3 Best Tips To Master Push-Up Form

/ 2.10.15 / Medically Reviewed
Updated

A few years ago I published a video on Youtube about proper push-up form, which has since attracted over 500k+ views. You can check out the video and article here => How To Do A Push-Up With Proper Form & Technique.

When I watch this video now, I wish I included just three tips that I’ve since learned. My clients are able to use nearly perfect push-up form almost immediately after learning these tips.

The push-up is an excellent exercise to improve your core and upper body strength. In addition, you don’t need any equipment, so you can do push-ups literally anywhere.

Because the push-up is such a useful exercise, it has become a marker of physical fitness that is tested around the world by various organizations from sports teams to the military. This is an exercise you can incorporate into your routine every week, or even every day.

Tip #1 – Practice Air Push-Ups

air-push-up

The air-push up is a brilliant tip that I learned from Brett Jones of StrongFirst to help you feel proper push-up form without actually doing a push up.

While standing straight, extend your arms in front of you so that the top of your palm is in line with the top of your shoulder. Pull your hands back toward your chest, then push out forward again.

You’ll notice that your elbows are staying closer to your sides where they belong to help generate maximum power. One of the most common push-up mistakes is flaring out the elbows out instead of keeping them at your sides.

As you practice air-push ups, you are using perfect push-up form. You’re just standing up.

Tip #2 – Push-Up = Moving Plank

Moving Plank

When you perform a push-up, the only parts of your body that should be moving are your arms. Everything else should be stiff as a board like a plank. Some very common push-up mistakes include the head and neck moving up and down, or the hips and torso moving as the push-up is being completed.

Ideally, your head, neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet should be roughly in one line that is completely straight and does not change. The push up when done properly is a very strong position that can help improve your core strength and stability.

Tip #3 – Contract Your Lat Muscle

Keeping your shoulders down away from your ears can help protect your shoulder joint and yield the greatest strength output. There is a common tendency for people to shrug their shoulders toward their ears when completing a push-up.

So how do you ensure your shoulders are dropped down properly and your lat muscles are contracted?

If you think about pulling the floor toward you as you lower down to the ground and twist your hands outward, it will help engage the lat muscles to stabilize your shoulder. The push-up is a full body exercise, not a chest exercise!

When your lat muscle underneath your shoulder is contracted, it immediately pulls your shoulder back and down away from your ears, which makes your very mobile shoulder much more stable. I want to thank Chris McGrath of MovementFirst for this tip.

A few more tips to help you refine your form:

1) Breathe in through your nose as you lower down, than forcefully out through your mouth on the way up.

2) Squeeze your glutes and draw your rib cage down to help flatten your lower back so it does not excessively arch.

3) Take about 2 seconds to lower, than about 1 second to push up. It’s not a race; feel the exercise and stay stiff with high tension.

Finally, depending on your shoulder flexibility, you may need to stop half way down instead of descending so far so that your chest nearly touches the floor. If your shoulders start rounding forward as you descend, stop right before that point.

After applying these tips, you may notice a proper push-up is harder than what you may have done in the past.

Give these tips a try and let know what you think!

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45 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Hank Feb 10, 2015 - 14:05 #

    Thanks for this post. I have been doing push-ups since I was 13 each am and now see that they have been done incorrectly. All the tips were helpful but especially the air push-ups.

  2. profile avatar
    Jp Feb 10, 2015 - 14:21 #

    Very well said! Any advice how to work them to get up to 100?

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 10, 2015 - 14:52 #

      Thanks, jp. 100 push ups in a row is more than I could ever do! I could at one point bang out 75 reps without actually training to do so. I think 100 reps requires a rare combination of brute strength and great endurance. Regarding the strength, doing push ups with a weighted vest, and even benching exercises like a barbell bench press can help you develop significant strength so that the bodyweight push up feels easy. After that, it’s a matter of building enough muscular endurance so you don’t burn out after 50, 60, or 70 reps.

  3. profile avatar
    Vince R Feb 10, 2015 - 15:41 #

    That was a great primer for push-ups and made me conscious of what I am doing rather than just “doing” it.

    I had a martial arts instructor make me do them where I progressively moved my hands closer together with each rep. …to the point where my index fingers and thumb each touched. Do you think that concept puts too much stress on the body?

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 10, 2015 - 15:46 #

      Happy you found it helpful, Vince. Close grip push-ups, or what are sometimes called diamond push-ups because your hands touching each other form a diamond shape are a fine exercise if you have enough wrist and shoulder mobility. For me, close grip push ups don’t feel quite right. I usually keep it simple with shoulder-width push-ups. I do, however, change the speed of my repetitions and sometimes do them pretty slow. If you get very good at push-ups, you can consider a weighted vest, or one arm push ups.

