The Push-Up Primer: Fix Your Weak Core Muscles

The Push-Up Primer is a single exercise that addresses weak areas and drives positive changes quickly.

Young athletes are often plagued by upper-body dysfunction. Winging shoulder blades, weak core muscles, the inability to connect to the glutes, poor grip strength and weakness at the push-off point closest to the chest during pressing movements can limit potential and possibly lead to injury. The proper training can correct these areas and make them huge opportunities for the development of strength, power and competitive advantage down the road.

Say hello to the Push-Up Primer. This single exercise addresses these areas and allows you to make positive changes quickly.

When you do these exercises, good form is everything. Put the same effort into learning precise technique in the gym as you do on the field or court. The results will show.

RELATED: Five Steps to Perfect Push-Up Form

Push-Up Primer

  1. Lie on your stomach on the floor.
  2. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart with a band around your wrists actively stretched out. (A study from the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology found that the outward pull of the wrist band significantly reduces chest muscle involvement, which is commonly overactive in athletes with winged scapulae.)
  3. Roll your shoulder blades away from your ears, then dig under your armpits, squeeze your glutes, brace your core and tuck your chin. Your abs will burn! According to a study published in Human Kinetics, activating the lats by digging under the arms stiffens and stabilizes the low back. And Donald A. Neumann, a professor of physical therapy at Marquette University, writes that the abdominals, glutes, and hamstrings can work together as a unit to avoid excessive anterior tilt of the pelvis and arching of the low back, which can lead to injury.

Coaching Tip

In his book, Low Back Disorders, Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada), offers a great teaching tool for simplifying the idea of abdominal bracing.

  • Hold your arm up and flex your biceps. Feel the tension all around your arm.
  • Release it and flex your midsection. Squeeze and brace your abs the same way you flexed your biceps and feel the reciprocal tension in your low back as you did in the triceps. It's go time.
  • Transfer weight equally through your hands and feet as you slowly push up. It is very important to raise your stomach, ribs and chest at the same time with your knees locked and your legs straight. Don't sag your belly.
  • At the top, try to push your rib cage to the sky without letting your shoulders move up toward your ears. The Journal of Electromyography & Kinesiology found this move quieted the pec muscles and activated the serratus muscles significantly more than any other exercise tested for shoulder-blade health. Hold for 3-6 seconds.


  • Grip strength and strength of the muscles near the shoulder joint (especially serratus anterior) are strongly correlated. A Study by The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy showed that grip strength increased by 9 percent with protraction of the shoulder blades.
  • When you return to the start position, repeat step three while hovering 1 inch from the floor. This lengthened isometric position works on strength and stability at the weakest part of your pushing range—an action that The Journal of Applied Physiology found improved maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) by 25 to 54 percent in five weeks and had greater impact on strength at other angles in the range of motion when the muscle was in a stretched position during the isometric. If this is too difficult at first, simply lie flat on the floor while doing step 3 again. Repeat for six to 15 reps and progress to the next level when you can execute 15.

RELATED: 4 Push-Up Variations For A Bigger Chest and Arms


  1. Off a Bench: Same form as above but place hands on a bench to reduce the difficulty.
  2. Off the Floor: See description and video above.
  3. With a Weight Vest: Now you are officially hardcore and deserve your own STACK video. Congrats!


1. Borstad JD1, Ludewig PM. "The effect of long versus short pectoralis minor resting length on scapular kinematics in healthy individuals." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2005 Apr;35(4):227-38.

2. Jeongok Yang, PhD,1 Joongsook Lee, PhD,1 Bomjin Lee, PhD,1 Sora Jeon,2 Bobae Han,2 and Dongwook Han, PhD. "The Effects of Active Scapular Protraction on the Muscle Activation and Function of the Upper Extremity." J Appl Physiol (1985). 1988 Apr;64(4):1500-5.

3. Kitai TA1, Sale DG. "Specificity of joint angle in isometric training." J Phys Ther Sci. Apr 2014; 26(4): 599–603. Published online Apr 23, 2014. doi: 10.1589/jpts.26.599

4. Mc Gill, Stuart. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. Human Kinetics, 2002. ISBN: 0-7360-4241-5. Printed in USA.

5. Neumann DA. "Kinesiology of the hip: a focus on muscular actions." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 Feb;40(2):82-94. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3025.

6. Park KM1, Cynn HS, Yi CH, Kwon OY. "Effect of isometric horizontal abduction on pectoralis major and serratus anterior EMG activity during three exercises in subjects with scapular winging." J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2013 Apr;23(2):462-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2012.11.013. Epub 2013 Jan 16

7. Park KM1, Cynn HS, Kwon OY, Yi CH, Yoon TL, Lee JH. "Comparison of Pectoralis Major and Serratus Anterior Muscle Activities During Different Push-Up Plus Exercises in Subjects With and Without Scapular Winging." J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Mar 10. [Epub ahead of print]

8. Park SY, Yoo WG, Kim MH, Oh JS, An DH. "Differences in EMG activity during exercises targeting the scapulothoracic region: a preliminary study." Man Ther. 2013 Dec;18(6):512-8. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2013.04.002. Epub 2013 May 10.

9. Thépaut-Mathieu C1, Van Hoecke J, Maton B. "Myoelectrical and mechanical changes linked to length specificity during isometric training." J Appl Physiol (1985). 1988 Apr;64(4):1500-5.]

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