Mastering the {Pilates} Push-up

Joseph Pilates included the push-up as one of his final exercises in the mat repertoire. Besides the necessary strength and stamina required to maintain a proper plank position, the push-up also requires you to be able to lower your body to just off the ground and then press back up to the plank position.

Push-ups are also often used in the fitness world to assess upper body strength and stamina. It can be considered one of the easiest to-do-anywhere upper body exercises to help develop chest, shoulder and arm strength.

fitilates expects its instructors and participants to be able to perform perfect push-ups, without placing undo stress and overuse on the shoulders in particular. The principle of quality over quantity is essential to all of the fitilates repertoire and the push-up is not immune to this.

Performing an endless amount of push-ups is unnecessary and can quickly lead to the breakdown of important shoulder stabilizers, causing pain and discomfort in your every day life.  Due to the increase in the amount of time many of us spend seated in front of a computer or smart phone and living life in front of us (we spend way more time pushing versus pulling), complaints of neck, upper back and shoulder pain has skyrocketed. We throw around words like Rotator Cuff tear or Bicep Tendonitis giving our clients exercises like internal and external rotation to help improve this pain but we often neglect a much larger muscle that needs some serious love and attention – serratus anterior.

Because the push-up plays such an important role in the fitilates repertoire, this week’s freebie is all about the serratus anterior. Learn how to quickly assess the serratus anterior for dysfunction and what exercises you need to incorporate into your classes and programs before the push-up!

Now let’s take a look at the fitilates Push-up

Movement Preparation:

Stand at the back of your mat, with particular attention to your body position – ribs should be stacked on top of the hips, while the feet are firmly grounded to the floor and the spine lengthens up to the ceiling (opposition). The head and neck should be long with the ears in line with the shoulders and the chin parallel with the floor.


Exhale and sequentially roll down your spine until your hands are resting on the mat; soften the knees if necessary.

Inhale and walk out to a plank position (avoid rocking side to side).

Exhale and assume your perfect plank position (link to blog). Press the floor away from you to help activate the serratus.

Inhale three times, bending your elbows deeper each time as you lower to the floor.

Exhale and press back up to the plank position.

Repeat push-up 2-6 times.

Inhale and walk hands back to feet , lifting your hips to come up and over your ankles.

Exhale and sequentially roll vertebrae by vertebrae back to a standing position.

Inhale and reset your starting position.

Repeat if desired 1-4 times.

Tips for Success:

  • If a full push-up from the toes is not possible without losing the abdominal connection or serratus activation; try to lower as deep as possible with good form before lowering to the knees to finish lowering and/or to press up. Once up, lift knees off the ground and reset to a perfect plank (link) position.
  • Work on perfecting the negative (lowering to the floor) first and then the press up. Working the muscles eccentrically will increase strength faster but it will also increase muscle soreness so use with caution and in small numbers with new clients.
  • Do fewer reps but more sets to increase strength. Add in reps only when perfect form can be maintained throughout.


  • Keep your roll down fluid and sequential – do not hinge from the hips.
  • Keep your eyes on your navel while rolling down to assist in above.
  • Allow your hamstrings to lengthen in the forward fold as your feet ground in to the floor but your tailbone lengthens to the ceiling.
  • When waking your hands to and from the plank position, stay lifted and string throughout, not allowing your hips or torso to rock back and forth.
  • The plank position should feel suspended (as if a large silk sling is supporting your torso and hips). Do not sink into your shoulder blades or upper back.
  • Maintain the rib to hip connection throughout the entire push-up.
  • Ideally a full range of motion in the push-up should be encouraged.
  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears, feeling wide across the shoulder girdle and clavicle.

The most important take away from the fitilates push-up… quality over quantity. Don’t worry about how many they can do; worry about how many they can do perfectly!

Don’t forget to download this week’s freebie all about how to ensure the Serratus Anterior is doing it’s job and what exercises to incorporate to help keep the shoulder strong and stable.