The most common mistake people make when doing push-ups is not keeping their bodies in a straight line. Most of us are taught a fairly straightforward, but slightly incorrect method of doing push-ups when we first learn. As a result, even your most ardent fitness freak might be practicing improper push-up form.

It is possible, therefore, that you are also doing push-ups with incorrect form. If that is the case, you are part of the vast majority. It is estimated that 95% of people do not know how to do a proper push-up, which is an astonishing percentage. There is much more to this common bodyweight exercise than meets the eye.

We are not suggesting that you cannot do push-ups, but that most people do not practice with the correct form. The general plank position, with arms around shoulder-width apart and bending at the elbows to 90 degrees when moving down and up, is the correct way to do push-ups.

It is important to do push-ups correctly in order to build upper body strength. If the exercise is not done correctly, it will not be as effective.

We’re going to show you how to do push-ups the right way, so that you can get maximum results from this exercise. Use the following method and you’ll see some serious muscle gains.

The Correct Push-Up Form

Here’s how to do push-ups the right way:

Assume the Proper Push-Up Position

Before you even perform that first rep, you’ll need to put your body in the proper position. Here’s how:

  1. Get on the ground and set your hands just a tad wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Your hands should be even with your chest and angled in a manner that’s most comfortable to you, though most people point them straightforwardly.
  3. If you suffer from wrist pain or have poor wrist flexibility, consider using push-up handles.
  4. Set up your feet in a position that feels comfortable to you, meaning you can keep them shoulder-width apart or even have them lightly touching one another.
  5. As a general rule of thumb: the wider the distance between your two feet, the more stable your push-ups will be.
  6. Ultimately, you should aim for a perfect plank formation, with an invisible straight line running from the top of your head through to your core and, ideally, all the way to your heels.
  7. Your butt should be even with the rest of your body, meaning it shouldn’t be up in the air or low to the ground.
  8. If you’re struggling to get into proper push-up formation, try tightening your butt and abs and thereby activating your core.
  9. Consider recording your actions to ensure that your body is in a straight line.
  10. Your head should be looking slightly forward as opposed to straight down.
  11. When your head is in the right position, your chin will touch the ground and not your nose.
  12. If you’re more comfortable looking downward as opposed to slightly forward, feel free to do so while making sure your body stays in a straight line.
  13. In the starting position, your arms should be completely straight and support your weight.
  14. You’re now ready to perform a proper push-up.

Executing a Proper Push-Up

You’ve assumed the starting position and now it’s time to crank out some reps. Here’s how to do a proper push-up:

  1. Keep your arms straight, your butt clenched, your core tightened, and your elbows as even with the floor as you can.
  2. Gradually lower yourself until each elbow is at a 90-degree angle or less.
  3. Try to go all the way down until either your chest or nose or chin lightly touches the floor, inhaling along the way.
  4. Once your chest or nose or chin is touching the floor, hold for a brief pause before thrusting yourself back into the starting position, exhaling as you go.
  5. Prevent your elbows from flying outward during each rep and keep them somewhat close to your body.
  6. Maintain a steady and consistent formation throughout each rep.
  7. Perform as many reps as you can until you feel that you can no longer maintain the plank-like formation or prevent your elbows from pointing away from you.

What Are the Benefits of Correct Push-Ups?

You can build strength in your triceps, pectorals, deltoids, glutes, and core by doing push-ups the right way. It’s more important to do a few good push-ups than a lot of bad ones. If you can only do five or six right before you get tired, that’s fine. You’ll be able to do more as you get better at it.

Why are Push-Ups Difficult?

A push-up in any form doesn’t look too difficult, but many people have trouble doing them. Even people who look and feel strong might not be able to do more than 5 or 10 at a time. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t as strong as they thought.

You might not be as strong in your chest, triceps, and core as you thought. Push-ups rely on strength in these areas, as well as hip stability. A strong core is especially important because it’s where strength and balance meet.

People who have struggled with push-ups in the past might think that they’re not good at the bodyweight exercise, even if they’ve gotten stronger since then.

If you’re experiencing any sort of mental blockage or resistance to doing push-ups, challenge yourself by doing them anyway. You might be surprised at what you discover. When you do them, make sure you’re practicing proper form.

Types of Push-Ups

It’s the world’s most convenient workout because the possibilities are endless.

