From 6th grade PE class, to Navy Seals Training, the push up is known as a true test of your full body strength.
Yet, many people STRUGGLE with completing ONE push up, let alone multiple in a row.
In reality, this exercise is one that is butchered across gyms, group x classes, and even other coaches.
Yet, when done properly, can truly build your entire body quite unlike any other.
The purpose of this article is going to not only teach HOW to do one correctly, but also what you can do to make a path to achieve your first push up.
How To CORRECTLY Perform A Push Up
First let’s start by labeling out the steps that you need to follow to ensure a proper push up.
Let me start by saying, if you can’t do a push up on the floor yet, THAT IS OKAY.
Still follow along with my checklist here. You will see why later in the article.
Push Up Form Check List
STEP 1: Assume a plank position. Get your hands beneath your shoulders. This is important to have a proper leverage point, and protect your shoulder health long term.
STEP 2: Keep your core braced. If I was going to punch you in the stomach as hard as I could, that is how I want your core braced. Another great cue I give my online coaching clients is to think about popping a button on your pants. You know, the opposite of what you do at the beach.
STEP 3: Squeeze your butt. Yep, for a push up, squeeze your butt. This keeps your spine / pelvis in a neutral alignment, and helps with core bracing. Think about pinching a penny between your cheeks.
STEP 4: Keep your feet close. Again, this helps with pelvis alignment / leverage.
STEP 5: Think forward, THEN down into your push up. (Yep, we are finally getting into the actual push up, I know, a lot before we even get started. It is necessary to ensure proper form.) This step, is crucial, because a push up is NOT just straight up and down.. It is a bit forward, THEN you descend down.
STEP 6: Squeeze your shoulder blades on the way down. Think about pinching a pencil between your shoulders on the way down, or think about rowing / pulling yourself into the ground.
Step 7: Push off the ground as hard as you can as you ascend back up, maintaining a straight line throughout.
Again, if you cannot perform a push up on the ground yet, that is fine. Remember this check list as we get later in the article.
Most Common Mistakes
Mistake 1 – Hands / Elbows Too Wide
This is probably the MOST common mistake I see with push ups.
Somewhere along the line, instructors of group x classes across commercial gyms were told to tell people to “ Make a field goal post !” with their elbows when they do a push up.
No wonder why the shoulder injury is the most common one in America.
Please, for the love of all things strength training, DO NOT PUT YOUR ELBOWS OUT WIDE WHEN YOU DO A PUSH UP.
Yes, keeping your elbows out wide makes the push up easier, it is less distance you have to travel.
BUT, you are 100% going to injure your shoulder, it is only a matter of time if you haven’t already.
Plus, you aren’t working any real muscle at that point, you’re just jamming your shoulder joint.
Like we mentioned above, get your hands right under your shoulders.
This will automatically put your elbows / hands in a better position.
Your elbows should be traveling either A. Right by your side or B. At around a 45 degree angle.
You having your elbows out wide as you push up is doing *literally* nothing productive.
The next correction you can make is again, thinking FORWARD FIRST, and then down.
People tend to flare their elbows out because they are not getting their chest over their hands.
They are trying to go straight down. Your head should be traveling forward as you descend down into your push up.
If you look at the starting position / finishing position above, you will see my head travels a bit forward as I go down.
You will also see my wrists and my elbows in line with one another.
This will also prevent you from flaring your elbows out excessively, leading to wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain.
Mistake 2 – Not Staying In One Straight Line
This is by far the next most common mistake I see.
People are losing their rigidity of their core / torso throughout the movement.
Why does this happen? People usually A. Are not strong enough to maintain form while doing a push up or B. Just don’t know that their core needs to remain working the entire time.
If you compare the two pictures above, you can clearly see in the top picture I am sagging my hips down, arching my chest up, not maintaining one straight line in my body.
Where as the bottom picture, my butt is squeezed, abs are tight, shoulders are pulled back, all leading to one straight line throughout the whole movement.
To fix this, make sure you go through the checklist we laid out above.
Ensure before you even descend down into your push up, your abs are braced. Your butt is squeezed, you are pulling yourself into the ground as you descend down.
Maintaining one neutral spine throughout the whole movement is paramount because if you don’t, injury will occur somewhere along the kinetic chain.
How To Achieve Your First Push Up
So, knowing how to do a push up is cool and all but.. You still need the strength to actually do one.
This is where a simple modification can come in.
Remember earlier I said if you can’t do a push up on the ground yet to still pay attention to the form check list / correction check list? You are about to realize why.
Yes, you need the strength to be able to complete a push up from the ground.
My favorite way of getting this strength is by doing the same exact form as a push up, but putting your hands on an elevated surface.
Take your bed for example.
You can go through all the checklist items, keep yourself in a straight line, keep your core braced, etc.
If you can do perfect push ups on your couch which is say 20 inches off the ground, do them. Push ups are push ups no matter the height.
Why Elevated Surface Instead Of On Your Knees?
Well, so glad you asked!
Personally, I would pick an elevated surface because you can still teach your body the push up form.
You can still learn to keep your core tight, to squeeze your shoulder blades on the way down, to squeeze your butt, etc.
You will be gaining the core strength / body awareness to keep your body in one straight line.
SO, when you do get strong enough to do them from the floor, you will not have to relearn this all over again.
You can just take everything you have been doing, and apply it to pushing up from the floor.
When you drop to your knees, it makes it that much harder to maintain a straight line with your body.
It makes it so you may have to relearn things over again as you progress to the push up on your toes.
To avoid that, I love taking clients through elevated push up progressions.
Speaking of… More on how to get your first push up below.
Progression To On The Floor Pushups
So okay, now that we know we are going to do them from an elevated surface, how do we ensure that we GET to the floor?
Here is what I would do, and I would keep it very simple.
I woulds start by finding a height you can do a set of 10 perfect reps with.
So if that is your couch, your bed, your table, whatever it ends up being, make sure you can do 1 set of 10 with PERFECT form.
Touching your chest to the surface, keeping in a straight line, the whole 9.
Then, once you can do that, keep adding sets until you can do 4×10 with perfect form on that specific elevated surface.
Once you can do that, find a lower surface. Maybe go from your bed to your couch.
And again, make sure you can do 4×10 reps from your cough height.
Once you can do that, maybe find a coffee table that is a bit lower.
Once more, make sure you can complete 4×10 on that coffee table height.
After this, you can then progress to the ground and do your push ups from the ground!
That’s A Wrap
There you have it. You should now be equipped with everything you need to not only complete your first push up, but complete it correctly.
I strongly urge you to watch the short YouTube video I added along with this article if you want to visually see what I mean when I talk about these cues.
Just from coaching hundreds of people, I know a lot of you are visual learners, so the YouTube video attached I think can be very helpful.
If you want help with your push up form, or anything related to building muscle and losing fat, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Or fill out this form HERE to see if I can help you out.
Thanks for reading, and happy push up-ing? If that is a word?