Push-ups look easy, but like any other exercise technique is key. They are a great starter as you are literally pushing your own body weight. Bad push-up technique is common, and unfortunately it can cause shoulder and/or lower back injuries. In this post we will teach you how to perform push-ups correctly.
Push-ups (press-ups) are one of the simplest but most effective exercise for your chest, shoulders, and arms. In order to perform a push-up, you don’t need any equipment: just yourself. 75% of your body weight you lift when you do a standard push-up, according to the research of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Perfect Push-ups: Proper Exercise Form
Proper form & technique:
- Get down on all fours and place your hands on the floor (fingers facing slightly inward) so that they’re slightly wider than and in line with your shoulders;
- Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Your body should be rigid like a board as you come down;
- Pause at the bottom, and then push yourself back to the starting position as quickly as possible;
- If your hips sag at any point during the exercise, your form has broken down. When this happens, consider that your last repetition and end the set.
Hand position: Don’t take your hands out too wide. Put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Hands should be turned out 45 degrees.
Tuck your elbows: This is easier on your shoulders. Keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle to your body during push-ups.
Push your abs out: There should be a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Push your abs out as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach.
Squeeze your glutes: Push your abs out while squeezing your glutes hard. Both will avoid any hyperextension of your lower back.
Tuck your chin: Lead with your chest, not with your head. Your neck must stay in-line with the rest of your spine. Don’t look forward.
Additional Tips & Key Points to Remember
- Be careful not to let your torso sag in the middle as you push yourself up or your hips lift up during the exercise. Continually contract the abdominals to keep a strong, straight body position.
- Don’t drop your hips.
- Your head should stay in the same position from start to finish.
- In other words, throughout the entire movement, your body should be in a straight line. From your heels to your neck, nothing should be bent. Be especially certain not to let your pelvis drop toward the ground, or let your butt stick up in the air at all.
- Let your chest fall until your upper arms are at least parallel to the floor. A perfect push-up is done by touching your chest to the ground.
- Tuck your elbows as you lower your body so that your upper arms form a 45-degree angle with your body in the bottom position of the movement.
Make it Easier & Harder
If you’re not ready for the classic push-up, you can start working up to it by placing your hands on an elevated surface. The higher the surface, the easier it gets. Similarly, putting your feet up makes it more difficult, as well as focusing more attention on your shoulders.
What muscles do push-ups work? Push-ups target your pectoralis major. However, they will also hit your front deltoids and triceps, since these muscles assist in just about every version of the movements. Your rotator, trapezius, serratus anterior, and abdominals all contract to keep your shoulders, core, and hips stable as you perform the move.
- Main muscles: pectoralis major, triceps, deltoids (anterior)
- Secondary muscles: serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, subscapularis
- Antagonists: latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids (posterior)
Basic (classic) Push-Up Variation
- Frame-supported push-up. Using a pair of frames will give you a greater range of motion than with the standard push-up. By gripping the pair of frames instead of having your palms directly flat on the floor, your wrist will stay nice and straight, preventing painful strain.
- Frame-supported push-up with feet on the bench (decline push-ups). The higher your feet, the more your shoulders are brought into play. The upper part of the pectoral muscle (clavicular area) and the center part work harder in this variant. You can also try moving the frames wider or closer. Close spacing will work your triceps more.
- Exercise ball push-ups (press-ups). Get in a push-up position, placing the lower part of your shins on top of an exercise ball. Your head, back, hips and knees should be in a straight line. Follow the same stabilization, alignment, and exercise range-of-motion principles as described above (for the basic push-up). Do not let your hips sag or your shins and insteps to move off the top of the stability ball.
Substitutes (Alternative Exercises)
There are many other exercises to target your middle chest area. Each exercise works the middle pecs and supporting muscles slightly differently. Remember, specificity requires that you choose exercises that reflect your needs and goals. Visit our middle chest exercise database.
- Flat barbell bench press
- Flat bench dumbbell press
- Machine chest press
- Machine bench press
- Smith-machine bench press
This exercise is similar to the flat bench press, but it uses the body’s own weight. Push-ups build upper-body strength and power, which transfers to punching and pushing power. Make this a full-body exercise by engaging the core and keeping the glutes squeezed as tightly as possible throughout the set.
Because you control your own weight, the push-up has more real-world usefulness than the bench press but is less effective at building mass because it is hard to vary the resistance. Use it to build endurance and strengthen shoulder stabilisers.