Chip Conrad: Pushup and Plank Stability

Chip Conrad tells why he uses planking and pushups to stabilize, support and strengthen the spine and offers advice on the one movement you should you think about when you do push-ups.

Excerpted from Dan John & Chip Conrad: A Systems Approach

We have to learn to move in ways that stabilize, support and strengthen the spine.

I think a plank is pretty darn important. Whether it’s yoga style on the elbows or a push-up style on the hands and feet, there’s a different spinal consideration in that position than there might be for a squat or a deadlift.

There’s a lot of talk in the fitness world about having one perfect spine model for every exercise. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the spine is going to have a slightly different model for different things.

The pushup is going to be a different spinal model than a squat or a deadlift. I want people to get into that nice planked position.

This is an example of beginning a process of awareness; of beginning the initiation of the journey. It’s hard even for people who have been in training for a while to start understanding what I consider basic concepts. I teach pushups at every workshop, and it’s always fun to teach because we can get a whole room of trainers who aren’t aware of the spine and hips in that position.

The first thing I want to discuss is what I call the “zombie arms,” because if you’re on the ground, that’s what you have. You have zombie arms. The thing about the zombie arms is we want the shoulders to stay in place. If we start doing pushups and have all of this extra floppy going on, we’re losing something. We’re losing a lot of potential for postural consideration.

I like to think of shapes in movement. Every exercise is a combination of shapes in movement. There are some things we want to keep as solid shapes, and some things we want to move.

In the case of a pushup, the body from the head to the toes—the whole length of the body—is a solid piece. You can call it a piece of steel. I like the idea of a piece of steel, but then, steel is heavy, so maybe carbon fiber or whatever you’re into. You’re just a solid piece of unmovable something—wood, foam or whatever. You’re a solid piece. Your body, from head to toe, is a solid piece.

In other words, during that plank, or if you start turning it into a pushup, during that pushup, nothing from the head to the toe should start changing position. There should be no spinal movement, no shoulders rolling, no head dropping . . . none of that. We want a nice solid shape.

The only thing to be aware of movement-wise in a pushup is the bending of the elbows.

Yes, there’s going to be movement happening in the shoulder, but we’re just going to focus on the bending of the elbows on a pushup. That’s it. That’s all you have to think about movement-wise. The rest of it is complete stabilization. It sounds so easy, but we’re going to find out how hard it is.


Check out A Systems Approach to Coaching and Training: How to Create a Holistic Athlete to hear more from Chip Conrad and Dan John

Dan John and Chip Conrad A Systems Approach


Also, Chip’s talk on “Why we need strength.”
Sweet Chant of Frantic Power

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