      1. profile avatar
        Vince R Feb 10, 2015 - 16:00 #

        Thanks you for the article and the quick response. …I actually have a weight vest and am going to do it your way for a while.

        You are right about the close grip feeling not quite right (which is why I asked you about them). I usually do them as my 3rd set so I am usually a bit tired by then. …regardless, it always feels like there was much more stress happening. After a while i might incorporate them again, but at a lower repitition.

        regards,
        Vin

  4. profile avatar
    ray Feb 10, 2015 - 16:16 #

    great tip about shoulders and ears key to good form while tightening butt

  5. profile avatar
    Hiwot Feb 10, 2015 - 17:40 #

    Hi marc!!
    Thank you so much for the 3tips to do a proper push-up….you the best
    Fitness instructor!!!

  6. profile avatar
    Jim Feb 10, 2015 - 18:52 #

    Hi Marc,
    Excellent tips, I’ll be trying them out today!
    I have a question for you. In June 2011, I was obese, 120kg at 174cm and went on a meal replacement eating pan and began regular exercise, starting off with walking (as briskly as I could) for about a half hour twice a day, then as the weight came off adding basic bodyweight exercises, squats, push-ups and crunches (3 sets of each for as many reps as I could do after my walk at lunch time) and I lost 35kg’s over he the first year and have maintained it (more or less) since. I only workout Mon-Fri for about 30-45mins per day basically as maintenance and would like your opinion on my workout: Mon-Wed-Fri 9km bike ride at just under 18k/ph + body weight exercises as above varying the ab exercise each set, crunches, leg lifts, bicycle abs. Tue & Thu strength exercises using 10kg dumbells, 3 sets comprising of mainly; pistons (squat+shoulder press), bicep curls, prone rows with a push-up between, over head triceps extensions and dead-lifts. I start off at between 15-12 reps dependant on the exercise and by the end I’m down to 10-8 reps. I would’ve thought I would be burning fat and maintaining muscle mass with such a program but I’m not. Any suggestions? My nutrition isn’t too bad, though I did let my diet slip over Christmas, over indulging in sweets, alcohol & take-out (not necessarily bad take-out; i.e. deep fried foods, just take-out in general) but I’m getting back on track and reducing severely the intake of the aforementioned diet killers!
    Cheers,
    Jim

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:44 #

      Hey Jim, congrats on losing all the weight! It’s really tough for me to give you specific suggestion on your routine without doing an assessment on you, but I can tell you keeping things simple and effective is the BuiltLean way. The eating is by far the most important part for fat loss, exercising as you are 30-45 mins per day is a great standard I would keep up. In terms of the breakdown between cardio vs. bodyweight vs. weights, I would consider keeping it simple. Maybe you lift once per week, do bodyweight exercises once per week, and cycling 3x, the blend is up to you and what you enjoy most. I do think that 2 resistance training sessions – either bodyweight, or weights – can be very effective. Finally, think about exercise in terms of movement patterns. As long as you are covering your basic movement patterns – squat/hinge, single leg, push, pull, you should be good to go. I exercise to improve my performance, not to lose body fat. Body fat loss and muscle gain is a byproduct of improved performance.

  7. profile avatar
    Tanmay Feb 10, 2015 - 22:44 #

    Can you give some exercise tips to reduce the stomach only. Everyone says ab crunch. But I don’t see much difference after two months (arround 50/dasy…5 days a week on an average).

    Not looking to have a 6 pack but at least want the tummy tucked in

    Regards,

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:47 #

      I’m not a very big fan of the traditional stomach / abs exercises in general. If you want a flatter stomach with less body fat, work on your nutrition and eating less calories than you burn. It’s not possible to lose body fat off a particular part of your body by targeting it with exercises; where you lose fat from as you lose fat is genetically predetermined. I would look into doing more full body workouts that will help your entire midsection get stronger like goblet squats, kettlbell swings, push ups while squeezing your glutes etc. Combined with a sensible nutrition plan, you will get a flatter stomach.

  8. profile avatar
    kathir Feb 10, 2015 - 23:42 #

    hi marc. nice video. it is very useful for me. thank u.

    I am having excess muscles in chest. I want to lose it.
    Please give me the tips for flat chest.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:48 #

      Consider taking a break from any horizontal pressing motions, just do vertical presses if you have the shoulder mobility and stability.

