How to Do Push Ups

push ups

You've probably seen professional athletes and fitness experts perform a push up flawlessly, and envied how they execute this move with such precision and finesse. In this guide, you will learn about the proper way to perform push ups, what muscles are used in this exercise and how many push ups you can do in a day. It's never too late to increase your knowledge about exercise and achieve your fitness goals.

How to Do Push Ups Correctly

If you have always wondered how to do a push up, follow these instructions on standard push up form:

1. Get on your knees, and place your hands shoulder width apart on the floor. Flatten your palms and point your fingers forward.

2. Rise on your toes. Keep your elbows straight and not locked. Your knees, hips, back and shoulders should be straight as well.

3. Bend your elbows until your chest is an inch or so from the ground. Make sure your head is in a neutral position, chin tucked in. Look no more than 6 inches in front of your body.

4. Straighten your elbows and push your body back into starting position. Your knees, hips and back must be aligned and straight.

correct push up

What Is a Push Up?

"A [push up] is an anaerobic exercise that is a body-weight movement. It is performed in the prone (chest down) position with elbows bent at 90 degrees, using the arms to lower and raise your torso. The gravity and resistance that your body provides during this exercise creates functional and overall strength. … [Push ups] can be considered a 'moving plank' since the core is utilized for strength just as much as the upper body is during performance."1

Push ups can be challenging, especially for beginners. However, once you learn how to do push ups the right way, you can do more reps and boost strength and endurance.

What Muscles Do Push Ups Work?

Numerous muscles are used in push ups, which is why they can deliver a number of health benefits. Several muscles are often utilized when you do push ups, which play a big role in optimal body support and movement, including:2

Pectorals (chest)

Triceps and biceps (arms)

Deltoid (shoulder)

Serratus anterior (ribs)

Rectus abdominis or abs

Glutes

Apart from knowing the muscles that push ups target, you must also learn how to place them in the correct position in order to prevent injuries and hamper your form. For more information, read "Are You Doing Push Ups Correctly?"

What Are the Benefits of Push Ups?

Apart from challenging strength, stability, endurance and power,3 the advantages of push ups include:

Serve as a full-body workout — Push ups may help promote increased abdominal and back muscle strength, and decreased osteoporosis and fracture risk. This is because the move applies stress on the wrists and long bones in your upper arms. Furthermore, push ups may promote better body muscle balance since you can have free range of motion while doing this move.

Can be performed anywhere and anytime — Most varieties of push ups require no equipment and can be done anywhere, such as your house or even your office.

Can be tailored to your fitness level — You can tweak and determine how many push ups a day you are able to do. Don't worry if you aren't able to do many push ups at first. You can start by doing a few reps, and then gradually increase them once you feel stronger.

What Makes a Perfect Push Up Workout?

You'll know you're performing this type of exercise correctly if your upper body, lower body and torso are moving in a cohesive manner.4 Take note, however, that a "perfect" push up workout begins by ensuring you maintain proper form. Only then can you intensify workouts or challenge yourself with difficult variations. Pay attention to these body parts in particular:

Fingers — Your fingers must be spaced wide enough to allow your lower arms to work more and gain strength for better movement.

Elbows — They should bend at around 45 degrees. Position them right above your wrists and remain near your body as you push up and down to provide more leverage. Avoid putting them out at 90-degree angles or letting them move past your wrists because this may cause injuries.5

Shoulders — Pull shoulder blades and shoulders downward to firmly plant hands and elbows on the surface, and aid in targeting back muscles. Don't tense your shoulders and move them upward to your ears.

Back — Straighten your back to help reduce lower back pain risk. First, tighten quadriceps muscles to help straighten your legs from feet to hips, buttocks and abdominal muscles. After contracting these muscles and ensuring that hands are in place, move your body away from the ground.6

If lower back stress or tension due to a deeper lumbar curve occurs, address this by pushing the hips forward as you squeeze the buttocks. This will prevent further back pain.

perfect push up

How to Improve Your Push Up Workout

If you want to know how to improve your push ups and take them to another level, Men's Health provides some tips:7

Grab and try to "rip" the floor. Drive your palms downward and, in a simultaneous motion, twist as if trying to tear the floor between them apart. The biceps and elbows should rotate in such a way that they face forward.

