Are wide pushups bad for you? Keep your shoulders safe and strong!

Are wide pushups bad for you?

If you’ve ever gotten bored of doing regular pushups, you may have started thinking about doing wide pushups (AKA wide grip pushups) to hit more of your chest muscles. Whenever someone starts experimenting with wide pushups, there’s a high risk of two things:

  1.  you feel shoulder pain
  2. you don’t feel shoulder pain but someone tells you that you should stop doing wide pushups because you’ll end up with shoulder pain.

So then you ask yourself: are wide pushups bad for you? Is it worth doing wide pushups?

In this post, we’re going to highlight the major mistake that makes wide pushups painful for people’s shoulders, and we’re going to show you how to fix it.

If you want a video run-down of the material, check it out here:

Wide pushups are not bad for you.

Yes, you may feel discomfort. Maybe you do get pain from them. But just because you feel discomfort doesn’t mean wide grip pushups are bad for you. Wide grip push-ups can actually be GOOD for you IF AND ONLY IF you do them correctly.

If you lift a box up in the wrong way, it can be bad for you. But that doesn’t mean lifting boxes is inherently bad for you. Lifting boxes badly is bad for you. Lifting boxes properly is totally fine (and probably good for you!).

That means you have to learn how to do wide pushups properly.

What’s the secret? You have to LEARN how to control your shoulder blades so they can help your shoulder move effectively and painlessly. Just as squats CAN be great for the knees if your body is ready to do them, wide grip push-ups CAN be great for your shoulders too — IF your body is ready to do them.

How do you do wide grip pushups safely?

It’s all about scapular control. When your arms move out to the side or overhead, your shoulder blades have to move a certain way as well to allow your shoulder bones, tendons, and ligaments not to impinge upon each other.

This scapular movement is called “upward rotation.”

bad scapular position for wide pushups

These shoulders are pulled back and down (downward rotation). Notice how the elbows naturally get sucked in toward the ribs.

And this is where the cue “back and down” has messed up A LOT of people. Many people have been trained to think about pulling their shoulder blades “back and down” all the time to create “good posture.” It’s a useful cue for a lot of situations, but for the wide pushup, it’s a TERRIBLE cue.

By unnecessarily attempting to keep your shoulder blades “back and down” as you flare your elbows out to the side, you’re interfering with your body’s ability to produce scapular upward rotation. If you don’t get upward rotation of the scapula, you can’t safely flare your elbows out.

And that’s the simple secret to safely being able to do wide grip push-ups or any other movement with your arms out at your sides. You just need to be able to achieve scapular upward rotation and not use inappropriate cues for movement (you can see this more clearly in the video above).

What cues can you use for better upward rotation?

As with all cues, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect cue. Cues are just ways to think about a motion to get your body to do it a certain way. With that said, we like the cue “wide shoulders” for people while doing the wide pushups. This helps people envision their shoulder blades spreading apart, maintaining space for the humerus to move in the socket without impingement.

Closing words on wide pushups

good scapular position for wide pushups

These shoulder blades are now in upward rotation, allowing the elbows to flare out wide and away from the body!

There’s a strong tendency in the world of exercise and musculoskeletal health to label some exercises as just “bad.” Some exercises can definitely cause people pain and discomfort. The trick is recognizing that pain doesn’t mean an exercise itself is bad. Many times it simply means that the form is bad.

And what causes bad form? The person doing the exercise doesn’t have the requisite strength or coordination yet. With wide pushups, you must pay attention to proper form and make sure you gradually improve your strength, coordination, and endurance to be able to do more and more wide pushups SAFELY and without shoulder pain!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.