When it comes to useful coaching cues, what works for some does not work for all. This is why it’s always important for a coach to have a wide arsenal of cues. Being able to revert to or try a different cue during a training session can lead to that “light bulb” moment, helping you save time and address the issue. When the message gets lost in translation, it can be highly frustrating for both coach and client.
With that, one of the most difficult exercises to master is the classic Push-Up. Observationally speaking, verbal and visual cues don’t seem to register as much during the Push-Up, or things start smoothly during a set and then head south near the end. In cases like this, you can complement familiar cues with a couple of secret training techniques that address weak areas and ranges of motion through a training method called Reactive Neuromuscular Training.
This term was first introduced by Gray Cook years ago and involves a promotion of the movement error to help build countermovement reaction and reflexive instincts to eventually help restore a neutral posture and movement. Put differently: You want to apply a resistance or effort that exacerbates what the client is generally doing wrong.
In the case of Push-Ups, two of the most common errors involve a forward head posture and a concurrent lack of motion as the body descends towards the floor. Push-Ups should almost always be performed through complete ranges of motion for several reasons, but many clients can mask a limited ROM by sticking their head forward during the eccentric phase of the movement, which results in less of a pre-stretch in the working muscles of the upper body.
One reason why this can occur is a lack of thoracic spine mobility and scapular retraction, which many are already aware of, but what about a lack of early serratus anterior action coming off the floor or out of the bottom of a Push-Up? The serratus anterior is responsible for tilting the scapula backward along with protracting and drawing it forward before the Trapezius muscles assume the duty the rest of the way up.
Many people have weak serratus anterior muscles. The brain and central nervous system may detect this common weakness and “lock” the joint before the more challenging and deeper ranges of motion of the Push-Ups so as not to further add to the imbalance. But if anything, adding more depth can activate your serratus anterior to greater extents and improve pressing strength, shoulder mechanics and shoulder health.
Combine a deeper range of motion with a strategy to strengthen the deep neck flexors and prevent any forward head posture, and you have a pretty potent and bulletproof formula for addressing and helping to cure what’s known as Upper Crossed Syndrome, an extremely common postural issue. Here’s the move:
The handles you push up from can target the deep-end range and put the serratus on more stretch to help wake this area up. Combine that with the chains trying to draw the neck forward, and your deep neck flexors will be forced to step up their game as well!
- Grab two training handles and some training chains. Situate the handles approximately shoulder-width apart and drape the chains over your neck.
- Lower down toward the ground utilizing a nice even and slow tempo while maintaining high levels of tension systemically.
- Keep the neck packed with the chin neutral, grip tight, glutes tight and knees straight with zero hip rotation or twist. Also, keep the spine for hyperextending at any point.
- Pause momentarily when you reach the bottom and return to the starting position.
- Perform 6-15 reps for 2 x 4 sets. Rest 1-2 minutes if performing in a superset fashion with a non-competing movement, or 2-3 minutes if performing the exercise in a straight set fashion.