Last updated on November 1st, 2022 at 03:35 pm
Have you ever asked, “Why Do I Feel Push Ups in My Shoulders?”
Okay, admittedly push ups do work the shoulders to some extent.
However, we all typically view them more as a chest (and even tricep) exercise.
So, there’s nothing more frustrating than constantly feeling push ups in your shoulders.
This can range from a mild annoyance to being quite painful.
Allow me to explain what’s going on here.
Why Do I Feel Push Ups in My Shoulders?
There are various reasons why you feel push ups in your shoulders, although typically the most common is having your hands too far forward. Your hands should be in line with your nipples when performing push ups. Other issues which may cause you to feel push ups in your shoulders include, if you allow your elbows to flare out, you’re not retracting your shoulder blades, you allow your hands to rotate inwards, or your hips are either too high or too low throughout the movement.
1. Your Hands Are Too Far Forward
Without doubt, the most common reason for feeling push ups in your shoulders is placing your hands too far forward.
I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen someone performing push ups and their hands are in line with their head.
Basically, the further forward your hands are placed, the less emphasis push ups have on your chest and more pressure is placed on your shoulders.
Whenever you do push ups your hands should be more or less adjacent to your nipple line.
For me, I like to have my thumbs run along the same line as my nipples.
This will immediately take the pressure away from the shoulders and turn the push up into more of a chest exercise.
Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of having your hands too far back either.
The further down the line of your body your hands are, the more pressure you place on the wrists.
If the truth be told, a few of the other mistakes I’ll get to in a moment are because of incorrect hand placement.
So, first and foremost, get your hand position sorted.
2. Your Elbows Are Flaring Out
Another extremely common error when it comes to doing push ups is allowing your elbows to flare out to the side.
In fact, you’ll often see people performing push ups with their hands in line with their head and their elbows flared out to the side.
I cannot even begin to tell you how much stress this is putting on the joints.
And not just the shoulders, but the wrists and elbows too.
You’ll frequently see someone doing push ups and because their elbows are flared out the side they have literally made a T-shape between their upper body and arms.
The perfect push up will involve having your elbows tucked into your sides.
In fact, more often than not I find that my biceps typically brush the side of my chest when doing push ups.
If you were to view someone doing push ups from above you should notice that their arms roughly form a 45 degree angle to their body.
I actually think that most people have their hands out too wide when doing push ups (yes, I know there is such a thing as wide-grip push ups).
The correct hand distance will typically be viewed as a narrow-grip push up by many of you.
However, if you bring your hands slightly closer together, ensure that your elbows remain tucked into your sides, you’ll hit the chest and the triceps to far greater effect.
And of course, this will place less stress on the shoulders.
3. You’re Not Retracting Your Shoulder Blades
Not retracting the shoulder blades is a huge mistake that many people make not only with push ups, but a vast array of upper body exercises.
However, this is even more important with many chest-focused exercises, such as the bench press, dips, and of course push ups.
There’s a couple of ways I can describe retracting the shoulder blades that will hopefully make sense.
Firstly, think about the position your shoulder blades are in at the top of the bent-over row movement.
So, you start the exercise bent over and with your arms fully extended holding onto the bar.
You row the bar up and then pause at the top of the movement.
The exact position that your shoulder blades are in at this moment is how they should be when you start doing push ups.
You have basically pulled your shoulder blades back and towards each other.
Another way to look at it is to visualize that someone is going to place a tennis ball in the middle of your back.
Your aim is to hold that tennis ball in place with your shoulder blades.
So, once again you will literally roll your shoulders back and towards each other.
This is the position you want your shoulder blades in as you start doing push ups.
The same can be said for other exercises like bench press, dips, pull ups, chin ups, etc.
If you fail to retract the shoulder blades prior to push ups your shoulders will typically be hunched forward.
And this is why you feel push ups in your shoulders.
4. Your Hands Are Rotated Inwards
And we’re back to the hands again.
I did say that hand position can be the cause of most of your shoulder discomfort during push ups.
There is a tendency to rotate the hands inwards when doing push ups.
In effect, the fingers are pointing towards each other, much like a diamond push up, but with the hands further apart.
I will say that I’m not a fan of diamond push ups and much prefer close-grip push ups to work the triceps harder.
Basically, yet again, having your hands too close to each other, or turned inwards, places a great deal of stress on the joints.
Additionally, when you turn your hands inwards your shoulders will typically follow suit.
So, rather than having your shoulder blades retracted they will be rolled and hunched forward.
And of course this will place pressure on the shoulders.
Personally, I like to have my hands turned slightly outwards when I do push ups.
Okay, a slight exaggeration, so allow me to explain.
I will basically have my index fingers pointing straight ahead and my other fingers will be splayed outwards.
This ensures that I can retract my shoulders correctly, keep my elbows tucked in, and it takes the pressure off the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.
The Perfect Push Up to Build Muscle
5. Your Hips Are Too High or Too Low
I would say that incorrect hip position while doing push ups will have a greater detrimental effect on your core.
Basically, you either won’t work the abs as well while doing push ups or you place stress on the lower back.
With that being said, having your hips too low or too high can also impact your shoulders.
This is generally more of an issue if your hips are too low and sagging towards the floor.
In effect, your body position at the bottom of a push up is more reminiscent of a back extension.
In fact, you will have created a banana-shape with your body from head-to-toe.
If your aim is to perform reps with this type of body position each time you lower yourself to the floor your shoulders (and lower back) are bearing the brunt of your weight.
As for having your hips too high, this isn’t something that you’ll often see with push ups, but it can happen.
Basically, you will have turned the movement into more of a pike push up, which is usually performed to specifically target the shoulders more.
So, along with all the checkpoints I’ve already mentioned you’ll want to ensure that your body is ramrod straight from head-to-toe when performing push ups.
You’ll most commonly feel push ups in your shoulders due to incorrect hand positioning. This could entail having your hands too far forward, too wide which will cause your elbows to flare out, or internally rotated which will cause your shoulders to hunch forward. If you fix these issues then push ups will work the chest and triceps to greater effect, while taking the stress off the shoulders.
Next, I’d like to introduce you to my article which answers the one push up related question we all want to know, namely should your chest touch the ground when doing push ups.
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.