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How to Do Push-Ups Right

Published January 25, 2019 (Revised: January 18, 2020) Read Time: 7 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"How to Do Push-Ups Right", "datePublished":"2019-01-25", "dateModified": "2020-01-18", "description":"Not sure how to do push-ups right? Here's a step-by-step guide, plus how to modify the exercise for beginners.", "image": "" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "Why are push-ups so hard for me?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "You likely need to strengthen your upper body stabilizer muscles, your core, or lose weight." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How do you do push-ups properly?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "1. Start in a high plank position, 2. Bend your elbows, 3. At the bottom, press through the floor, 4. Lock out each repetition" } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How do you do push-ups for beginners?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Beginner push-up variations include: Kneeling push-ups, Kickstand push-ups, Kneeling dolphin push-ups" } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">Benefits Of Push-Ups</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Why Are Push-Ups So Hard For Me?</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Do You Do Push-Ups Properly? (Step-by-Step Guide)</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">How Do You Do Push-Ups For Beginners?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Advanced Push-Up Variations</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">How To Do Push-Ups Right: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>Push-ups are an effective and versatile exercise for increasing upper body strength and muscle mass.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>While it might seem like a simple exercise—you're essentially pushing yourself off the floor—a lot of people do push-ups incorrectly.</p> <p>And if you're a beginner that isn't strong enough to do full push-ups yet, you might be wondering where you're supposed to start.</p> <p>Below, we'll explain how to do push-ups no matter what your current fitness level. And we'll also look at answers to some commonly asked questions and the benefits of this bodyweight exercise.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>Benefits of push-ups</h2> <p>Push-ups are one of the most beneficial upper body exercises you can do. The exercise strengthens your:<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <ul> <li>Pectorals (chest)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Shoulders</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Triceps</a></li> <li>Core (<a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">lower back</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">abs</a>, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">obliques</a>)</li> <li>Serratus anterior (near the ribs; helps you lift your arms over your head)</li> </ul> <p>And don't let anyone tell you bodyweight exercises like push-ups can't be effective for increasing strength or muscle hypertrophy (size). </p> <p>The <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness</i></a> found that push-ups offered the same results as low-weight bench presses* when it comes to adding muscle and strength.</p> <p><i>(*A bench press is a very popular upper body exercise performed with a barbell.)</i></p> <p>Plus, they can be done anywhere and require no equipment. All you need is floor space.</p> <p>Finally, push-ups are easily scalable based on your fitness needs. You can do more advanced variations (see "Advanced push-up variations") or a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">beginner variation</a> (see section: "How do you do push-ups for beginners?" for more)</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Why are push-ups so hard for me?</h2> <p><i>The short answer</i>: You likely need to strengthen your upper body stabilizer muscles, your core, or lose weight.</p> <p>You're certainly not alone if you're having a hard time doing push-ups. Because they require total body strength and a lot of core stability, it can take a while before you can do the full exercise.</p> <p>Here are three common reasons you may be struggling:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Your stabilizer muscles (triceps) may not be strong enough:</strong> The triceps help stabilize the shoulder and distribute force through your upper body.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup> Because of this, strong triceps are a major help for any "pushing" exercise. If this muscle isn't strong, you may have a hard time doing push-ups.</li> <li><strong>Your core may not be strong enough:</strong> According to the <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Journal of Biomechanics</i></a>, push-ups activate your core more than most upper body exercises, including bench presses. Your toes and hands are the only points of contact with the floor, which forces the muscles in your abs and lower back to support your body weight during push-ups. <p><i>(Isometric core exercises, like planks, are a great exercise to <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">improve stability</a> and core strength. Isometric means not moving. Instead, your body is forced to work together as one unit to hold a position or posture.)</i></p></li> <li><strong>You may need to lose more weight first:</strong> Your muscles may be strong enough, but push-ups will be harder if you're overweight.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup> If you're using push-ups as part of your fitness routine to lose weight, start with a beginner variation and work up to regular ones as your <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">body fat</a> reduces.</li> <ul> <p>In the next section, we'll look at how to do a full push-up properly. Scroll to the bottom for modifications and advanced movements.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>How do you do push-ups properly? (Step-by-step guide)</h2> <p>Follow these instructions and you'll do a push-up with perfect form.