With so many cool exercises clogging social media feeds, it can be easy to forget to do simple, yet fundamental strength training movements. Standard push-ups is one of them. Many lifters and gym-goers avoid doing it, and we can't blame them. It's a challenging bodyweight exercise, but it's one worth doing for better upper body strength, and overall strength. Everybody, including beginners, should be doing them regularly!
As difficult as push-ups may seem, there are several ways to modify the movement to your fitness level. Starting off with modified push-ups will get you on the right track to doing regular push-ups with proper form and technique. And on the right track to a stronger upper body!
So, ready to learn how to do a push-up with proper form and technique? Stick with us to get all the information you need to finally perform a proper push-up, plus modifications and variations for beginners and advanced lifters!
Why you should do push-ups
Before we get to the how, let's discuss the why. Push-ups are a chest exercise known for developing the chest muscles, but what most don't know is that it helps build strength almost in your entire body. The muscle groups it targets include the pectoral muscles (chest), upper arms (biceps and triceps), erector spinae of the back, deltoids (shoulders), core, and even your legs. Aside from its strength and muscle-building benefits, they are a functional movement that helps you in daily life, like pushing against objects! Plus, it works the deltoids which are a stabilizer muscle around the shoulders that can help protect from rotator cuff injuries when it's strengthened.
But if you're strength training to build serious muscle mass, you might be wondering why do push-ups when you can perform a heavy bench press which provides more resistance and is better for muscle growth? Well, although a heavy resistance stimulates growth, there's something that matters more... the level of exertion your muscles experience. Heavy bench presses should be a part of your workout routine, but if you want to take your muscle-growing efforts even further then it's good to add hypertrophy training into the mix to further stimulate the muscles. Hypertrophy training involves techniques that fatigue and exhaust the muscles, and the main way to do that is by increasing the volume of your workout. This is much harder to do with heavy weights, doing push-ups are a good way to practice hypertrophy and build muscle in your upper body while also promoting better shoulder function – something a bench press can't do.
How to do push-ups with proper form
The benefits of push-ups are clearly amazing. Now, it's time to learn how to do a standard push-up with good form and technique to fully reap the benefits. And don't worry, we're going to go over the different types of push-up beginners can do to get them on the right track to perfecting the standard push-up.
Step-by-step directions to the perfect push-up:
- Get on the floor on all fours and set your hands at a distance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your legs back and find a foot placement that is comfortable for you. A wider placement seems to be better for balance for most people, but others may find a closer foot placement works better for them. Once you find a good foot placement, make sure that your body is forming a straight line (like being in a plank position) from head to toe, meaning no hips sagging or arching of your back.
- Inhale as you tighten and engage your core, clench your glutes, and begin to slowly lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle or less, keeping elbows as close to your body as possible. Try to go through the full range of motion, but this depends on your fitness level and flexibility, but if you can, go down until your chest hits the floor.
- Pause for a moment, contract your chest muscles, and exhale as you push back up to the starting position. But don't lock out your elbows, keep them slightly bent.
For hypertrophy, try to do 10-15 reps, but complete as many repetitions as you can with proper form. Once your form starts to take a dip, end your set.
Common mistakes to avoid
Push-ups are challenging, therefore it's easy to make a mistake that can mess up your form. To help you maintain good push-up form throughout your set, avoid making these common mistakes...
Sagging at the hips or arching lower back – This is one of the most common mistakes you've probably seen others lifters commit at the gym. Sagging in the middle or arching the back can cause back pain. It's caused by not properly engaging the core and not having a significant amount of core strength. To avoid this issue, practice engaging your core. If you're not sure how to and need some guidance check out our article on >>> How To Engage Your Core.
Hands too far forward – Placing your hands too far forward, instead of directly under your shoulders, can place a greater strain on your shoulders. The shoulders are a delicate muscle group that is easily injured and overused, so protect them by placing your hands directly under your shoulders.
Locked elbows – As you hit the end of your set, you might be more fatigued which can lead to locking your elbows at the top of the movement to get a little rest period. Avoid doing this because it places great stress on the joints which can lead to a strain or injury. Remember to maintain a slight bend in the elbows, and if you start to feel fatigued just end your set!
