Articles » Exercise » Strength Training » How To Do Push Ups (& 3 Common Form Mistakes)

How To Do Push Ups (& 3 Common Form Mistakes)

By Marc Perry / December 15, 2016

If you’ve been following BuiltLean for a while, you know I love push ups.

Push ups are a staple upper body pushing exercise that demand core control and full-body tension. You can do push ups anywhere to help keep you fit and strong. I start my day with 40 to 50 push ups in a row to get the blood flowing and maintain my ability to regularly bang out push ups.

While I’ve written extensively about push ups in several articles including 3 Tips to Master Pushup Form & Proper Pushup Technique, I wanted to create a video and article to show you step-by-step how to do this fundamental bodyweight exercise.

Here are the instructions:

Exercise Instructions

1. Get into a plank position with your arms straight, abs tight, and spine neutral. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels.

2. Hands and arms should be positioned slightly below your shoulders, fingers pointed forward.

3. Lower your body until your chest is an inch or two above the floor, inhaling on the way down.

4. Exhale powerfully to push your body away from the ground until your arms lock, then repeat.

Form Tips

1. Your neck, back, hips, and legs should form one stiff plank, so only your arms are moving.

2. Control the descent so you’re moving your body with control, and then strongly press back up.

3. Keep your head neutral. Avoid dropping your head down, or craning your neck up.

4. Breathe in through your nose on the way down, and out through your mouth during the pushing phase.

3 Common Push Up Mistakes

1. Hands Too High Above Shoulders

Improper hand placement is probably the most common mistake many men and women make. Many people start with their hands placed above their shoulders.

Instead, you want to start with your hands closer to your body and below your shoulders. Doing a proper push up with your hands below your shoulders and keeping your elbows near the side of your body is harder than most people realize, so don’t be discouraged if this is challenging at first.

If you can do 20 half-push ups with your hands out wide and high, you may be able to only do 5 or 10 with proper push-up form. The push up requires that you create “full-body tension”. If just one area lacks tension (or proper contraction of muscles), it will make the push up much harder.

I recommend starting with an incline push up where you use a bench, bar, or chair to elevate your body a couple of feet off of the ground. Then, gradually work down to the floor over time. You must build your strength.

Again, push ups may look easy, but when I teach men & women how to do push ups with proper form, they do A LOT fewer reps than they’re used to.

2. Shoulders Shrug Up Towards Ears

Similar to the first common mistake, shrugging your shoulders towards your ears can happen even if you have the proper hand placement. To prevent this from happening, you must contract your lats – the muscle underneath your armpits – to pull your shoulders away from your ears and into a stable & locked position.

If you’ve never done this before, it can take some time to figure out, and for your body to stabilize and build strength. But in the long run, you’ll learn how to “pack” your shoulders down and away from your ears, which makes you much stronger. When you are pushing or pulling heavy weight, your lats should always be contracted and your shoulders packed.

3. Not Keeping Hips & Core Stable

When completing a push up, the only part of your body that should be moving are your arms. Everything from your head down to your feet should be stiff as a board.

If you lack core stability, or the ability to keep a rigid plank, push ups are not an appropriate exercise for you yet. Consider building your core stability by holding a 30-second forearm plank with your glutes contracted before working on push ups, or try push ups on an incline first.

To keep your hips and core stable, the trick is to lightly squeeze your glutes (butt muscles) and contract your quads as you do the push up. At first, this makes the push up harder, but also more effective.

You also want to avoid letting your hips slouch or drop as you do this. Contracting your abs, glutes, and quads will help prevent this. This is a subtle change that makes you much stronger, and is one of the ways that gymnasts build exceptional strength.

Tips To Add Push Ups To Your Workout Routine

You can’t go wrong with push ups if you are using proper form. Because push ups are so convenient and effective, you can do them every day. Just be sure to stretch your fingers and wrists if you do them frequently because you want to keep your wrists flexible to avoid developing cysts or other issues with your wrists.

If you can work up to a solid set of 20+ push ups using great form, you have reached a higher level of fitness. To increase the challenge at this point, wear a weighted vest or try out more advanced variations.

Do you do push ups a lot? Any questions about proper form?


  • mary ann says:

    Great tips and visuals! Thanks

    • Kristin says:

      You're so welcome! We're glad to hear that you found the article and images useful.
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

  • Shueb Ali says:

    Awesome article with helpfull tips.

    • Kristin says:

      Thanks! We truly appreciate the feedback, and are glad you enjoyed the information.
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

  • Phil Bennett says:

    This is an iconic exercise that lots of people think is simple to execute in terms of technique and form (which it isn't). The article has provided me with some very useful pointers to ensure I get my push ups right every time.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks for the comment, Phil. Happy to hear it was helpful! I've realized after many years of training you can always refine & improve form

  • Ian says:

    I've just had my 60th birthday. Although I'm generally fit and well, and have a good body weight, these days I'd don't have a regular fitness program and don't attend a gym. I do still find press ups, though, a useful challenge for my upper body. So I found this a great article - it's a terrific reminder that good form is essential!.
    The only problem is that I find that as I get older my performance is inconsistent. Some days I can do hundreds (in sets of, say, 15 with appropriate rest in between), but on others I'm very sore (elbow ache or other niggles !) or just can't seem to summon the energy/enthusiasm for it! Perhaps at my age I shouldn't aiming for doing them every day. Any suggestions?
    As I said, though, great article - I'll use it as my Bible!

  • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

    Thanks, Ian! I think push ups every day can definitely work, consider shooting for a specific number that works well for your body. Maybe it's 3 or 5 sets. Keep it simple. Usually a few sets can keep you strong and get the job done. If you are feeling sore on a given day, you can just rest that day and resume the following. Good luck!

  • Ian says:

    Will do, Marc. Thank you, sir!