  9. profile avatar
    Barry Feb 11, 2015 - 00:06 #

    Great article, people place way too much emphasis on reps. Nice catch on engaging the lats, it’s not something I’ve ever been conscious of, but I’ll be looking out for it now. I’ve felt a bit of lat burn after push-up exercises, so hopefully I’m subconsciously engaging them.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:49 #

      You’re absolutely right Barry about quality over quantity. I oftentimes only give clients 3 sets of 5 push ups even if they can do 10 just to make sure they are using perfect form. A lat burn is an indication you are doing them properly!

  10. profile avatar
    Jennifer Feb 11, 2015 - 00:12 #

    Great tips Marc. I always look forward to your BuiltLean emails. I will be using your perfect push-up tips (and giving you credit of course!) with my group fitness classes this week. Keep the awesome info and great reminders coming!

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:49 #

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jennifer!

  11. profile avatar
    Rza Feb 11, 2015 - 00:32 #

    Marc thanks again for the great tip. Proper technique is so important in training! You articles, tips and suggestions has helped immensely. Thank you for sharing.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:50 #

      Appreciate it, Rza, thanks for sharing your encouragement.

  12. profile avatar
    Yvette Feb 11, 2015 - 02:42 #

    Thanks for the great tips–tried it tonight at the gym and though I couldn’t do as many reps as before, I felt that I was now doing them correctly. I was relieved to read about when not to lower all the way down, as I usually can’t do this and thought I wasn’t doing a push up correctly because of that. I’m 53 years old and have been training just a little more than a year and a half so I’m thrilled to be able to do 12 pretty good push-ups! The information on your website has always been very helpful. After never exercising before, I’ve lost 75# and now have 22% body fat. Couldn’t have done it without the helpful info you provide.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:51 #

      That’s awesome, Yvette! Pumped to hear about your results and 12 push ups with great form is definitely solid.

  13. profile avatar
    Natalie Feb 11, 2015 - 03:29 #

    Hi Marc I’m pretty much a beginner at push ups I have very little upper body strength so in order to gain upper body strength how often should I do push ups and how many reps should I do

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:55 #

      I could easily answer your question with another article, but I’ll try to keep it brief! I think doing a handful of sets somewhere between 3 and 5 times per week, whatever works for you. The more you do them, the faster your strength will build. Let’s say you can do 5 reps total, I would do something like 5 sets of 2, or 3 reps. The idea is to never “fail” a rep, always hit it. Over time, you will be able to add more reps. Another idea is a ladder approach, where you do 1, 2, 3, 3, 2, 1. The more reps you do without “failing” the better. It helps improve your neuromuscular efficiency so the exercise becomes easier.

  14. profile avatar
    mat Feb 11, 2015 - 08:16 #

    Hello Marc,

    Thanks for the great post. Just want to know is it sufficient to develop chest with just rely on pushup?

    I have a dumbbell but as you know the weight available is very limited.

    Mat

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 10:57 #

      mat – I definitely think you can develop an impressive upper body and your chest muscles just with push ups. You can slow down the reps, do more sets, all of which can help you build muscle. Eventually, you can even consider a weighted vest when you can easily do 30 bodyweight push ups.

  15. profile avatar
    Maureen Feb 11, 2015 - 11:14 #

    Marc
    Thanks for the tips. But what I liked best was you giving credit to the people who shared them with you. I don’t see that often.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 11, 2015 - 14:41 #

      Thanks, Maureen for pointing that out. I think it’s really important to give credit where credit is due.

  16. profile avatar
    Dave Feb 11, 2015 - 23:25 #

    “A few years ago I published a video on Youtube about proper push-up form, which has since attracted over 500k+ views.”

    Because it’s the best tutorial about the push-up.

    Great and very important tips by the way.
    Proving once again the importance of mind-body connection during exercise.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 12, 2015 - 09:15 #

      Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it!

  17. profile avatar
    Jim Feb 13, 2015 - 00:56 #

    Hi Marc,

    I’m now using your tips when doing my push ups and find them much more taxing. I used to do about 25 per set with poor form but now my knowledge and technique has improved (thanks to your earlier video and this one!) that figure has dropped substantially. Now I’m lucky if I can manage 15 on the first set!
    Well done with Builtlean by the way. Great concept and execution.
    Cheers,

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 13, 2015 - 13:14 #

      Thanks, Jim! I’m happy to hear you are using better form. Using perfect form is a great approach versus just trying to get as many reps as possible.

  18. profile avatar
    richard Feb 13, 2015 - 18:45 #

    Hi Marc.

