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Categories: Strength Training

3 Best Tips To Master Push-Up Form

By Marc Perry / December 13, 2017

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

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

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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49 Comments

  • Jim says:

    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,

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      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.

  • richard says:

    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.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @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.

  • shen says:

    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!!

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks for the kind words Shen, very much appreciated!

  • Jay says:

    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.

  • Gil says:

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

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

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

  • Romulo says:

    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.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      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.

  • Moutushi says:

    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?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      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.

  • Fatimazulfiqar says:

    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?

    • Kristin says:

      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

  • pj says:

    My record is 110 push ups. I did have to take a few breather pauses for a few seconds as needed, but IN the PLANK position, NOT coming out of the pushup position, not arching or rounding my back during pauses either. Just pause in the plank a few secs, and keep going.
    When I started workouts, I couldn't do 5! Just keep at it guys, write your goals on the calendar: gradual increases every week. You'll get there if you keep at it and are consistent. Slow and steady wins the race and don't give up. If a barely 5foot female (me) can do it, you can too. :)

    • Marc Perry says:

      Thanks for sharing, pj

  • Chris says:

    I started doing Push ups about a year ago after seeing you're video, started off slowly and now do push ups everyday, i mostly do 100 (25/30 reps) a day some times less depending on time. I'll also take these pointers on board to try to improve my form a bit. I recently read a article about the actor Patrick Stewart and he also does push ups every day, he looks very good for his age from it.

    • Marc Perry says:

      Thanks for sharing, Chris! Push ups are definitely one of my favorite exercises