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Categories: Workouts

How To Do A Push-Up With Proper Form & Technique

By Marc Perry / December 13, 2016

The push-up is an amazing exercise that offers a ton of great benefits including:

1) Perform Push Ups Anywhere – You can do push ups anywhere because they only require your body weight. No fancy or expensive equipment required.

2) Increase Pushing Strength – Push ups engage your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core for a complete pushing exercise. If you are benching, you won’t get the same core activation.

3) Variations – Pushups are a very dynamic exercise with many different variations to satisfy the beginner to the advanced athlete.

While pushups can be extremely beneficial to help improve your physique and muscle endurance, even people who have exercised for years may have improper push up form.

Here is a 7 step checklist to make sure you use perfect push up form every time you do a push up!

Tip #1: Straight Head/Neck Position

I see this as a common mistake for people who are simply not strong enough to complete a push up (usually weak chest muscles), or simply have poor posture from working on a computer all the time. The head is forced forward and down in an effort to make the push up easier. I would recommend doing knee push ups (you have to start from somewhere, right?) until you can easily keep your head in line with your torso as you do the push up in a slow and controlled motion.

Tip #2: Keep Shoulders Back & Stable

As some people do push ups they start shrugging their shoulders towards their ears, which forces more pressure on the triceps. Typically this is a result of weak chest muscles, or similar to the neck position, poor posture. Keeping your shoulders down, back, and stable will force your chest to work much harder, which will make the exercise more effective.

Tip #3: Hands Below Plane of Shoulders

If you have not developed your chest muscles, the chances are you will start your pushup with your hands above the plane of your shoulders. What I mean is that when you get ready to do a pushup, your hands are placed above your shoulders, almost in the same horizontal plane as your head. Keep your hand position slightly wider than shoulder width apart, next to the middle of your chest, which will properly work your chest, shoulders, and triceps pretty equally so they all benefit.

Tip #4: Pressure on Outside of Hands

While push ups are a great exercise, they can easily cause overuse injuries, especially in the wrists. Put the pressure of the weight on the outside of your hands, not the bottom of your hand/wrist, which is what I did for years. The outside of your hand is very stable and strong, which explains why MMA fighters strike with the outside of their palm. You can pretend like you are gripping the floor to help keep the pressure off your wrists. I wish I knew this one 15 years ago!

Tip #5: Hips and Torso Straight

In an effort to make the push up easier, oftentimes I see people either slouching their hip downward, or pushing their hips upward. By not keeping the hips and torso straight, the abs are almost taken out of the equation. Keep your hips in line with your torso to properly engage your abs and properly recruit the muscles as they were intended (chest, shoulders, triceps, and abs).

Tip #6: Full Range of Motion

I’ve heard a million times how you should never let your body dip below a 90 degree angle in your elbows. I think this came about because of shoulder concerns. In my opinion, I think you should use a full range of motion (just as with every other exercise) as long as it doesn’t hurt your shoulders. In fact, if I couldn’t get the full range of motion and get that stretch in my pecs and shoulders at the bottom of the rep, I probably would never do push ups. Try to get your chest to slightly graze the ground, or come within an inch of the ground.

Tip #7: Controlled Tempo

I think this applies to most exercises along with the full range of motion. Control the descent and push up forcefully. It’s cool if the positive phase is very quick in the beginning, but in general, a 1 second up, 2 second down count is ideal. Controlling the tempo dramatically reduces risk of injury and substantially increases muscle stimulation.

Push-Up Instructions

1. Position your body with your arms straight out, abs tight, holding your body in a plank position.

2. Hands and arms should be positioned slightly below your shoulders, fingers pointed forwards. Shoulders are pushed down away from your ears.

3. Lower your body until your chest is an inch or two above the floor, elbows pulling back at roughly a 45 degree angle.

4. Push your torso away from the ground until your arms lock, then repeat.

Hope this was helpful and let me know what you think of this video.

88Comments

  • Akhtar Ali says:

    sir how to perfect push up on hand stan . give me example for image

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Akthar Ali - I would suggest searching youtube for handstand push ups. Not sure I will ever have that on my site.

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  • Latham says:

    Hey Marc, After searching around the net I have found this place to be a great resource!

    Anyway, Like a couple of the guys above I am 18 years old and have been doing push up and ab exercises for about 2 months now. I feel I am developing muscle slowly, but just wanted to tell you what my routine is and if you could give me any tips on making it better and more efficient.