    Am interested in why this particular technique is perfect in your opinion. Surely the hand position and the angle of the arms will depend on how you want vary which muscles are being worked and how. The push up is just a pushing exercise like any other and the arms can work in a range of different motion planes, so in my view their is no single perfect push up technique.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 13, 2015 - 20:29 #

      @richard – thanks for the question. While there is no perfect push-up technique, there are push-up positions that are better than others from a strength and injury prevention perspective. By keeping the hands and elbows in tighter to the body, this helps engage the lat muscles, which in turn helps better stabilize the very mobile shoulder. This helps develop strength and power. For those who graduate to one-arm push ups, practicing with the hand position for two-arm push-ups as I outline in the video is ideal. BuiltLean is not intended to be a bodybuilding website, so we are not too concerned with playing around with hand positioning to “target” certain muscles, but what we are concerned with is maximizing full-body strength and minimizing injury.

  19. profile avatar
    shen Feb 14, 2015 - 00:13 #

    15 years training and fitness method developer … I seriously wait for anything you write! I use you in my certifications as an example, send me teams to your website and quote you often You are one of my very fave people to “follow” and this article is just another example of why! Thanks for being an inspiration to a leader who also needs peeps to be motivated!!

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 14, 2015 - 10:52 #

      Thanks for the kind words Shen, very much appreciated!

  20. profile avatar
    Jay Feb 14, 2015 - 11:16 #

    Very helpfull article even if the reader has been lifting for quite some time. It reminds me of basic form that I let go when my heart rate is up and close to failure. And to add on to Richard’s question, I believe what Marc is pointing out is that the cost/reward ratio does not pay out on an excercise like this. It’s a pushup. Its meant to be simple and affective. The benefit of going wider and putting more strain on your shoulders and elbows do is not enough. Cable or dumbbell flys are likely a wiser option. Great article as always Marc.

  21. profile avatar
    Gil Feb 14, 2015 - 21:50 #

    Marc just wanted to say I appreciate your advice and routine. Very simple and user friendly but effective.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Feb 15, 2015 - 11:51 #

      Thanks, Gil. That’s really the theme of BuiltLean; keep things simple and effective.

  22. profile avatar
    Romulo Mar 07, 2015 - 21:04 #

    Thanks Marc for very helpful and detailed body weight push up positioning. What i’m concerned with is the minutes of rest after one set. I’m doing 20 per set 100 repetition in 30 minutes everyday, am i doing it wrong? what is the difference between continuous per set work out and installment basis as time allowed you to do so with same amount of repetition? Diamond position is not quite right i feel pain in my collar bone afterwards.
    I am doing 1 hour brisk walk too 6 kms, but which one should go first push ups or brisk walk? lastly how about drinking water..is there an exact amount intake before and right after walking and push ups?
    I will be following and reading your articles and videos from now on. THANKS.

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Mar 08, 2015 - 17:52 #

      Hey Romulo, happy you liked the article. 5 sets of 20 reps in 30 minutes is absolutely ok. However long it takes to use proper form and get 100 reps is ok. Walking before, or after really doesn’t matter, whatever you enjoy more. I would probably do the push ups first as it is more strenuous, then walk, but again, it’s up to you. You can check in with your doctor regarding water intake, but generally 2/3 body weight in ounces is what is recommended. So if you are 180 pounds, then 118 ounces of water is recommended. My approach to water intake is to drink when I’m thirsty, and I tend to drink a bit more than what is needed to quench my thirst.

  23. profile avatar
    Moutushi Mar 09, 2015 - 10:40 #

    Great article. however, ive been trying to do pushups for a few years now, and I still cannot do even ONE perfect push up. I only manage the ones where my shoulders and arms are spaced very wide out. I’m female, slim built, and obviously not very strong. Any tips on that?

    1. profile avatar
      Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT Mar 29, 2015 - 19:13 #

      Sorry for the late reply, Moutushi! I recommend incline push-ups to people who cannot do a push-up, then slowly lower the incline. So maybe you have a bar, or platform that is a few feet off the ground, then over time you lower that platform until you are flat on the floor doing push ups! Another thing that may be helpful is practicing forward planks with full body tension, so that every muscle in your body is activated. This helps build strength.

  24. profile avatar
    Fatimazulfiqar Aug 04, 2016 - 06:07 #

    I can’t do push ups at home but i can’t go gym it’s so far from my home I wanna do push up but I can’t do it can u help me?

    1. profile avatar
      Kristin Aug 04, 2016 - 15:59 #

      The good news is – you don’t need to go to a gym to get better at push ups. I would recommend practicing incline push ups, where your hands are on an elevated surface. Check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iJVjjPho20

      The stronger you get, the lower to the ground you can go.

      Once you’re comfortable with incline push ups, you can work on negative push ups: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7pHvvD7oqA

      Good luck!

      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

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