Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 12:27 pm
Who else wants to know, “Why Does My Back Arch When I Do Push Ups?”
On the face of it, push ups are a fairly simple exercise to perform.
However, this doesn’t mean that push ups don’t have certain technical aspects which will help you adhere to perfect form.
Something that may be causing you frustration is if your back arches whenever you perform push ups.
So, allow me to explain why this happens, and what you can do about it.
Why Does My Back Arch When I Do Push Ups?
The main reason that your back arches when you do push ups is because you either have a weak core, or you’re simply not engaging your core. This will cause your hips to sag, which in turn leads to an arched lower back. You should also contract your glutes whenever you perform push ups, which will help to keep your hips high. Additionally, always focus on performing push ups with perfect form rather than trying to crank out as many reps as possible. Once again, your core may not be strong enough for you to maintain a neutral spine if you are aiming for a specific number of reps.
1. You Have a Weak Core
Push ups are definitely a great all-round exercise, and they certainly have many uses in your fitness journey.
When you’re first starting out push ups are great for building muscle and strength in your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Then as you progress you can use push ups as a conditioning tool.
You can even perform push ups after a chest-focused exercise to create a greater pump, e.g. bench press, dips, etc.
However, something that many people fail to realise is that push ups are also a great core exercise.
In fact, as someone who performs literally hundreds of push ups throughout the day, I can attest to the fact that they have helped to tone my midsection.
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With that being said, if you aren’t activating your core when doing push ups this could explain why your back arches.
Furthermore, if you have weak core muscles you find it difficult to keep these muscles contracted throughout an entire set.
So, if your back is arching the first place to look is at your core strength.
My recommendation would be to perform planks and hollow holds on a regular basis.
This will help you to learn how to properly activate your core, as well as strengthening your entire midsection.
The result, better and more technically-proficient push ups, and no arching of the back.
2. You’re Not Contracting Your Glutes
I’ve just spoken about the core muscles, which play an important role in push ups, and just about any exercise for that matter.
However, whenever we refer to the core most people assume this means the muscles that wrap around your midsection.
In effect, your abs, obliques, and lower back.
With that being said, there are various minor core muscles as well.
So, I would actually include your lats, traps, and even your glutes as part of the core.
And it just so happens that the glutes also have an important role during push ups.
In fact, your glutes have a part to play in various upper body exercises.
One of the main reasons that your back arches during push ups is because you’re allowing your hips to sag towards the floor.
This can be avoided to some extent by contracting your main core muscles (and ensuring that they are strong enough to hold the push up position).
However, you should also be contracting your glutes during push ups.
Basically, squeeze your glutes hard, and maintain this “squeeze” throughout your entire set.
This will immediately bring your hips back up, which in turn stops your back from arching.
I often view push ups as a full-body exercise rather than simply a chest, shoulders, and triceps movement.
In fact, I even have my quads contracted during push ups.
There is a lot of isometric contraction going on in the muscles of the body during push ups.
So, ensure that you squeeze your glutes during push ups as this will help you to keep your hips away from the floor and at the desired level.
3. You’re Focusing on Quantity Not Quality
I have always been an advocate of performing every single exercise you perform with perfect technique.
Push ups are certainly no different.
It often astounds me when I hear of people performing hundreds of reps in one set.
In fact, I just know that the majority of these “reps” are performed poorly and do not adhere to perfect technique.
As I’ve mentioned, I perform hundreds of push ups on a daily basis, and have done so for many years now.
However, I will always perform each and every rep with my form absolutely on-point.
To be honest, I don’t know the exact number of reps I could complete in one set.
I simply crank out a few push ups various times a day.
This may involve 10 reps here, 25 reps there, 15 reps at another time.
But, each rep and each set is performed in a slow and controlled manner.
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Unfortunately, another reason that your back arches is because you’re more focused on the number of push ups you can hit each set.
Basically, you’re trying to force out as many reps as possible.
This is generally when your form breaks down, and you may even start doing all sorts of weird things with your body.
In fact, something that I see all too often is “floor humping”.
Yes, that’s right, you’re no longer performing push ups, but simply dry humping the floor.
This typically manifests itself by your hips sagging, your stomach pretty much touching the floor, while your chest remains high.
In effect, your body takes on a banana shape.
My advice is to worry less about the number of push ups you’re doing.
You should concentrate on making every single rep as perfect as possible.
Okay, you may find that your push up numbers drop significantly.
However, you will always produce better results when you adhere to good form.
The Perfect Push Up to Build Muscle
4. Your Hands Are Too High
Where you place your hands during push ups could have an impact on your back arching.
In fact, something I cringe at is when I see people with their hands placed too high.
I will typically perform push ups with my hands placed directly below my shoulders.
So, when I reach the bottom of a push up my hands are directly in line with my chest.
All too often I will see someone with their hands in line with their neck or even the top of their head.
This immediately puts unwanted stress onto the lower back when you lower yourself.
Plus, there is a greater likelihood of you arching your back as a way to protect your lower spine.
Once again, this isn’t great technique, and you’re taking the focus away from your target muscles.
A good way to practice good hand positioning is to start by lying flat on the floor.
Then place your hands in the appropriate position and push yourself up.
You’ll also find that you’ll need to contract the muscles of the core and glutes from this position.
So, in reality you’ll hit all the technical aspects required to ensure that your back doesn’t arch.
So, I hope you have a better understanding of why your back arches when you do push ups.
This is mainly caused by not activating your core, or indeed that you have weak core muscles.
You should also contract your glutes and focus on the quality of your push ups rather than the quantity.
Plus, you need to ensure that your hands are directly below your shoulders and in line with your chest at the bottom of the push up.
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.