Is the Push Up Good for Swimmers?

By: Alex Burtch MS CSCS

When we talk about sport specific training, usually people like to see strengthening through ranges of motion that are directly applicable to the sport. For example, I will put a golfer in a half kneeling position with a cable machine behind them and they will ‘chop’ the weight down and it looks like the golf swing. However, when you talk about two things like the push up and swimming, the motion of the arms through the push up is replicated no where in swimming. So, we must ask ourselves, is the push up good for swimmers?

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What Area Do Push Ups Work

Some coaches believe in the power of push ups where some think that they can wreck an already susceptible shoulder. Electromyography (using a machine to record the electrical activity of muscles) analysis of the swim stroke shows that the pec muscles are the prime movers of a freestyle stroke during the early pull through. How does this make sense though? Well, the pec major also assists to internally rotate the shoulder and during the early pull, the pec shortens to pull and internally rotate. What does a push up work? Pec major.

Effectiveness of Push Ups

So now we have to ask ourselves, what’s the best way to train with push ups? The push up is commonly done with the elbows jutting straight out to the sides at 90° from the trunk. The safest way (and correct way) to perform a push up is with the hands pointed slightly outward and the elbows going backwards at a 45° to the body.

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The best way to put this all together is to include a “plus” to your push up. That is, the push up plus movement pattern. With this, you press through the arms at the top of the push up hold adding a small “punch” to the end range motion. Super setting this with some band pull-aparts can help make sure that you have equal development. With the pull-aparts, keep your shoulder blades “down and back” and don’t shrug the traps upward. A link to videos of both movements are below! Enjoy!

-Alex Burtch

Have questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you! Email me at [email protected].

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