Imagine doing a push up as if there is a business card stuck in your armpit. This will encourage lat muscle activation, help with movement and promote upper body stability.

When your upper body is in the correct position, draw your palms toward your toes by compressing your core.

Have both ankles reach each other and your feet close together. Think of it as if you're attempting to crack a nut between your ankles.

Squeeze your glutes tightly when pushing up to rotate your hips in the correct position and take away stress from your spine.

Move your body as one strong unit. Engage and tighten your muscles, not allowing them to relax.

There are also other ways you can enhance your form and execute a proper push up. Check out "Push-Ups: The Simple Exercise That Can Banish Your Bulging Belly" for more information.

Basic Errors Can Keep You From Doing the Perfect Push Up

Proper push up form is important in your success, but sometimes mistakes are inevitable. Greatist highlights some errors and how to address them:8

Sagging or arching of your lower back — Pay attention to your glutes and legs, and try to squeeze them, especially the former, while working out. This will avoid arching or sagging of the lower back.

Move the chest toward the ground first and ensure your hips are aligned with your shoulders. Don't let your hips flop to the floor.

Arm flaring — Hold elbows closer to your body, at a 20- to 40-degree angle toward your torso. Most people mistakenly position their elbows outward at a 90-degree angle, forming a "T" — this puts strain on your shoulders.

Improper breathing — Don't hold your breath when doing push ups. Inhale as you near the ground and exhale once you push back up.

Focusing on the number of reps and not the quality of the movement — Doing push ups improperly may reduce their effectiveness and impact fewer muscles.

Ensuring that each movement has a full range of motion is a must: Make your chest reach the floor as closely as possible, and then extend the elbows fully when moving up.

Lowering forehead to the ground — This is often done by people who don't have enough strength to push their chest toward the ground or surface, thereby increasing their risk of a painful neck strain.

When doing a push up, ensure that your neck is in a neutral position by staring stare at a specific spot on the floor a few feet away.

Keeping your head in a neutral position that's not too close to the floor may help reduce neck pain risk. Should your neck still feel weird, do push ups on your knees until your form improves.

Failing to stack wrists — If you don't position wrists directly under your shoulders, this negatively affects your form.

Before doing a push up, move the body slightly forward and check that the shoulders are right above your wrists.

How to Do More Push Ups

To learn how to increase the amount of reps you perform, determine your limits first, specifically by counting how many you can do. Adam Bornstein, bestselling author and CEO of Born Fitness, tabulated the average number of push ups his online coaching clients are able to perform (for women, scores may be five to 10 push ups lower compared to these numbers):

Below average — Less than 15 push ups

Average — 20 push ups

Good — 30 to 35 push ups

Excellent — 40 to 45 push ups

Extraordinary — Anything more than 50 push ups

Bornstein also suggests a protocol for improving your routine. Each routine involves performing each push up as quickly as possible. After doing all the workouts, take a five-day rest and assess your "score" by performing as many repetitions as you can in one minute:9

Week 1 (two workouts) — Do 10 sets of eight reps and rest for two minutes between sets. If you aren't able to perform eight push ups, rest accordingly.

Week 2 (two workouts) — Do eight sets of 10 reps and allot a minute of rest between sets.

Week 3 (two workouts) — Do six sets of 15 reps and allot a minute of rest between sets.

Week 4 (two workouts) — Do four sets of 20 reps and allot two minutes of rest between sets.

Push Up Variations You Should Know About

There are different push ups that you can incorporate in your workout routine, if you want to deviate from the standard push up. Here are examples of modified push ups you can challenge yourself with:

Incline push ups — If you want to focus on improving chest and abdominal core muscle strength, an incline push up may help. This involves placing your hands on a stable chair or bench and planting your feet on the floor:10

1. Get into standard push up position and place your hands, which must be shoulder width apart, on an elevated surface, chair or bench. Ensure that your elbows remain in place.

2. With a straight body, move your chest toward the surface or bench.

3. Pause, and while engaging your core muscles, move back into starting position.

incline push up

Decline push ups — This has the same goal as an incline push up, although this time, your feet are propped up on a bench or stable chair, while your hands are on the floor:11

1. Get into standard push up position, and place your feet on an elevated surface. Place your hands, which must be shoulder width apart, on the floor, and tuck elbows into place.

