Last updated on October 3rd, 2022 at 08:11 pm
I see this asked time-and-time again, “How Do I Stop My Elbows From Flaring Out When I Do Push Ups?”
Regardless of what a great exercise push ups are, they will always produce better results when you adhere to strict form.
However, something that many of us struggle with is correct elbow position.
And this is especially true in terms of allowing the elbows to flare out during push ups.
So, allow me to explain the ideal elbow position for push ups and how you can maintain this whenever doing push ups.
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How Do I Stop My Elbows From Flaring Out When I Do Push Ups?
Allowing your elbows to flare out when doing push ups isn’t all bad, whereas tucking your elbows in isn’t always good. Most people seem to overdo flare or tuck one way or the other. The best position for push ups is to make a 45 degree angle with your elbows. In effect, your upper arms create an arrow head from your elbows to your head. Using push up variations that you don’t typically perform will help you to perfect the ideal elbow and arm position.
1. Elbow Flare Isn’t As Bad As You Think
Firstly, the fact that you’re aware that your elbows are potentially flaring out too far to the sides during push ups is a good thing.
However, I don’t actually think that elbow flare is as bad as most people think.
Now, don’t get me wrong, excessive elbow flaring will place a huge amount of unwanted stress on the shoulders.
And over time this will typically cause issues, such as a shoulder impingement, or perhaps something even worse.
So, you certainly don’t want to have your upper arms completely flared out to the side at a 90 degree angle.
Additionally, this over flaring of the elbows doesn’t bode well for overall biomechanics.
So, not only are you adhering to poor form and placing your shoulder joints under undue stress, but you won’t be getting the best out of the exercise either.
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With that being said, there should always be a slight elbow flare during push ups, and I’ll explain this more in a moment.
However, for now just be aware that the elbows should actually be slightly flared out to the side.
2. Elbow Tuck Isn’t As Good As You Think
I often find that when people perform push ups it’s either too much of one or the other.
By this I mean that if you’re specifically concentrating on not allowing your elbows to flare out then you’re probably keeping them tucked in tight to your sides.
However, this once again is not the ideal position for push ups, and it will also place stress on the shoulders.
In fact, I’ve seen some people literally have their arms scraping against their sides when performing push ups.
In my mind you’ve gone too far with elbow tuck.
Once again, this will be an unnatural position for your shoulder blades to be in, so you will be placing unneeded pressure on the shoulders with excessive tuck.
So, whereas it’s not good practice to have your elbows at an exaggerated angle away from the body, you certainly don’t want your elbows digging into your sides.
Proper Elbow Position For Push Ups
3. Make a Push Up “Arrow”
Okay, I’ve mentioned that there should always be some elbow flare when performing push ups.
Personally, I believe the ideal push up position will see the upper arms form a 45 degree angle to the upper body.
So, you’re definitely not flaring the elbows completely out to the side, but your elbows are still away from the body.
I typically liken this to an arrow, or your upper arms forming the head of an arrow.
Therefore, your upper arms to your head will almost form the perfect arrow head.
This position allows you to safely perform push ups with good technique without having to worry about placing stress on the shoulders.
Your hand position will also play an important role.
I have seen some trainers say that you should have your hands pointing in slightly, but I’m really not a fan of this.
I feel the inward hand position also turns the shoulders in slightly, thus leaving them in an unnatural and precarious position.
Personally, I like to have my fingers splayed and my hands turned out ever so slightly (index fingers pointing straight ahead).
This allows me to perform push ups safely, while maintaining that perfect arrow head between my upper arms and head.
4. Change Up Your Push Up Workout
If you find that your elbows are flaring out excessively to the sides then I’d suggest that you start performing push ups slightly differently.
Unfortunately, as with most things in life, we tend to get into certain habits when performing an exercise regularly.
This could mean that you’ve been performing push ups with poor form for a long time, so you’ll find it more difficult to fix this.
Basically, you’re so used to dropping to the floor and cranking out endless push ups.
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So, for me, I think it’s best to completely change the way you do push ups for a while until you’ve mastered perfect hand, arm, and elbow placement.
Initially, I would suggest that you change the tempo of your push ups as you try to realign the correct elbow position.
So, rather than dropping and hitting 25 reps just aim for 10.
However, take a 3-4 second pause at both the bottom and the top of each push up.
This way your mind is more concentrated on what you’re actually doing, so you can really concentrate on keeping your elbows in that 45 degree position.
Additionally, you’ll probably increase time-under-tension, which is great for muscle and strength gains.
I’m also a big fan of narrow-grip push ups.
In fact, I perform narrow-grip more often than regular push ups.
For me, I can really concentrate on the ideal elbow and upper arm position with every single rep.
I’ll also say that I would much rather perform narrow-grip than diamond push ups.
Both push up variations are typically viewed as great triceps builders, plus they work the inner chest slightly more.
However, once again, the angle of the hands during diamond push ups places a huge amount of stress on the shoulders, as well as the wrists.
So, always go for narrow-grip push ups over diamond push ups.
I also have a great affection for decline push ups, and yet again this is an ideal way for you to practice the 45 degree elbow position.
Once more, you should ensure that you have a very deliberate lowering and raising phase.
So, take time to pause at both the bottom and the top.
Just performing slow push ups, narrow-grip and decline push ups will give you a great overall workout.
Plus, if you adhere to a perfect 45 degree elbow angle, not only will you protect your shoulders, but you’ll see muscle and strength gains come on in leaps and bounds.
The Perfect Push Up Workout (3 Levels)
So, I hope you understand that allowing your elbows to flare out during push ups isn’t always a bad thing.
Basically, you don’t want to excessively flare the elbows, but you also don’t want them stuck to your sides.
So, always be aware if you’re overdoing it in terms of flaring or tucking during push ups.
The ideal position will see your upper arms form a 45 degree angle to your body.
In effect, you have created an arrow between your arms, body, and head.
I would also recommend that you practice push ups variations that you’re perhaps not used to.
My personal favourites include slow-pause push ups, narrow-grip and decline push ups.
The reason for this is that you may have got into bad push ups habits, so it makes sense to almost start the exercise afresh and train it slightly differently.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.