Not going through the full range of motion – A limited range of motion isn't going to give you the full benefits of this fundamental exercise! If you're having trouble lowering yourself until your elbows are at 90 degrees, or until your chest hits the floor, then consider stepping back to an easier modification. Practice going through the full range of motion first, and then move on to attempting a standard push-up.
Beginner-friendly push-up variations
For beginners who want to start doing standard push-ups, start by doing easier variations. The key is to start with an easier push movement, and progressively work your way up to more difficult moves to eventually result in you doing a perfect push-up
There are three levels you need to conquer – wall push-ups, elevated push-ups, and kneeling push-ups.
Despite popular belief, a good starting point for beginners is not kneeling push-ups, it's wall push-ups! Starting with this type of push-up will help you get adjusted with the pushing movement before tackling something more difficult.
How to do it: Stand in front of a wall, and place your hands shoulder width apart, or slightly wider. Walk backwards with your feet until arms are fully extended, so you should be supporting your weight. Just as with regular push-ups, engage your core, clench your glutes, and maintaining your body in line, slowly lower yourself towards the wall. Try to go until your nose is almost touching the way, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Aim to do 4 sets of wall push-ups, resting for about a minute to two minute rest between sets. Keep track of your progress, and once you can do 4 sets of 20 reps then you can progress to the next level.
- Level 2 - Elevated Push-Ups
These are also known as incline push-ups! You can have it set up so it's as tall as a kitchen table, bench height, or as low as a few blocks inches off the ground. We suggest starting with a higher elevated surface, and lower it as you make progress.
How to do it: Place your hand on the edge of a bench just beyond shoulder-width apart. Hold your torso up at arm's length with your toes on the floor. This is your starting position. Slowly lower yourself downward until your chest nearly touches the bench. Squeeze your chest and slowly press your upper body back to the starting position.
Aim to do 4 sets of incline push-ups with a one to two minute rest between sets. Again, keep track of your progress and once you can do 4 sets of 20 reps you can move to the next level!
- Level 3 - Kneeling Push-Ups
This is final level to conquer before moving on to a standard push-up. Putting the weight on your knees will allow you to safely and effectively perform this push-up variation.
How to do it: Place your hands on the ground, shoulder-width apart. It should look like you're in a modified plank push-up. From your knees, lower your torso to the ground until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Push back up with the palms of your hands.
Once you're comfortable completing 4 sets of 10-15 reps, it's time to tackle your first full push-up!
Up for a challenge?
For those who want more of a challenge try a more difficult type of push-up to continue building strength in your chest and upper body! Word of warning – these require a significant amount of upper body and core strength (here are core exercises you can try at home to help improve your core strength)!
Using a stability will challenge your balance and core stability which increases the difficulty.
How to do it: Start in a plank position with your feet on the ball and hands on the floor just below your shoulders. Inhale as you bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor. Exhale and push back up to the starting position.
This is a more advanced variation that involves placing your hands close together to form a diamond or triangle. This helps to zone in on your triceps more than a standard push-up.
How to do it: Get into a push-up position, but instead of placing your hands shoulder-width apart, bring them close together to form a diamond. Keep your arms tight at your sides and elbows close to your lower body. Engaging your core and glutes, begin to lower yourself down until your chest is almost hitting the floor. Pause for a moment then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Grab your UPPPER Long Resistance Band (don't have one? Check out our Long Band Collection), and get ready for a challenge! Wrapping a resistance band around your upper back will increase the tension as you move your way up to the starting position. This will help make your muscles work even harder for better muscle growth!
How to do it: Wrap a long back around your back, just under your armpits. Loop the band an extra time around each hand to help tighten it and keep it in place. Get into a push-up position, engage your muscles, and begin to slowly lower your chest to the floor. Slowly push yourself back up working through the tension provided by the band.
Now you have everything you need to get you on the right track to perfecting a full push-up and gaining better upper body strength! And don't forget to check out UPPPER Fitness Gear, designed to give you the support you need to take your workouts to the next level 💪