2. Move your chest toward the floor, while keeping your body in a straight position.

3. Pause, and while engaging core muscles, move back into starting position.

decline push up

Tricep push ups — You may target your chest, core and triceps12 with this move:13

1. Lie down on your stomach. Keep your legs together and direct your hands forward, holding them close to your body, right under your chest.

2. Straighten your elbows and tuck them into place. Once your body is aligned in a straight line, use your knees or toes as a pivot point to push up from the ground.

3. Return to starting position without your stomach touching the ground.

tricep push up

Close grip push ups — According to Muscle and Strength magazine, these push ups mainly work out your triceps, and can be done by beginners too:14

1. Place your palms on the floor and allow your thumbs to touch each other.

2. Extend your legs backward, straighten your body and ensure that only your toes are hitting the floor.

3. Bend slightly at the elbows to maintain tension in the triceps.

4. Slowly lower yourself as far as you can without touching the floor. While doing this move, straighten your body.

5. Pause, and without locking the elbows out, move upward to the starting position.

close grip push up

Consider these three more advanced types of push ups:

Plyometric push ups — Start in the standard push up position. When your sternum reaches the ground, hold the position, breathe for around three seconds and do a sudden push upward.

Diamond push ups — Put your hands together under your chest, with the thumb and index fingers forming a diamond shape once in the standard push up position.15

Weighted push ups Perform 30 reps of the standard push up to help prevent bad form or poor posture. Then place a weight plate, sandbag or weight vest that's around 10 percent of your total body weight on your back and perform more push ups. Once you're ready, you can add more items or weights that are 5 to 10 percent more than your current threshold.16

There are other different types of push ups you can incorporate into your routine, provided that you sustain correct form. Before doing so, however, learn how the move should be done properly and perform it under the watchful eye of a trainer or coach (especially if you're doing it for the first time):17,18,19,20,21

Clap push ups

Handstand push ups

Pike push ups

Dive bomber push ups

Fingertip push ups

Shoulder push ups

Hand release push ups

Knuckle push ups

Plyo push ups

Planche push ups

Archer push ups

Triangle push ups

TRX push ups22

Reverse push ups

Military push ups

Wide push ups

Scapular push ups23

Elevated push ups

Hindu push ups

Superman push ups24

Spiderman push ups or spider push ups

Dumbbells push ups



How Many Push Ups Should I Be Able to Do?

To determine how many push ups per day you should do, be mindful of your current fitness level. A way to check this is by knowing if your core is strong enough to keep your back straight. Doing a one-minute plank may help you with this, and help you identify if you can do push ups properly, along with how many you can do. It's very important to maintain proper form before increasing the number of reps in your routine.

However, some people may find out that when it comes to their core and upper body strength, one area may be stronger than the other. If you have maintained the plank, you can begin doing push ups. For people with a weak core, adding planks to your set may assist you in speeding up the pace of your push ups. Additionally, it may be more effective to perform several sets of push ups throughout the day, instead of all at once.

Push Ups for Beginners

Personally, I find it more effective to do several sets scattered throughout the day instead of doing all sets at one time. By doing so, you may add more movements into your daily routine and derive more push up benefits. If you still lack strength to do a standard push up, consider planting your knees on the floor instead of lifting them off the ground. While keeping the body straight, move your heels up toward the buttocks.

You may do this exercise slowly, but still make sure that you utilize full range of motion and let your chest gently touch the floor. This enables you to pull your elbows toward your sides and lets you target chest muscles more. Wall push ups are another good addition to a push up workout for beginners:

1. Stand at least 3 feet away from a wall, then place your palms flat on the wall and lean against it.

2. Do a push up by using your arms to push backward and then slowly move forward

If you can do about a dozen wall push ups easily, you may now perform standard push ups, balancing on your toes and straightening your legs. Then, once you are able to do at least two to three sets of 12 or more standard push ups, you can move to more advanced techniques.

How to Do Push Ups to Target Body Area

Here are some of the best push ups to help tone your chest, biceps and abs. These may be helpful if you want to focus on these specific areas of your body. If you're unfamiliar with how these push ups work, talk to a physical trainer first in order to learn about the proper form so you can minimize your risk of injury.

