Home Fitness Tips How To Do Push-Ups the Right Way & Improve Physical Fitness

How To Do Push-Ups the Right Way & Improve Physical Fitness

Push-ups are one of the most basic and important exercises that you can do.  However, too many people either can’t do them, or don’t want to do push-ups the right way.  There’s no need to be afraid of the push-up!  The push-up is your friend and can help you to get into great shape. We are going to show you how to do push-ups for beginners, and&nbhow to do push-ups the right way.

Here’s another fitness tip that can help you get one step closer to reaching your potential… The push-up, along with its complementary bodyweight movement the pull-up, is the bane of most people’s fitness existence.  From the time these exercises were introduced to us back in grade school, many of us have struggled to perform them, and way too many people – adults and kids alike – can’t or don’t do them. A little while ago I provided you with some pull-up fitness tips, and now I’m going to favor you with a little of my push-up wisdom.  I’ll keep saying this until I’m blue in the face, but everyone should be able to perform proper push-ups and pull-ups. To perform push-ups properly you have to be in the proper starting position.  Start from a prone position – belly to the floor – with hands just outside shoulders with the fingers facing forward and arms fully extended. The feet can be together or as much as a foot apart.  The hips should not sag towards the ground at any point during the exercise, and should be held in a position ever so slightly lower than the shoulders.  Weight is forward on the hands so that the arms form a straight line from the wrists to the shoulders; the shoulders should not be behind the wrists. From this starting position, bend the elbows and lower the body until the upper arms are parallel to the ground – the chest does not have to touch the ground – then push up to return to the starting position.  Remember to hold the middle firm so that the hips don’t rise and fall separately from the rest of the body.  Stay as rigid as a board throughout the movement. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. This is the only way to do a push-up. For those of you who cannot do a push-up, here are some techniques to help get you there.  And don’t bother with “modified” or “girl’s” push-ups that are done with knees on the floor.

This exercise is a waste of time and, despite conventional wisdom, does NOT prepare the body to perform “real” push-ups. The first step to prepare the body to do push-ups is to work on maintaining the proper start position.  What seems like an easy enough thing to do is actually be difficult for many people.  So the first drill for those who can’t do a push-up is to get into the starting position and hold it for 30 seconds, breathing steadily the entire time. Maintaining this push-up posture for 30 seconds at a time is the best way for a beginner to strengthen the body and prepare for doing real push-ups.  The “modified” push does nothing to develop the core strength and balance that’s required to do proper push-ups.  If you haven’t tried this “static hold” exercise, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it can be, especially when doing 3 or 4 sets of 30-second holds, and how much more difficult it is to hold this position than it is to do modified, bastardized push-ups. Progress from this “top position” static hold to a “bottom position” static hold and the body is in a position where the chest is a few inches off of the floor.

This is a more difficult drill, so shoot for sets of 10-15 seconds in duration. Once the two variations of “static hold” push-ups have been mastered, progress to “negative” push-ups.  Negative push-ups will help to build the strength needed to do real, full push-ups.  To do a negative push-up get into the starting position and slowly lower your body until your chest touches the floor, maintaining strict control during the movement.  When doing “negatives” there’s no concern for the push phase of the exercise, so once your chest touches the floor just get back to the staring position by going to your knees and resetting. The term “negative” is used to describe what is technically known as the eccentric contraction.  During the down phase of the push-up the primary movers – the chest and the triceps muscles – are lengthening, which describes what occurs during an eccentric contraction.  There is the belief that strength is built during the eccentric, or negative phase of an exercise.  The most common adaptation of negatives is on the bench press, where the bar is slowly lowered to the chest while a spotter lifts the bar back to the starting position. Without getting any more technical, doing negatives versions of different kinds of exercises takes advantage of the muscles’ ability to lower a weight that is much heavier than the maximum weight that can be lifted.  If you’ve ever gotten stuck at the bottom position doing squats or the bench press, you’ve seen this principle in action; lowering 300 pounds under control is one thing, but pressing it is another story. So don’t ignore push-ups, as this body-weight exercise can help to get into, and stay, in great shape.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Fit
    i agree this is good info and i just realized how out of shape i am as far as muscle wise because i used to be able to do at least 65 push ups in a minute but now i’m lucky to get 40

  2. While the plank, or “static top position,” is a great ab/core workout, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on my ability to do a pushup. I can see how a weak core would keep someone from doing a pushup, but someone with a strong core and no arm or chest strength still isn’t going to be able to do a pushup.
    This article brings up a good point, but it seems incomplete.