    I do a 3 on 1 off regime so 6 workouts a week. When I wake up I crack out 5 sets of press ups each set doing as many reps I can do. Then in the middle of the day I do several different sit up styles customising each different workout so I feel the burn at the end of it, and again at night I do more press ups which are the same as the morning ( 5 sets each set as many reps as I can go).

    I can see my pecs developing faster than my abs though. Do abs take much longer than pecs to develop or will this be a problem with me not doing the sit ups correctly?

    Is this workout a good way to build muscle while losing more body fast as well? I do keep a pretty decent diet so I wouldn't put on much fat because of it.

    Is there anything else you think I should add in here for a more well rounded fitness regime or should I have more rest days etc.

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Latham - check out these articles which should answer your questions:

      Can You Lose Fat and Build Muscle At The Same Time?
      20 Minute Full Body Circuit Training Workout - The idea is to use 5 basic exercise movements. Right now, you are only using 2.

      Abs are made in the kitchen, you need to lose body fat in order to see your abs. I do think abs take a bit longer to develop than pecs. I would focus on fat loss, or muscle gain, not both at the same time. Good luck!

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  • Latham says:

    Cheers for the info Marc. On the 20minute workout: I don't have any equipment to work with which is my problem and I don't have any heavy weights to substitute. What do I do in this case to reach that 5 movement goal?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Latham - You can do a squat, or squat jumps with no weight, or you can also get a weighted vest, which is a great way of adding weight to bodyweight exercises to make them harder as you get stronger. You can also do forward lunges, and jump lunges, or even side lunges. There are a lot of different lunges. Pull ups are awesome, so if you can find/buy a pull up bar, it will be well worth your time. The twisting/pushing movements you can cover when doing push ups/abs exercises.

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      • Latham says:

        Okay, well after more research a better question would be: What is the best diet for circuit training involving the 5 movements you speak about, going on the amount of days I'll be training a week (which hopefully you can also help me with). At the moment I am thinking 2 on 1 off. Hope you can help and that I'm not being too much of a pain in the behind!

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        • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

          @Latham - Please see my other comment.

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      • Latham says:

        May as well ask this while I am here too. I have looked over the web on dieting correctly for muscle gain (as that is what I am focusing on since I'm a skinny runt) and to be honest, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. As I said above I am dieting but after a bit of research it is definitely not optimal. I have picked up a few things but I still really want to learn how to diet properly for gaining weight as I don't want my efforts to go to waste!

        So to the question: Do you have any good dieting resources that you could share with me to help me with this. Even planned daily meals would be great. Something to get me heading in the right track in this department!

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        • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

          @Latham - if you are building muscle, you definitely don't want to be "dieting". I'm going to be writing a huge article on muscle building eventually, but in the meantime, here are some guidelines:

          1) Eat more calories than you burn - this is the most important part. In other words, do the opposite of what this article states - How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight? Around a 500 calorie surplus should work well.
          2) Eat ample protein - Shoot for 1 gram per pound of body weight
          3) Lift progressively heavier/more over time - Regarding heavier, if you are benching 125lb for 10 reps, you want to eventually get to 185lb for 10 reps. Every week, or two, you can increase the weight a bit more. Regarding lifting more, if you can do 3 sets of 20 push-ups (60 total push-ups), eventually you can build up to 10 sets of 20 push-ups (200 total push. Your muscles will not grow unless you force them to by lifting more weight, or simply more volume.

          ...and that's it. I would strongly recommend tracking your calories with a calorie tracker, or by hand. It's VERY helpful for you. Good luck and be patient!

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      • Latham says:

        Thanks again Marc for this. One last question: How often should I be working out a week if I am using all 5 movements in each session? (I did take a look around the site to try and find this out but to no avail)

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        • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

          @Latham - The short answer is "it depends", but generally speaking if you are using all movements in each workout, then you can do it 2-3x per week. The number of times you can workout per week depends on the intensity of the workout on each movement pattern and muscle group. So if you do 9 sets of horizontal pushing exercises one workout, it may be a good 3-4 days of recovery you need before doing another horizontal pushing exercise. If however you only do a few sets each movement pattern, you should be able to workout more frequently.