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="push up starting position"> </picture> <p><strong>1. Start in a high plank position:</strong> The top of a push-up is the same as a high plank. See the picture above or use this video for how to do a <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">perfect plank</a>.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="push-up position"> </picture> <p><strong>2. Bend your elbows:</strong> With your hands shoulder-width apart, begin your descent to the floor by bending your elbows. Keep them at a 45-degree angle to the body—they don't have to touch your sides, but they shouldn't flare out to the sides, either.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="push-up position"> </picture> <p><strong>3. At the bottom, press through the floor:</strong> When your chest touches the floor, press through the floor using the palms of your hands. Keep your core tight as you drive back to the top of the push-up.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="push-up last position"> </picture> <p><strong>4. Lock out each repetition:</strong> Make sure your arms are fully straight before you start the next rep. If your elbows are bent, you haven't finished the rep yet.</p> <h3>Push-up performance points</h3> <p>Use these points to check your form:</p> <ul> <li>Keep your body in one straight line throughout the entire exercise. To do this: <ul> <li>Keep the hips in one straight line: don't let your hips sag or move toward the sky like in a downward dog yoga pose. (The easiest way to do this is to squeeze your belly and butt throughout each rep. Keep everything tight.)</li> <li>Keep the shoulder blades depressed (make sure you can see your neck and aren't shrugging).</li> </ul></li> <li>Make four points of contact with the floor at all times—two palms, and the toes of both feet. Your chest will briefly touch the ground at the bottom of each rep.</li> <li>Placing your hands shoulder-width apart every time you do push-ups is important: Wider than shoulder-width makes your pectoral work harder; A more narrow stance makes your triceps work harder.</li> <li>Check your form as you start to fatigue. The first push-up repetition should look the same as the last. If form starts to deteriorate, take a break.</li> </ul> <p>Here's how to modify the exercise and work your way up to full push-ups.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="beginner push-ups"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>How do you do push-ups for beginners?</h2> <p><i>The short answer</i>: Modify your push-ups based on fitness needs, and apply the progressive overload principle to make them slightly more challenging each time you exercise (see below).</p> <p>If you lack the requisite strength or stability to do a full push-up, simply modify the exercise. </p> <p><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Beginner push-up variations</a> include:</p> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Kneeling push-ups</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Kickstand push-ups</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Kneeling dolphin push-ups</a></li> </ul> <p>Keep in mind: you can improve <i>any</i> exercise, not just push-ups, by adhering to the <i>progressive overload</i> principle.</p> <p>Progressive overload states that you should make small, incremental jumps in reps, weight, or intensity of an exercise each time you workout.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup> Doing so forces your muscles to adapt, and you'll eventually be able to do more repetitions than you were able to before.</p> <p>With enough practice, you'll eventually be strong enough to do a full push-up.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="advanced push-ups"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Advanced push-up variations</h2> <p>One reason push ups are great is because they're so versatile. There are many different variations of the exercise, some of which are harder than a regular push-up.</p> <p>For example, adopting a more narrow stance with your hands forces your triceps to work harder than a regular push-up with shoulder-width hand placement.<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup> If you specifically wanted to target your triceps, this would be a good way to do it.</p> <p>Other more challenging variations include:</p> <ul> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Explosive push-ups</a> (generating enough force so that your hands leave the floor on the way up from a push-up)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Spiderman push-ups</a> (bringing one foot up to the side at the top of each rep so that your heel is level with your rib cage—sort of like spiderman climbing a wall)</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Hindu push-ups</a> (instead of going up and down, move between upward and downward dog; similar to going under and back under an imaginary fence)</li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>How to do push-ups right: wrap up</h2> <p>Push-ups are an awesome upper body exercise. They require no equipment, and studies show they're as effective for increasing strength and muscle mass as weighted exercises like the bench press.</p> <p>There are four main cues you can follow to do push-ups correctly: </p> <ul> <li>Start in a high plank with your hands under your shoulders</li> <li>Bend your elbows at a forty-five degree angle</li> <li>Press your palms through the floor while keeping the body in one straight line (tight butt, tight belly)</li> <li>Lock out each rep (arms straight at the top) before starting the next one</li> </ul> <p>If you're struggling with regular push-ups, it's likely because your stabilizer muscles or core muscles are too weak. Increasing strength and losing weight will help, but in the meantime, there are plenty of beginner modified push-up variations (like <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">kneeling dolphin push-ups</a>) that you can do.</p> <p>The key with push-ups, like anything, is to practice. Be consistent with your workouts, and you may be surprised how quickly you're learning more advanced variations of the exercise.</p> </section> </article>

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