You’ve seen them in the gym and you may be guilty of them yourself – saggy push-ups. The perpetrator may technically be breaking the plane of the elbows to get low, but their belly button goes even lower. They end up dropping their hips and their belly during one or both parts of the push-up.
Why Does This Happen and Why Care?
This typically happens because of some weakness in the abs or an inability to “turn-on” your core when you need it. If this is happening, you’re missing out on some really valuable core work, a more cohesive push-up, and it could be an indication of a stability problem.
When I talk about stability, I really mean the body’s ability to remain stable during dynamic movements, such as in a push-up. This may come down to strength in some people but it may also be that your core doesn’t “turn-on” when it’s needed. You could have plenty of strength but your body has skipped around to using other cheats to get the movement done. Below are some drills that will work on core strength but also emphasize core-activation so you can get that core switched on for your push-ups.
This drill works in two way. The band is pulling you up, taking some resistance away from your push-up. The harder the band, the more assistance it’s going to give you. This makes the push-up overall easier so you can focus on how you’re doing them. The second thing about this drill is the band is pushing on your belly. This is actually giving your body good feedback to turn your belly on during the motion. As you sink lower into your push-up, the band tightens at your belly so it’s triggering you to tighten at the bottom and hardest part of the push-up. It’s kind of the same effect as someone poking you in the stomach, you automatically try to tighten against it.
How To: Have a friend hold the band up while you have it on your belly button. If you have no friends, hook it to a pull-up bar like I did in this video. Make sure the band stays at your belly-button and is in a position to pull you up while you get into your push-up position and do your reps.
Hardstyle Plank / Push-up Superset
A hardstyle plank is designed to fire up your core. If you do one right before a set of push-ups, it can help make sure that your abs are on for your set.
How To: I’ve talked about hardstyle planks before but for those who don’t know what I’m talking about – this is basically a very active plank. It won’t look like you’re moving much but you are actively in a tug-of-war with yourself. Your elbows should be trying to pull down toward your toes and your toes should be trying to pull up to your elbows but NOTHING MOVES. Make sure you breathe deeply while you’re in the plank. Keep it short and sweet. It’s just to turn abs on, not completely smoke them.
Ball Slam and Push-up Superset
This is another superset with the idea of turning your core on just before a set of push-ups. Ball slams are a very explosive movement that basically leaves you no choice but to turn your abs on if you’re doing them correctly.
How To: Get into an athletic stance with bent knees and hips, wind-up, and hit the ball on the ground as hard as you can. Each slam should have an exhale behind it. Your focus should be on hitting the ground hard, not winding-up hard. Go for short sets just to turn on your abs, then go right into a set of push-ups.
*SAFETY NOTE* Make sure you use a ball that is NOT bouncy. If you slam it into the ground and it is bouncy, it will bounce right into your face.
These ones are a more subtle way to get your core on during a push-up. As you walk out into a plank position, your core should be firing up more as the challenge to stabilize gets harder.
How To: Start standing tall for every rep. Bend at the knees to bring your whole hands to the floor, and step one hand forward at a time. Be sure to place the whole hand with each step and be sure to lift the hand with each step. Don’t drag your hands! You don’t need to time your breathing with each step you take just make sure that you are always breathing, never holding your breath.
These drills are meant to help you clean up a messy push-up but also to give you greater control and stability. I hope you give them a try and see some seriously strong push-ups and core strength after!