Strict (Military) Push-Up

What It Does

Hitting the floor for some strict push-ups can help to build up the muscles in your upper body, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Working out can also help to build up the muscles in your core and back.

How to Do It

Start in a standard push-up position with your feet together and your hands flat on the ground below your shoulders. Bend your elbows and lower your chest until it is slightly below the level of your bent elbow. Push back up to the starting position.

Wide Hands Push-Up

What It Does

Working out with wide hands strengthens the muscles in your upper body, with an emphasis on the pectoral muscles.

How to Do It

To do a difficult push-up, put your hands 2.5 to 3 feet apart instead of close together. Follow the movement by keeping your elbows back.

Triangle (Diamond) Push-Up

What It Does

This exercise strengthens the upper body and core, with more focus on the triceps muscles.

How to Do It

In a plank position, place your hands together with your index fingers and thumbs forming a triangle (or diamond). Lower your chest toward the triangle while keeping your elbows tight to your body. Reverse the movement to the starting position for one repetition. Keep the triangle directly below your chest throughout the movement.

Pike Push-Up

What It Does

This exercise routine strengthens the muscles in the upper body and core, with special attention to the shoulders.

How to Do It

Start in a downward dog yoga position, with your feet and hands just wider than shoulder width. Keep your hips high, heels low, and maintain the inverted-V position as you bend your elbows and lower your head toward the floor between your hands. Reverse the movement to the starting position for one repetition.

Super (Hindu) Push-Up

What It Does

Works the shoulders, triceps, and core and improves flexibility.

How to Do It

That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 12. Starting in the downward dog position, slowly bend your elbows and lower your nose to the floor between your hands. Next, without rising, continue moving your torso forward to slide your chin, chest, and then rib cage between your hands. As your ribs meet your hands, begin to arc your head and torso upward. Continue this upward arc until your arms are straight, hips are pressed toward the ground, and your back is hyperextended in cobra pose. Finally, reverse the movement exactly until you’re back in downward dog. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 12.

Staggered Hands Push-Up

What It Does

The muscles used in a push-up are worked asymmetrically across the body, requiring stability from the core.

How to Do It

Start in a push-up position, but with one hand slightly further forward than the other, by about 6-12 inches. Lower your chest down to just below elbow level, and then push back up to the starting position. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the movement. After one or more repetitions, switch the position of your hands so that the other hand is now further forward.

Sphinx Push-Up (Triceps Extension)

What It Does

This exercise routine strengthens the muscles in your upper body and core, with an emphasis on developing the muscles in your triceps.

How to Do It

Place your forearms on the ground shoulder-width apart and parallel to each other. Use your triceps to push your elbows off the ground and continue until your arms are fully extended. Lower your elbows until just above the ground before beginning the next repetition. The closer your arms are to your body, the easier the exercise will be.

Spiderman (Side Kick) Push-Up

What It Does

The plank strengthens not only the muscles used in a push-up, but also the muscles in the core.

How to Do It

Get into a push-up position. As you lower yourself, bring one knee to the side and up so it’s parallel to the ground and touching your elbow. Do this on both sides.

Cross-Body Push-Up

What It Does

This type of workout ___________ the upper body, while also placing more emphasis on the core, hip flexors, and shoulders.

How to Do It

Start in a push-up position. As you lower yourself, pick up one leg and cross it under your body. Rotate your hip toward the ground. Reverse the movement to the original position and repeat on the other side.

Archer Push-Up

What It Does

This move applies more pressure to one arm at a time, while the other arm assists. It’s a good way to slowly build up to a one-arm push-up.

How to Do It

Get into pushup position, but with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and turned out at about a 45-degree angle. Lower yourself at an angle to one side so that your shoulder comes down to your hand on that same side, while the other arm stretches out until it’s straight. (It’s okay if your hands pivot during the movement.) Push back up to the starting position, and then repeat on the other side. You might find it helpful to keep your feet wider apart.

Typewriter Push-Up

Instead of going back to the starting position after every push-up, move your chest from side to side, just above the ground. Extend your opposite arm each time.


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About Rhoda ...

Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

She is the creator of the Elegant Eating Solution, an affordable program that helps women avoid weight regain and feel great about themselves, without restrictive eating.

Elegant Eating is based on the science of protein leverage and follows the unique R.E.M.A.P approach to successful aging.

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