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  • Tan says:

    hi marc,
    I am 18 yrs old. I used to be overweight. But then i took control of my diet and began doing free hand exercises. I have lost a lot of weight and now i look gaunt. I am 5ft. 8 in. tall and weigh 60 kg. I have started eating more and working out with a pair of 5kg dumbbells. I have gained some muscle but not as much as i would like to gain. What kind of food should i eat to enhance muscle build? Does food like boiled rice increase unnecessary fat? What kind of diet should i follow to gain weight by gaining muscle and not fat? I make it a point to eat 2 whole eggs everyday. Is that advisable?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Tan - I plan on creating a much longer article about how to build muscle and what type of nutrition plan works best, but in short, a split of around 25% protein, 45% carbs, and the balance as fat can work well for muscle building. Then you want to eat more calories than you burn, by around (10-20%) - see calculate your calorie burn. Your comment if rice will make you add fat makes me think you may need to learn the basics. Definitely search around the site and read some of the articles!

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  • John says:

    Hey Marc. Thanks for an informative article.
    For this to be part of exercise, how many reps do you suggest if this is to be done daily?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @john - I think you can do this a few times per week, or daily whatever suits you. I strongly suggest checking out some of my answers to other questions similar to your own in the comment section where I discuss the importance of structuring your workouts in terms of movement patterns. (i.e. squats, lunges, push, pull, twist etc.). Very important to do more than just pushing exercises like push ups.

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  • josh says:

    hi Marc just started doing puch ups i can get to 10 and think i could do more but the muscles in my neck cant take it am i doing some thing wrong or do i need to keep trying and wait for my neck muscles to catch up to my chest and arm muscles.

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  • Patrick says:

    I've been doing push ups daily for about 8 years but recently my throat has been getting tight. After laying off the push ups for a week or two it starts to loosen up. Could I be doing something wrong that is straining my front neck muscles?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Patrick - that's what it sounds like. If you go to a gym, I would consider asking one of the smarter trainers to evaluate your push up form. Push ups do require your neck muscles to work hard with your traps on the back of your neck and your sternocleidomastoid (love that muscle name!) on the front of your neck (actually wraps from the front to the side) in addition to other smaller supporting muscles. One thing that also may be affecting your neck if your shoulders are rounded. Check out these two article for more info (1) correct rounded shoulders and (2) 5 common posture problems.

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Patrick - that's very possible. If you have access to a trainer who can check out your form, I would recommend that.

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  • Tan says:

    Hi Marc,
    I am confused about the importance of dividing a workout routine into sets. For example what if i follow this routine: 1.Chest Press- 3 Sets X 12 -15 Reps
    2.Dumbbell Rows - 3 sets X 12-15 Reps
    3.Squat,Bicep Curl and Shoulder Press - 3 setsX 12-15 Reps
    4.Alternate Dumbbell Curl - 3 sets X 12 -15 Reps
    5.Lying Tricep Extension - 3 sets X 12 -15 Reps
    6. V-ups -3 sets X 12 -15 Reps
    the first 5 exercises with a pair of 5 kg dumbbells. Now if i do only one set each consisting of 50 reps, will it make the workout more effective?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Tan - No, it will not make the exercises more effective, but less effective if you are looking to get stronger. Much above 20 reps on a consistent basis is unnecessary. In general, for maximum strength and muscle gains, I would stay to 6-12 reps and for endurance go 15-20 reps. Overall through, I would recommend the 6-12 rep range for overall health and well-being. From a health perspective, an important purpose of resistance training is to get your body more resilient, increase bone density, and from a fat loss perspective is to increase calorie burn and from a muscle building perspective is to stimulate and tear muscle fibers. 6-12 reps will get you there whereas 50 reps will likely not accomplish this as effectively.

      If you are not on our email list, I suggest you get on it here: https://www.builtlean.com/email/ as we have an article coming up soon about high reps vs. low reps.

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  • Tan says:

    Hi Marc,
    Thanks for the helpful comments. On a different note, i wanted to know ur opinion about health supplements. I have heard of a wide range of muscle enhancers like creatine, whey protein isolates and others. Are they necessary if i want to build muscles? Are they free from side effects?

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Tan - I wrote an introductory article on dietary supplements here - Dietary Supplements 101. Think of whey protein as the powder form of a chicken breast. Doesn't do anything magical to help you can muscle, but can make it easier to consume more protein. Creatine undoubtedly works to help improve strength and build muscle, but just be careful to drink plenty of water if you do take it.

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  • Riz says:

    Loved your video. Very nicely explained.
    I have a bulging disk at c4-5 c5-6. I am able to do push ups without any pain. my question is can i do push ups? hope it will not make it worse..

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    • Marc Perry says:

      Hi Riz, that question is best answered by your doctor / physical therapist. In general, when I'm exercising with an injury, if it doesn't cause any pain during, after the workout, or the next day etc., I consider it ok. But again, you should check with your doctor.

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