating like crazy .
My lower back was severely arched backwards like cocktail waitress using her 5 inch heels to make her legs longer and stick her booty out. This hyperlordosis shortened the distance of the exercise and turned the pushup into a dipping or decline press movement, making them easier to do.
Furthermore my upper back was slouched forward into thoracic kyphosis like a teenager glued to his phone during Covid. And then my neck arched back again to try and compensate for it all.
It was dogs**t pushup form.
Doing pushups like this is both dangerous for the lower back AND is a false signal about the progress of recovery from an injury.
I’m glad I figured out that this was happening.
These ego-induced form mistakes are seen in the gym ALL the time. Dudes bouncing the bar off their chest in the bench press… Deadlifters allowing their lower backs to round… Little tiny squats with no range of motion.
Now it’s easy to laugh at meatheads when they’re lifting, but the exact same thing happens in dojos ALL the time.
People flick out sidekicks using the tiny knee ligaments rather than the large muscles of the leg… Wannabe boxers slamming hooks into the heavy bag with terrible shoulder position… Grapplers abusing their flexibility in guard retention rather than being in good alignment.
The problems is that these ‘hacks’ all work in the short term. They give you short term wins with negative long term consequences.
Martial arts takes enough of a toll on the body without inflating the risk exponentially using terrible technique.
Keep an eye out for this in your own training, regardless of whether you’re doing pushups, training sidekicks or practicing mount escapes.
Film yourself as you train, or ask your more analytical training partners to give you some brutally honest feedback about your form.
Don’t cheat on form or lie to yourself just to make your training session more impressive. I cheated on my pushups because I wanted to believe that my shoulder was better and all my strength was returning, but it’s better to do 5 pushups with good form rather than cheat your way through 20 pushups with horrendous form.
Don’t fool yourself to placate your ego. Bad form will catch up to you 100% of the time!