How To Do A Push-UP...Guest Post

Being strong is important for ALL of us, no matter how old we are! Like I have said before, it is great to look and feel strong, but more importantly, it is about doing those daily activities without pain, conquering races and physical challenges, that we train so hard for, and just feeling healthy and happy from the inside out. So today we are going to focus on the push-up, thanks to my good friend Jess. Take it away friend! 

PUSH-UPS: Every women's least favorite exercise. Okay. that may be a stretch, but I can only name a handful of ladies who "love" this movement. 

All too often I see people performs push-ups with incorrect form, and if my superpower could be correcting push-up form with a touch like Midas, I would take it. In the meantime, use this post as your reference for doing a correct push-up. If the default for you is a modified push-up. Have you already begun to work on your full push-up? AWESOME! Here is your chance to fine-tune the movement, in order to get the MOST out of your strength training. 

Benefits Of Doing A Correct Push-Up

Even though we might want to avoid push-ups like the plague, this exercise can have many benefits when incorporated into our routines:

  • Targets chest and triceps muscles;
  • Increases stability in the shoulders and shoulder blade area;
  • Strengthens core; abdominal and low back muscles, as well as muscles around the leg and hips.

If we think about a correct push-up as our foundation for other exercises (burpees, chaturanga in yoga, etc.) we will not only feel more comfortable doing those other movements but can do so with less risk of injury. Ready to step up your push-up game? 

Modified Push-Up

Let's start with the basics. To perform a modified push-up, make sure wrists are underneath shoulders and hips are in line with the spine. If we were to draw a diagonal line from my shoulders to the backs of my knees, it should be relatively straight. 

Abs are tight - Pull the ribs up towards the spine - So that you can start pushing up like a boss!

DSC_1130

While lowering your body towards the floor, make sure the elbows aren't flared out. They may be close to a 45 degree angle from the shoulders. 

DSC_1132

As you press back up, keep the abdominal muscles tight to prevent sinking in the hips. Make sure the elbows are not locked in the finished position. Now, drop down and knock out some more!

DSC_1130

Three INCORRECT Versions

Before we go over correct form for a full push-up, take a look at the following three photos. Can you pick out what's wrong with each?

DSC_1129

Yes, you know it! My hips are too high here. This can be common if we don't have the upper body strength - shoulders, triceps, chest - to lower ourselves down. The hips are happy to help, which means they stay up high to give us the illusion that we can bend the elbows is a significant amount, without the hips weighing down. Not only is this incorrect, but it could leave us susceptible to shoulder pain; notice how the shoulders are not quite in line with the arms and above the wrists. 

DSC_1128

Oh, you are GOOD! In the above photo, we can see that the hips sink to low to the floor. Also a common incorrect way to do a push-up, this can occur when our abs and back muscles skip out on the teamwork. Ideally, the abs and back would stabilize the spine - hips will be level with the shoulders, and there will not be an exaggerated arch in the low back.

DSC_1126

This one's the trickiest to catch if you're doing push-ups, so it could help to have a mirror nearby to check. If you look closely enough, you might be able to see that the elbows are flared out to the sides. Rather than having the elbows come out to about 45 degrees, they're out at a solid 90. For some people, this may not be a big issue, but for others, it could cause some shoulder pain. 

With my personal training, I try to put exercises together that are relatively functional - that is, you'll use the same muscles with the same general form during your everyday life. If we were to push a heavy door open or do any similar "push-up" motion in real life, chances are our elbows will not be flared out to 90 degrees. Our elbows may be tucked in a bit, so it makes sense (to me) to perform push-ups with the elbows slightly tucked. 

How To Do A Correct Push-Up

Alright, now that you've seen a modified push-up and three incorrect versions of a full push-up, are you ready for the big one? 

To Begin: Find a full plank position. Just like the modified plank above, shoulders will be above wrists and hips will fall in line with that imaginary diagonal line from shoulders to knees. 

DSC_1121
DSC_1124

Elbows are soft, not locked. Hands can be a tad wider than shoulder-width (yes, you can have them as close as you want, with good form).

As you lower down towards the ground, remember to keep hips level (no sinking or lifting too high) and elbows slightly tucked. Abs remain contracted to keep your spine stable.

DSC_1125 DSC_1123

Relatively straight line from shoulders to ankles!

DSC_1121

As you exhale, press yourself back up into a full plank. And...then go again!

Quality Over Quantity

Why do personal trainers and fitness professionals hone in on form 24/7? We may sound like broken records, but there's a method behind the madness that is repetitive cuing. Exercising with correct form could not only prevent us from future injury, but it will allow us to maximize the work we're doing with our muscles. If we can get the MOST out of each movement by being "less efficient"  (not compensating), we'll see better improvements with our strength and physical fitness. 

headshot HTF  

Jess is an ACSM certified personal trainer, AFAA certified group exercise instructor, and Power Vinyasa yoga teacher from Charlottesville, VA. Through her personal training and blogging, she hopes to share her experiences with living a balanced


Do you incorporate push-ups into your workout routine?