Back to Basics: Push ups- 3 common mistakes and how to fix it – Charlie James

Push ups – the purest, most powerful tool in your training arsenal. That is, provided you know how to use it! In this article, I’m going to show you 3 common mistakes made while doing push ups and some quick fixes you can use right now to make your push up safer, more efficient, and much more effective.


Put simply, there’s doing push ups, and then there’s doing push ups well. Now, you already know that sagging your head or hips toward the floor is a mistake, which is why I have not included it on this list. Aside from that obvious one, here are the three most common push up technique mistakes I see plenty of athletes and even fitness trainers making.


Common Mistake #1 – Arm Angle


Put simply, the longer the lever arm, the less leverage you have, and the shorter the lever arm, the more leverage you have. When applying this to the push up, to maximize your ability to create force and get better leverage on each rep, keep your elbows closer to your body instead of flaring them out at a 90-degree angle, which is typical for how most people do push ups.





The Quick Fix: Keep your elbows closer to your sides at roughly a 20- to 40-degree angle from your body. This shortens the lever arm, which gives you an immediate mechanical advantage when doing push ups.



Common Mistake #2 – Elbow Positioning


When done well, the push up strengthens the entire upper body pushing musculature, including the chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, many people allow their elbows to move past their wrists, either behind or out to the side of the wrists. This not only places unwanted stress through the elbow joint (which elevates risk of an overuse injury at the elbows), it also makes the push up less effective because it reduces the chest and shoulder involvement, and makes it more of a triceps-dominant movement.





The Quick Fix: Keep your elbows above your wrists through the entire push up action. Your elbows should form a 90-degree angle at the bottom position of the push up.



Common Mistake #3 – Hand Positioning


If your hands are pointed slightly inward, as is often the case in how many people perform push ups, it usually encourages people to flare their arms out away from their sides, which is the issue we covered in mistake number one. Not to mention, pointing your hands inward also forces for your elbows to move out beyond your wrists in the manner I just addressed in mistake number two. In short, better hand placement encourages better elbow alignment and shoulder positioning.



The Quick Fix: Turn your hands outward slightly, pointing your fingers outward, away from the middle of your body at roughly a 45-degree angle. Doing this will help keep your elbows and arm in a better position for maximizing strength and minimizing unwanted joint stress.


Practice and play with these quick fixes until you’re comfortable and stronger with your push ups. If you still struggle with the basic push up, then these quick fixes can be applied to push up progressions such as knee push ups or incline push up. Keep a strong count on your push ups with a slow controlled downward phase of about 2 seconds and a fast/explosive upward phase for 1 second. Keep all these fixes in mind and work on full range of motion and I promise you’ll see a big progression within your push up ability and strength.




Bro, do you even Primal squat?

What is a primal squat?  Charlie James explains…..

Primal squat is a passive or relaxed position at the bottom of the deep squat.  It is a sign that a person has functional hips, knees and ankles.  A healthy person at any age, should be able to drop into a deep squat and hang out there for at least 10 minutes without any discomfort.  You do not need to be a contortionist or a yogi, just a functional human being with normal mobility in the ankles, and some basic stability in the knees and hips.  This is an innate position that all babies possess.  Older adults who maintain and practice this position regularly can just as easily get into the primal squat.

primal-s1        primals2


Unfortunately, these days it’s rare to see a healthy squat not only in adults, but even teenagers. We could blame, chairs, shoes, toilets and other aspects of modernized society for making us dysfunctional.  The good news is, if practiced daily, this position comes back pretty quickly to most people.

A full primal squat takes your ankles, hips, and knees through a full range of motion while at the same time decompressing the spine.  Squat is not only a great mobility exercise; it also strengthens and nourishes the connective tissues in the lower body and aids digestion and elimination.  If you don’t use it, you will lose it.  So, practice this position daily and maintain it for the rest of your life.

primal-s3                 primal-s4


  1. Maintain an athletic stance with feet about shoulder width apart and toes facing forward.  Depending on your ankle mobility, you may need to turn your feet out slightly or widen your stance.
  2. Heals must stay on the ground. Read tips, if you are unable to do this step
  3. Get down to the deepest squat you can, relax and stay there for at least 30-60 seconds. Feel free to stay there longer while you are relaxing, resting between exercises, part of your morning ritual, waiting for a train, texting, eating, reading this article or even working on your lap top.
  4.  To fully challenge the ankle mobility, it is ideal to face your toes forward and maintain heals on the ground.  A small, 5-15% turn out is ok, but not more than that. If you cannot maintain straight feet, read my tips below.
  5. Knees should stay over feet or outside your feet.  Do not let knees collapse inward, as that places unnecessary stress on your knees.  For added stretch, push your knees out as wide as possible using your elbows.  Knees out will place you in a better alignment and will stretch your groin and open your hips.
  6. Keep your chest up, knees forward and lower back as flat as you can.
  7. Practice this exercise daily.



In most cases, people who cannot get into a full squat have limited ankle mobility.  They will struggle with keeping the heals down or feet straight.  If that’s your issue, you can still practice the squat with a few adjustments.   Slightly elevate the heals by placing a small (2.5 or 5 lb) plate or a thick magazine under the heals while you are in a squat.  You could also hold on to a sturdy object to help you balance or have the wall behind you, so you don’t fall.  These are just quick fixes that will let you do a squat immediately, but it’s important to take care of the actual ankle mobility issues so you are able to perform a primal squat.

To improve your ankle mobility:

  1. Perform soft tissue work on your calves like foam roll.
  2. Stretch your calves.  Find an effective calve stretch and practice daily.  Spend a few minutes in that stretch
  3. Mobilize your ankles by keeping your heel down and pushing your knee past your ankle.  This can be done in a lunge or a squat.
  4. Practice primal squat more often