Balance Your Push-Up Workout

Infantryman performs push-ups during a fitness challenge.
Cpl. Joe Gregg spots Cpl. Robert McGhee, both infantrymen of 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, during the push-up event of the Diablo Company Squad Challenge at Contingency Operating Site Warrior in Iraq, Feb. 11, 2011. (Spc. Kandi Huggins/1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry)

People who exercise and those who do not often neglect the upper-back and rear shoulder muscles.  Life has a way of bowing your upper back and rolling your shoulders forward.  In technical terms, we are basically "internally rotated" with the shoulder girdle. 

Many things in life "internally rotate" us, such as driving, sitting at a computer, playing video games, texting, carrying backpacks, bench-pressing, push-ups, sit-ups and many more exercises and daily life events. Posture is critical to performance and our confidence. Perfect posture is possible by adding in a few daily exercises for only a few minutes.

Basically, every "push" workout you do should be balanced out with a "pull" type of workout. You can do pull-ups to help balance out your push-ups as well as supplemental daily exercises like the following:

Upper-back exercise #1 (arm haulers)

Lie on your belly with your feet on the floor.  Lift your chest slightly off the floor and wave your arms from your sides to over your head for 30 seconds.

Upper-back exercise #2 (reverse push-ups)

Lie on your stomach in the down push-up position. Lift your hands off the floor 2-3 inches instead of pushing the floor.  This will strengthen your upper-back muscles that balance out the chest muscles.  Do 20-30 reps. Rear deltoids and rhomboids are the muscles used.

Upper-back exercise #3 (birds)

Lie on your stomach with your arms spread to the height of your shoulders. Lift both arms off the floor until your shoulder blades "pinch" and place them slowly in the down position.  Repeat for 20-30 repetitions, mimicking a bird flying.

This simple three- to four-minute program will help you keep your spine in proper alignment and fortify your delicate shoulder girdle. If you neglect these smaller muscles of the upper back and rear shoulder, all it will take is a fun toss of a football, baseball or overhead smash of a volleyball, and your rotator-cuff muscles will be talking to you immediately. If you want to hear your doctor tell you that you need surgery, neglect these muscles.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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