  3. the static hold isn’t the only way to improve strength, which is why i mention the negative. strength is build in the eccentric phase and properly performing negative pushups will develop more functional strength in the chest and triceps than will bench pressing.

  4. Great info. I’m 46 yrs. old and have been doing pushups for years. They have kept my core, chest and arms in great shape. I have considered using those “perfect pushup” handles. What are your thoughts on those?

  5. thanks for the kind words!
    i’m not a big believer in buying equipment that is for an activity that can be done without said piece of equipment. if you want to change things up with your push-ups you can do them holding dumbbells, which allows to you get more depth, put your feet up to change the angle or purchase gymnastic rings that you can do push-ups with.
    to get a similar action to the perfect push-up handles, take 2 small towels and place them on a floor with a surface that will allow them to slide, and rotate your hands on the towels in the same way the handles allow. this is much more difficult. you can also put your feet on a towel – or just wear socks! – which will force your upper body to work harder during push-ups.

  6. I personally like the knee push up for weaker clients. BY anchoring on knees you cut the length of mechanical lever and therefore decreasing resistance. It sitll allows your shoulder to perform at full range of adduction as if it was performed in “real” push-up format

  7. I know I’m two months late, but here goes.
    I’m 17, and I cannot even do 1 pushup. I’m 5’10”, 144 lbs, Male. I lost a lot a weight over the past few years.
    I’ll try the routine of Statics and Negatives over the next few days, but I want you to recommend, how many sets of how many should I do daily?

  8. I know this article is fairly old but I thought I would share something with everyone who reads this and takes it as absolute fact.
    While I agree with almost everything the author says – I have to disagree with the fact that he says “modified” or “girl” push ups do not help at all.
    I went to Army basic combat training in March of 2009 and I could not complete one correct military push up. Every night before I went to sleep I would do “modified” or “girl” push ups to muscle failure 5 times. After a while I was able to perform 4-5 correct push ups. My routine then changed to the following: as many correct push ups as possible and when I couldn’t do anymore I would do modified push ups to failure. I did this 4 nights per week in addition to our normal PT schedule and I was able to complete the 40 push ups required for graduation from Army BCT.
    I encourage anyone having trouble with their push ups to try what works for them. As the author says though – focus on your form! However, if you can’t complete a push up then form really doesn’t matter, so get to where you can do at least 2-3 push ups and go from there!

    • Hey, stranger things have happened! All I will add is that you might have had a better response to the exercise if you had performed negatives and static holds. But I don’t want to quibble, you’re getting it done!

  9. Hey I am a member of the National Guard and I am having trouble reaching the 42 push ups needed to pass our PT test. I can manage roughly 25 in the two min. time period that is alloted. But I just cannot seem to find the plan that works best do you know of a plan that will get the job done and help me reach my goal?

    • Tim:
      You can try a variety of strategies. What I have done with my armed forces academy clients is manipulate the amount of push ups per set and rest period. For instance perform sets of 5 reps with 15-20 seconds of rest in between sets until you have performed 100 or so total reps. Next time you try this scheme you can shorten the rest period or add one or two reps and keep the rest periods the same. You can also perform 10 reps with 30-40 seconds rest and adjust the reps and rest periods as in the first example.
      Don’t just try to do one set of a max amount of reps, as this is the least effective method of improving your push up proficiency.

  10. Great article, most my clients hate doing push ups, I use a system that slowly builds up the strength and number of reps over time, which I have found the clients have benefited from. Now they may find it easier, but don’t know if they enjoy them still!!

  11. What you forgot to mention also was to keep the shoulder blades in neutral, so as to not have any protraction or retraction of the scapula. This way the pectoralis major will be properly worked and other faulty movements which will bring in other muscles will be limited.

  12. I’m an 18 year old female, going to Navy RTC (bootcamp) on April 18, 2011. About two months and 23 days from now. I can only do 2 pushups (I’ve never done them before lol). Doing your regimen, will I have enough time to get done 20 push ups in 2 minutes by the time I leave for bootcamp?

    • Mia
      If you use the variety of exercises in the progression you will give yourself the best chance to get the 20 push-ups. I wish you had more time, but if you’re tough enough to sign up for the military, you’re tough enough to get this work done!

    • I wouldn’t say it’s normal. but it certainly isn’t unusual. It also depends on how long you held each set for. Many people lack range of motion in their wrists, so stiff or sore wrists after doing static holds, or even during the holds isn’t unusual.

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