As a personal trainer, my experience and education tells me the “perfect” push-up is one that builds strength without compromising joints. That means you stop at elbow height.
I’ve read a number of sites that recommend different ranges. Even the American Council on Exercise demonstrates touching the chest to floor during the push-up.
One site suggested the “perfect” push-up has you briefly rest your body on the ground before starting the upward motion. The author said this was actually more work for your muscles than pausing the downward motion and rising again because of a “rebound” effect you get from your own muscles. You mean letting the ground stop your momentum between the eccentric and concentric phases is harder than halting momentum with your own muscles? Is that Scooby Doo physics?
My thought on the movement brought me to the conclusion that dropping deeper than elbow height is no longer working the target muscles and creates impingement. I asked an expert.
Dave Parise On Technique
Dave Parise has my favorite videos showing good exercise technique (you can find many on YouTube), and he has several on push-ups and progressions. I asked him via Facebook about the height, and he summed it up succinctly:
The stretch is totally based on a perception-sensation, and totally disproportionate and deviates from the goal. It’s obsessive and excessive (ROM) in the GHJ to drop that low
I always appreciate Dave taking the time to answer questions!
Because, You Know, Crossfit
Don’t get me wrong. I understand why you might want to hit the floor: to be sure you’re doing a full range of motion when you’re pumping out as many as you can quickly. The question is why are you pumping them out that fast?
If you’re in a competitive sport like Crossfit, well…that’s a sport, not a fitness routine. If you’re compromising your mobility in any body part, is there a good reason for the risk?
If there’s one thing I’ve seen working with older adults, it’s that you MUST protect your mobility at all costs. Pain with common movement is the first step in a downward spiral to weight gain and poor health, as well as isolation and depression. Protect your ability to get around and take care of yourself!