The Best (and Worst) Exercise of 2012


By Kyle Arsenault CSCS


As the end of the year approaches I have been looking back on 2012. One of the things I have been thinking about are all of the exercises, good and bad, that I have come across, implemented, progressed or have taken out athletes’ programs.

And I got to thinking, “which exercise was the best? And which claimed the title of the worst of 2012?”

Well, the answer is not as simple as merely picking the exercises. The answer is that there was (and will continue to be) many exercises that can be the best exercise ever (not just for 2012!), or an exercise that will leave you sidelined with unnecessary injury.

How can this be?

It all comes down to execution!

To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at the push-up…an exercise that I absolutely love and would pick as one of the best of 2012 (and all time) but can quickly become a disaster if performed incorrectly.

When programmed, coached and performed correctly, the push-up challenges and strengthens core and hip stability, thoracic (upper back) stability, correct scapulohumeral  rhythm (the interplay between the shoulder blade and shoulder joint), upper body strength and power, energy transfer and more…so ya, it is a pretty damn good exercise!

Good Push-Up Technique

But a push-up is also an exercise that can do some pretty extensive damage when performed incorrectly time and time again.

When push-ups are inadequately coached (or not coached all together, which unfortunately happens with many training programs and facilities) or programmed for an athlete who is not yet capable of performing the push-up correctly (it is all about execution and proper progression), shoulders will be torn up, backs will be ticked off, necks will be jacked up and performance will decrease.


I love KG, just not his push-ups

An improper push-up often produces in an anteriorally tilted scapula (shoulder blade tipping forward) and the head of the humerus gliding forward in the socket (upper arm bone pushing forward). Over time this will likely result in shoulder impingement and/or damage to the labrum, both counterproductive to a healthy, well performing shoulder.

And if your push-up looks like you are trying to “get jiggy with it” on the dance floor (Will Smith is the man by the way, and ya, that is a link to the video), you are not only asking for low back and anterior hip pain, but you are doing absolutely nothing for performance enhancement.

You are simply relying on passive structures (bones, ligaments, etc.) to stabilize the movement rather than using and strengthening active structures (muscles, especially the core). You can imagine that with this poor execution, the excessive pressure and demand on the joints will result in a break down, pain and decreased performance.


And to help you ensure that your push-up will bring you closer to Beast Mode (I’m watching Marshawn Lynch tear it up right now so I had to…check out the link as it is one of the coolest period!) and not the operating table, follow these simple cues that have helped many athletes I’ve coached perform the push-up correctly…

1)      Think of the push-up as a moving plank and keep your knees, hips, shoulders and ears lined up.

2)      Keep your core engaged and chin packed (think double chin) throughout the movement. **If you have the luxury of having someone put a stick/PVC pipe on your back, try keeping contact with the stick/PVC at the back of the head, upper back and tailbone throughout the movement.

3)      Pull yourself into the push-up by actively bringing your scapulae (shoulder blades) together as you descend into the push-up, but be sure not to sag the hips. Keep your elbows 45 degrees to the body (lower than shoulder level!).

4)      Keep your chest proud and don’t let your elbows go behind your body at the bottom.

5)      Think of keeping a cup, glass, mug or bottle of your favorite beverage from spilling if it was placed on your low back. This means you can’t drop or rotate your hips!

6)      If you cannot perform the push-up without breaking form, elevate the hands and go from there. If you are proficient with the movement, try elevating the feet, adding chains on your back or elevating 1 foot off the ground for a greater challenge.

The take home…just like many other exercises, push-ups are a great exercise that can (and in many cases should) be part of your performance training program, but only if executed with proper form and the proper progression. If you are performing push-ups as part of your at home training program, as an exercise in a program written for you by a coach or are part of the “World’s Greatest Bootcamp” (every bootcamp is self-proclaimed to be the best, so do your homework first!), make sure that your push-up is enhancing and promoting health and performance (you shouldn’t be getting hurt on your training program!). The push-up should land itself in the “Best of 2012” category, not the worst!

Help everyone out and share this with your friends and family (email, Facebook, Twitter…you know!) and let me know what your favorite exercises of the year are!

One Response to The Best (and Worst) Exercise of 2012

  1. Mark says:

    Great review – yes – I admit I have become fond again of the pushup in 2012! I’ve also grown to love the TRX which rounds out the upper body. Struggling to come up with my least favorite…..I thoroughly enjoy my current program and am seeing and feeling positive “balanced” results. Hmmm….maybe shoveling snow….

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