Push-ups are one of those exercises everyone should do. They build muscle in your upper-body, don’t require any equipment and improve shoulder health. Push-ups are also easy to do. Or at least that’s what people believe.
Push-ups look easy but like any other exercise they have their technique. Bad Push-up technique is common, and unfortunately it can cause shoulders and/or lower back injuries. Here’s how to perform Push-ups correctly.
Benefits of Push-ups. Push-ups are a closed kinetic chain exercise. Unlike the Bench Press, your hands are fixed while your body moves through space.
- Build Muscle. Just like Pull-ups & Dips, Push-ups force you to lift your own body-weight. Push-ups work your chest, shoulders, triceps & core.
- Shoulder Health. Push-ups improve shoulder health by strengthening your serratus anterior. They also teach you to Bench Press correctly.
- Versatile. You can do Push-ups anywhere, anytime. Harder Push-up variations keep things challenging for constant progress (more below).
Push-up Technique. Assume the Push-up starting position with your elbows locked. Lower yourself by bending your elbows until your chest almost touches the floor. Come back up by pushing through the floor.
- Hand Position. Don’t take your hands out to wide. Put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Hands turned out 45°.
- Tuck Your Elbows. Easier on your shoulders. Keep your elbows at a 45° angle to your body during Push-ups.
- Push Your Abs Out. Straight line from shoulders to ankles. Push your abs out as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach.
- Squeeze Your Glutes. Push your abs out while squeezing your glutes hard. Both will avoid any hyper-extension of your lower back.
- Tuck Your Chin. Lead with your chest, not with your head. Your neck must stay inline with the rest of your spine. Don’t look forward.
Push-up Video. Here’s a video of Push-ups using a light resistance band. Pay attention to the technique: straight line from ankles to shoulders, chest goes to the floor, elbows tucked. Video by Tony Gentilcore.
How to Increase Your Push-up Strength. If you lack the strength to do 1 Push-up or if you struggle to do Push-ups with correct technique, start this way.
- Push-ups Holds. Hold the Push-up starting position for time. Straight line from shoulders to ankles. These strengthen your core. Aim for at least 1mins. Switch to Prone Bridges for a bigger challenge.
- Kneeling Push-ups. Perform Push-ups with both knees on the floor. Push yourself up using your chest, shoulders & triceps muscles. Do not push yourself up using hip or back extension.
Push-up Variations. Unless you’re looking for strength-endurance, you’ll need to add some kind of resistance to keep Push-ups challenging. Some ideas:
- Close Grip Push-ups. Shift the emphasis to your triceps. Perform Push-up with your hands slight narrower than shoulder-width.
- Iso Push-ups. Improve shoulder health & posture. Hold the bottom position for time. Hands elevated for a greater stretch. Example.
- Blast Straps/Ring Push-ups. Harder to stabilize, improve core strength and improve bottom Push-up (and Bench Press) strength by increasing the stretch. Use Blast Straps or Rings.
- Resistance Bands. Add a mini or light resistance band like in the video above. I have Jump Stretch flexbands. Iron Woody works too.
- Chain Push-ups. Another way to add external resistance. Perform Push-ups with chains wrapped around your body. Example.
- Rucksack. Wear a rucksack filled with plates high on your back (not on your neck!). Add weight as you get stronger.
- Xvest Push-ups. Much more expensive than a rucksack or chains, but also more convenient. Perform Push-ups wearing an Xvest.
- Incline Push-ups. Shifts the emphasis to your shoulders. Do Push-ups with your feet elevated. Check the picture at the top.
- 1 Hand and/or 1 Feet Push-ups. Pavel Tsatsouline wrote a whole book about these Push-up variations in the Naked Warrior.
- Explosive Push-ups. Build power. Lower yourself in a controlled way. Hold at the bottom for a split second. Push yourself up as hard as you can, trying to elevate yourself from the floor.
- Depth Push-ups. Plyometric exercise. Hands on 4″ blocks. Let yourself fall between the blocks. Push yourself back up on the blocks. The floor is “red hot”: think of bouncing back on the blocks before you hit the floor.
- Handclap Push-ups. Also build explosive strength. Clap your hands on the way up. Check Ross Enamait video of triple handclaps push-ups.
Common Push-up Errors. Here are some of the most common Push-up errors you’ll see. Avoid them at all costs.
- Looking Forward. Hyper-extending your neck can cause neck injuries. Keep your neck inline with the rest of your spine from start to finish.
- Leading with Your Head. Forward head position from computer work is common. Leading with your head during Push-ups aggravates the problems. Both increase risks of neck injuries. Tuck your chin and lead with your chest.
- Letting Your Torso Sack. Often caused by a weak core. Your body must be in a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Push your abs out and squeeze your glutes. Strengthen your core with Prone Bridges.
- Elbows Out. Increases the torque on your shoulder joint. Avoid on Push-ups & Bench Press. Tuck your elbows: 45° angle to your body.
If you’re doing StrongLifts 5×5 and lack the equipment to do Dips or if Dips hurt your shoulders, replace them by Push-ups for 3xF. Add a mini resistance band once you can do 15 Push-ups with good technique on your 1st set.