You’re Probably Doing Too Much Pressing in Your Home Workouts
There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way the world exercises.
We’ve been dealt a whole hand of challenges. And while each of these can be overcome, we have to be smart about how we adapt.
Perhaps the biggest change has been to the transition to ‘at home’ exercise. Not only are we out of our normal exercising environment, but we also have severe equipment limitations.
This has resulted in a narrowing of the range of exercises we complete on a day-to-day basis. There are certain exercises that are easy to do at home – and we tend to gravitate towards these more simple ‘easy to complete’ movements.
And no where is this more obvious than in the overtraining of ‘pushing’ type movements. What’s a ‘pushing’ movement? It’s one where you’re straightening the elbow as your lifting a weight (or your body). Think of movements like push-ups and burpees and handstand push-ups and dips. Maybe you’ve got some dumbbells at home, or, if you’re lucky, a barbell? You can add any sort of bench press or overhead lift into the mix. Don’t have any equipment, and worried about losing strength? Check out The Ultimate Seven Strategy Guide to Getting Strong Without Equipment.
Now of course, even an unbalanced exercise program is better than no program at all – but with a little bit of knowledge, we can balance up your exercise and maximise the benefit, even with your current limitations.
First, let’s explore why an over-reliance on pushing movements may be doing you harm.
Many muscles in our body work in partnership with each other. The hamstrings flex the knee, the quadriceps extend the knee. The pecs bring the arms forward (like you’re hugging someone – this is called ‘horizontal adduction’) and your upper back muscles take the arms back. Your biceps flex the elbow, your triceps extend the elbow.
And like any good relationship, to optimise the health of your musculo-skeletal system we want an even partnership. For example, if you exercise your pecs (chest) too much (like you would with too many pressing movements), and you don’t even things up by working the backs of your shoulders and upper back, you might end up with imbalances. These imbalances can lead to long-term chronic overuse injuries (particularly in the shoulders and elbows), joint pain, muscle tightness, and poor posture.
Of course, our posture may also be negatively impacted by spending too long in certain positions. And with self-isolation seeing us spending more time in front of the TV, or in our ‘non-ergonomic’ home office, we’re adding fuel to the fire by doing too much pressing.
But what about how too much pressing may impact our fitness? Of course, if you do lots of push-up, you’ll get better at push-ups, which is a good thing. But if you’re combining multiple pushing movements into one workout, you might only get better at pushing. Basically, you’ll build good muscular endurance (the ability to do lots of push-ups), but you’ll be neglecting all the other important part of your fitness like, for example, your cardiorespiratory endurance (cardio). “I’ll just add in some burpess as well as my push-ups” I hear you cry! Even though burpees are undoubtedly an exercise that will improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, pairing them with push-ups means your arms will be so fatigued that you won’t be able to move fast enough to get the true ‘cardio’ benefits.
The best way to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance is by alternating different muscle groups. This is called ‘blood shunting’. When we rapidly move between upper and lower body muscles, and pushing and pulling muscles, our heart and lungs have to work hard to move blood around the body. This results in our cardiorespiratory endurance improving. Learn more about losing fitness during the COVID-19 gym closures. At the same time, be careful you’re not doing too many long, gruelling home workouts – because there are some risks involved in that too (which you can read about here).
Doing too much pushing stops this blood shunting and limits your improvements.
So what can you do to ensure you’re not over-training your pushing muscles?
Well firstly, if you normally follow a well balanced exercise program, keep following it! We’ve seen too many people make the mistake of abandoning a winning formula. Instead of starting from scratch, continue to follow your normal, balanced program. If you’re not sure how to modify some of the movements for limited/no equipment, you can check out our free resource here, where we provide videos of ‘no equipment’ alternatives.
If you are making up your own workouts, or finding workouts you like the sound of on social media, make sure there’s a good balance between pushing and pulling exercises. As a general rule of thumb, for every rep of pushing you do, you should also do a rep of a pulling-type movement.
Now, this isn’t always that simple. All you need for push-ups and burpees is a floor. ‘Pulling’ movements can be a little harder to do given our current limitations. So here are some examples of how to modify some of our favourite pulling exercises – even if you have no equipment.
Row (Ring Row / Bar Row) Modifications
We can also recommend some rehab-type exercises, which will help you keep balance in your body. This will help you to strength and activate some of the pulling muscles you may be neglecting. Try adding some of these before and after your workout:
- Front lie to arch hold
- Front lying overhead broomstick arm lifts
- Front lying reverse flyes
- Front lying upper back extensions
- Hanging shoulder blade squeezes
- High elbow external rotation from belly button
- Shoulder blade pull ups with bar bend
- Shoulder blade ring rows
With a little bit of planning, and an understanding of how your body works, it’s possible to come out of this period of isolation with your health and fitness in better shape than when your gym was still open.
Be aware of the types of movements in your workout, and keep that balance between pushing and pulling.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.