What’s an “Rx Pushup”?
We use the word Rx in CrossFit to identify the “prescription” or you could also call it the ultimate standard. And Rx Pushup is one that is not modified in any way from its intended form and meets all of the points of performance we expect.
Ideally you are slightly “hollowed out in the lumbar and thoracic spines”, but we’ll take the traditional neutral lumbar curve. The hollow body position contracts the abdominals as we approximate the hips and ribs and prevents the rib cage from hitting the deck first. It also flexes the thoracic spine creating a deeper range of motion.
Below, in the video, you’ll see an average body position and a neutral head (no reaching for the ground with the head).
You’ll also see three different hand positions: fingers forward, hands rotated about 90 degrees out, and hands rotated a full 180 degrees into a planche HAND position (this is not a planche pushup). Why three hand positions? Because it matters that your wrists, and shoulders feel good doing this, and also it helps to understand what’s happening in each.
- Fingers forward allows you to apply some external rotation to your arms/shoulders to create more force in the pushup. HOWEVER, as we age our wrists begin to lose mobility – which we should work on, right? RIGHT! Front rack positions are a little harder if we don’t work on wrist flexion. And push-ups hurt if you lack wrist flexion when trying to get into that “fingers forward position”. For this reason, sometimes we rotate our hands out to the sides a little (say 45-75 degrees). This lets us cheat wrist flexion to accomplish the movement more comfortably. HOWEVER, the further out you rotate your hands externally toward 90 degrees, the less you are able to generate external rotation of the shoulder to create additional force. That’s important. Forward fingers may be a little stronger. Also, with fingers forward you activate the serratus anterior a little more. Generally, whichever floats your boat and gets you better form and makes you feel stronger.
- Hands rotated out at 90 degrees (or somewhere between fingers forward and 90 degrees) may help you cheat wrist mobility and make the pushup more comfortable. Serratus anterior is less activated the more you rotate those fingers out to the sides.
- Hands rotated backward was basically just to show you it’s possible, it provides an intense stretch on the shoulder and we don’t do them here! So there you go!
Body position + 3 different hand positions
Hand and Shoulder Position
Hands are right next to our body, tucked into our armpits at the bottom of the pushup. They’re not wide. Elbows are pointed back, not out to the sides. In our age demographic we protect the shoulders. We lean toward more of a military pushup or a triceps pushup. Though it stretches the shoulder, it also protects the joint.
Don’t reach for the ground with your head. Keep your head up and neck neutral.
When you reach toward the deck with your head, it creates a false sense of where you are in your descent. Neutral head/neck.
Yes, it’s a thing. Modern day habits of computers, keyboards, phones…and the fact that we don’t do physical work much these days like we used to – all these things make our wrists a little stiffer. You’ve heard us say: “Motion is lotion”. It’s true. Don’t get frustrated if you have tight wrists…but do something about it. Below you’ll see our man, Gene. He has some wrist tightness in his front rack and immediately asked “what can I do”. We showed him a quick stretch. He did it in between his lifts for a few days and BOOM….great front rack and an improvement in his wrist position. It is not and does not have to be a 1 hour 1:1 session with a coach. It’s one quick tip from an experienced coach and all you have to do is do it! The stretch shown below is a great one.
Good pushups are a sign of general athleticism. No movement in the torso. No reaching down with the head. Slow and controlled. Chest/Pecs hit the deck. Hips don’t sag on the return to full elbow extension. Thighs come off the deck FIRST, not after the chest, or then never touch the deck. Elbows fully lockout at the top.
There is no reason anyone can’t gain the strength and mobility to do an Rx Pushup. In class, work hard progressions – try a lower bar or a band – work with your coaches. Don’t choose the easy way out. Make sure your progression or regression allows you to meet the standards. The more you move well the more you WILL move well. Allowing substandard practice or training reps is training substandard movement.
We all have things we’re good at and things we’re bad at – we should be focusing on bringing the things we’re bad at in line with those we’re good at. Do hard things!