Push-ups are one of the fundamental moves that you will find essential to your workout even as a beginner. It is a classic functional fitness move that will work your whole body in one way or another. That is if you’re doing it right.
It is very important that you learn the right form from the very beginning. I find that it’s harder to unlearn an improper form than to learn the proper one.
Expect, though, that the right form won’t be easy to do in the beginning. The reason why so many people have the wrong form is that their muscles try to compensate for the strain and the pain that the right form brings.
Unfortunately, having the wrong form will only backfire. For one, you might not progress properly in the future. You might be counting fifty push ups with the wrong form and still be in square one.
Another reason you might want to care about the proper form is the fact that improper form causes injuries. Those new to the exercise tend to arch their lower back excessively, which causes extra strain on their backs.
Fortunately, though, you do not have to be perfect on the first try. There are a lot of ways to progress from zero to push ups without getting into the push up immediately. You are going to want to be patient, though. After all, seeing yourself get stronger and stronger with time and training makes it all worth it.
The Basic "Push Up"
Although the basic push up looks simple enough, the fact is that with the proper form, it must not feel simple. You do not only engage your arms but your entire body! Don’t let that intimidate you, though! I will try my best to help you understand what steps you must take, and you’ll be pushing up in no time.
Step One - Upper Body Formation
Your hands and arms are supposed to be spread a bit more than shoulder-width apart to provide you with a little bit more stability.
To add to that stability, position your elbows 45 degrees away from your body. This will generally provide you with the optimal amount of support without straining your upper body, although if you feel adjustments need to be made, don’t hesitate to go wider or narrower.
Another thing that will keep you more stable as you do the push up is to spread your fingers wide on the ground, generally facing forward. Tense up your back and arm muscles and make sure your lower back is not drooping down. That is a very common mistake even for veteran fitness enthusiasts.
Your head must be facing down on the mat and not hanging by your shoulders. Make sure your head is basically a straight line all the way down to your core and to your legs. Speaking of core…
Step Two - Core Formation
Keeping your back flat is essential to have the correct form, and the best way to prevent your back from drooping and causing any injuries is to engage your core. Tensing up your core will help straighten out your back.
Engaging your core will not only keep your form stable and your body balanced, but you will also reap the benefits of a stronger, tighter-looking core.
Step Three - Lower Body Formation
Your lower body is probably the easiest part of doing the correct form as it comes the most naturally. Some things you might want to remember is that you must engage your leg muscles.
Engaging your leg muscles will help keep your form stable. You can do this by squeezing your glutes to keep your body in a straight line from head to toe. (Yup, squeeze your butt).
You can also imagine that you’re pushing into your heels, engaging your hamstring.
Performing the Push Up
Now that your starting push up position is perfect and engaged, you are ready to do the movement itself. Think of push ups as a moving plank, with your whole body in a straight line as you lower yourself.
You have to be mindful as beginners tend to lower hips first or chest first. Think as if your body is moving as a single unit.
Lower your body by bending at the elbows. Do this until elbows are parallel to or in line with your shoulders. Your chest might be touching the ground at this point, which is perfectly fine.
Make sure you don’t strain your shoulders and neck just to get this low. Instead, do alternative exercises or modifications in order to get that upper boy strength before accomplishing the full push up.
Regression Exercises for Push Ups
Adding these practices into your push up form can make you much stronger in a lot of muscle groups, from the very obvious arm, shoulder, and chest muscles to the less thought of core muscles and hamstrings.
However, some might not find these practices to be as simple as they are on paper. If you’re a beginner who finds it difficult to get into form, there are other practices that you might want to do first before attempting the basic push up.
Level 1: Wall Push Ups
If you know your upper body strength really isn’t good enough to handle any horizontal push ups, wall push ups can definitely help you warm up your upper body strength until you are ready to do harder upper body exercises.
Start by standing with your arms stretched out with your hands flat on the wall. Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
Do the push up as you would horizontally — arm, shoulder, core, leg muscles engaged. Your feet, however, should be flat on the floor. As you bend your elbows and move your body near the wall, you are going to feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
Level 2: Elevated Push Ups
This is a more difficult version of the push up, but going through this level will help get you to the basic push up.
Look for any elevated surface. The height depends on your upper body strength; the higher the surface, the more support you will get, and thus the easier the push up will be. Some might choose chairs or sofas; others might use the side of a treadmill.
Do the push up as you would normally, only with your hands on the elevated surface. Keep your muscles engaged and your body in a straight line.
Level 3: Knee Push Ups
This is usually called the push up for girls, which is quite misleading as it implies that girls have weaker upper body strength! Make no mistake, though; this is simply another variation of the basic push up. Knee push ups are easier because they reduce the weight that your arms will have to handle.
Start with your upper body in the same position as it would be in the plank position. Your knees, however, are going to be touching the floor, but the same principle applies; your whole body should be in a straight line from your head to your knees.
Keep your glute muscles engaged to prevent your hips from drooping. This will train your arms to handle your weight horizontally but still with some kind of support.
Having any wrist problems with your push ups?
Those who are only beginning with this kind of move usually complain about wrist pain. This can be quite scary, but this only means that your wrist has not reached the level of flexibility and strength that it needs to handle your bodyweight.
You can start by doing a more vertical or inclined push up with your hands curled on a bar. This will have less impact on your wrists.
Push Up Training Video
If you’re after a more visual training method of doing push ups, check out the great video by Calisthenic Movement below:
Push ups are one of the most difficult exercises to master, but mastering it can show how much progress you’ve made in your fitness journey. It’s no easy feat to do the basic push up with proper form, so when you do achieve it, make sure to pat yourself on the back.
If you find that you’re having more trouble than you had expected, don’t beat yourself up. It’s completely normal not to get the proper form on the first try, and even veterans in the fitness community sometimes fail at getting the proper form.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it right away. There are tons of exercises that you can do to build up your upper body strength, and doing the regression exercises I mentioned earlier can build your muscles specifically for push ups.
Over time, you will see the importance of push ups and understand that they are not only important to building your upper body strength but also your core strength and overall fitness levels.
This foundational move will help you master other moves more efficiently and quickly. You might want to check out other foundational bodyweight moves such as the plank, squats, and lunges.
If you’re after more routines, check out these intense sweat exercises to lose weight at home. If you’re trying to add more equipment and workout regimes at your home then check out my previous post on the home gym essentials.
Having all of these moves together will make you a stronger, fitter, more well-rounded athlete! Good luck, and remember to keep smiling through the pain! It’s all worth it in the end.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.