Do you feel neck pain when doing push ups?
As it turns out this is a fairly common occurrence.
Most of us will typically stop doing push ups as soon as we feel anything related to our necks.
However, it’s not unheard-of to try to strain out a couple of extra reps just to finish a set on an even number.
Unfortunately, this could turn that slight neck twinge into something far more serious.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at why your neck potentially hurts during push ups.
And, of course, what you can do to avoid this.
Neck Pain When Doing Push Ups
The main reason you get neck pain when doing push ups is because of an incorrect head position. You should maintain a neutral neck position throughout your set, which means that you should be looking at the ground directly in below you.
1. Your Chin Juts Forward When Doing Push Ups
Head position is all-important when doing push ups.
But, I would hazard a guess it’s not something that many of us pay too much attention to.
I have seen some awful advice about the direction you should be looking when doing push ups.
The whole point is that you want to maintain a completely neutral neck position.
I have typically read in the past that you should be looking a couple of feet in front of you.
And even that you should be looking straight ahead.
Unfortunately, with both of these techniques your neck is in anything but a neutral position.
There is a tendency for the chin to jut forward when doing push ups.
This will put a great deal of pressure on the neck muscles.
More specifically the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles.
These are the muscles that run down either side of the neck, from the base of the skull to the top of the sternum and collarbone.
Try this – Look up to the ceiling now and then feel the contracted muscles on the sides of your neck.
These are the SCM muscles
You want to avoid these muscles “tensing up” when doing push ups.
So, the best way to achieve this is stare straight down to the ground, and ensure that your chin doesn’t extend out and forward.
Avoid a Tight Neck From Doing Push Ups
2. You Are Leading With Your Head During Push Ups
This probably sounds a little strange, but it’s something that many of us do during push ups.
In trying to get the face as close to the ground as possible you may find that you start leading with your head.
You could also find that you’ve completely stopped focusing on performing the actual push up.
The aim has suddenly become to get your face within an inch or so of the ground.
You probably don’t even realise that you’re doing it.
This “head leading” technique yet again can cause the chin to jut forward, thus straining the SCM muscles once more.
This is why it’s so vitally important to always try to maintain a neutral neck position.
I always like to tense the body as a whole prior to performing push ups.
And then I concentrate on slowly lowering myself to the ground before pushing back up again.
Basically, I really want to feel the target muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps working throughout.
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Plus, my core, quads, and glutes are tensed tight literally turning the push up into a full-body exercise.
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So, concentrate more on the “working muscles” rather than trying to get your face as close to the floor as possible.
If this means that your rep count dramatically reduces, then so be it.
Your aim should always be perfect form over reps.
I shall get to this in more detail in a moment.
3. You Are Relying Too Heavily on Your Arms
Something that often happens as you approach failure with push ups is that you tend to “muscle through” the final few reps.
The easiest way to do this is to just use the arms.
What I mean by this is that you are literally just pumping through the arms to get in as many reps as possible.
Proper form has pretty much gone out of the window by this stage.
You are no longer contracting the chest and core muscles.
Your triceps are probably close to “giving way”.
And yet you continue to pump away with the arms forcing those final few reps.
When you do this the shoulders typically get hunched up towards the head.
This actually brings the trapezius muscles more into play, and it is from here that you may typically strain the neck muscles.
I often see this type of “arm technique” when people are trying to perform push ups too quickly.
In fact, I feel that there is sometimes an infatuation with quoting X number of push ups in so many seconds.
You know what I mean – “I’ve done 50 push ups in 30 seconds” or something similar.
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Push Up Speed Makes a Difference
I’m sorry to say that these aren’t proper push ups.
They’re arm pumps or head bobs at best.
Basically, technique and muscle contraction have left the building to be replaced by some type of warped competition.
The main reason we perform push ups is because they are a fantastic strength and conditioning exercise.
However, once strict form isn’t being adhered to, push ups will usually lose their effectiveness.
I probably perform push ups slower than anyone I know.
I never boast of completing sets of 50 or 100 push ups, simply because I never make it that far.
On occasions, I take up to 2 minutes to complete just 10-15 push ups.
I will lower and raise myself for a tempo of 4-5 seconds both ways.
I may not be doing many reps, but it’s probably better than 30 seconds of “arm pumps”.
With that being said, it does very much depend on your goals when doing push ups.
I would say that if you are doing some type of test, e.g. military, then fast-paced push ups are acceptable.
If your aim is to build speed or explosiveness, then once again fast-paced push ups are the way to go.
However, I just love the muscle-building effects when I slow the pace right down.
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Now this is just my opinion, based on my experience.
However, there are other theories on push up rep speed as well.
The Best Rep Speed For Push Ups
4. You Are Trying to Do Too Many Push Ups
I’m guessing you knew this was coming, right?
I’ve spoken about technique being lost because you’re straining for more reps or more speed.
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far is ALL likely to happen when you’re trying to do too many push ups.
Let’s say you complete a push up workout, and your goal is to do 3 sets of 50 push ups.
You know as well as me that sets 2 and 3 are going to be tougher than the first set.
In fact, you’re more likely to cheat on the latter sets.
The final 15-20 reps on each set turn into half push ups, or you start arm-pumping or head-bobbing simply to finish off the set.
Perhaps it’s time to put your ego in check.
Look, I am a proponent of perfect form with pretty much every single exercise I do.
This typically means that I don’t lift as much weight, or perform as many reps as others.
However, the difference is typically noticeable in both my physique and fitness levels.
For me, if I’m completing a push up workout that involves a high volume, then I’ll finish each set a good few reps prior to failure.
I’ll rest adequately, and then I go again.
You don’t need me to tell you that 150 perfect reps is going to be far better than 75 decent reps, 50 half reps, and 25 reps of “what the hell was that?”
With that being said, just from a personal perspective, I perform push ups every single day.
Plus, I like to do them throughout the day.
This ensures that I’m achieving a high volume (100, 200, or 300 reps), never going to failure, and always doing my push ups with perfect form.
RELATED====>Can I Do 100 Push Ups Throughout The Day?
So, hopefully you now understand why you experience neck pain when doing push ups.
In the main, this is due to not maintaining a neutral neck position.
However, if you’re aiming to do too many push ups, or performing them too fast, this can also cause neck issues.
Personally, I like to perform push ups at a much slower pace than most, but my aim is to increase time-under-tension and build muscle.
Push ups happen to be one of only 8 exercises in Lane Goodwin’s workout program.
However, by just using push ups and another 7 exercises, Lane claims that you can build a lean, muscular, and athletic physique.
Check out exactly what I thought of Lane’s workout program in my Ripped With Bodyweight Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.