Push Ups for Chest

According to the book "Total Sports Conditioning for Athletes 50+", some upper chest push ups and lower chest push ups you may want to try include:25

Standard push up

Single arm push ups

Advanced push up (this entails pausing down for one to two seconds, while holding breath)

Diamond push up

Wide push up

Clapping push up

Push Ups for Biceps

Push up variations like decline and windmill push ups may help develop better biceps.26 If you want the benefits of improving your core and your upper body, try doing plank push ups:27

1. Assume a plank position and straighten your arms and legs. Place your hands under the shoulders and see to it that your feet are hip width apart. Suck navel in toward the spine.

2. Move your right forearm toward the floor or surface, followed by the left, and move into an elbow plank position. Ensure that your torso remains parallel to the floor.

3. Once done, plant both your hands on the floor, and push back upward to a plank position. Do not move the torso from side to side while doing this.

4. Perform this for a total of 10 reps, switch directions and do another set of 10 reps.

Push Ups for Abs

Push ups are effective and possibly even more efficient than sit ups for ab toning, as they may help burn fat and enhance the strength of your rectus abdominis muscle. If this is your goal, modify your push up workouts by:

Sucking in your belly button — When you plank, try to pull the belly button in to help tighten the deep inner transverse abdominis muscle. This muscle, which the belly button is attached to, is responsible for keeping the gut in place and delivering support to your spine and vertebrae.

Performing a Kegel squeeze to help you feel and concentrate on abdominal muscles — Pull the lower pelvic muscles upward and clench them tightly. A Kegel squeeze can be likened to stopping urine mid-flow.

You may also do more advanced push up dumbbell rows to target abs and deep core muscles, once you have appropriate weights for your strength and fitness level:

1. Assume the standard push up position. Put the dumbbells at a 45-degree angle away from you.

2. Pull in your belly button, do the Kegel squeeze and inhale once you move toward the floor. As you go up, exhale.

3. When your arms are fully extended, grab the right dumbbell and pull it toward your chest to do a row. Let go of the dumbbell, do another push up, and take the left dumbbell and lift it.

Safety Tips for Doing Push Ups

Having poor push up form is a recipe for disaster. Incorrectly doing push ups can raise your risk for certain injuries like wrist pain, rotator cuff injuries and lower back pain. Wrist stretches between sets may help mitigate risk for wrist pain while doing push ups. Place your knees and hands on the floor. With the backs of your hands on the surface and your fingers angled toward your toes, stretch the muscles often targeted during push ups.

You may also stretch your wrist muscles by intertwining your fingers and making sure both palms are touching, forming a "ball." Then, roll hands clockwise and counterclockwise for 15 to 30 seconds each.28 Apart from alleviating wrist stress, work on releasing built-up tension in your core, back and legs while doing push ups.

Injuries can develop if tension remains in the body post-workout. Doing a bridge stretch over a Swiss ball after a set may aid in lowering injury risk. Rest your head and upper back on the Swiss ball. At the same time, stretch your arms perpendicularly to your body and allow hips to relax toward the floor. Maintain this position for one minute.29

Push Ups Are a Good Addition to Your Fitness Arsenal

There is a sense of accomplishment when you know you're able to properly perform push ups. For some, it may be satisfying to increase the difficulty level with each routine, and for others, it's enough to reap some of the health benefits that are vital for your body. Either way, you can initiate some positive health changes just by doing some reps of this low-cost exercise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Push Ups

Q: How can you get better at doing push ups?

A: Improving at push ups does not happen overnight. Start by determining the number of push ups you can properly perform, and doing workouts with this much reps. Once you feel your strength increasing, you can perform more reps or do more advanced push ups, while making sure you get sufficient rest too.30

Q: What is the difference between doing push ups versus a bench press?

A: What sets a bench press apart from a push up is the method utilized to target various muscles. People can bench press using a machine dedicated to this move, or improvise by laying down on a bench and lifting a barbell or dumbbells.31

On the other hand, push ups involve a person lying down face first on a floor or surface and using the arms to move upward and downward. Most of the time, only bodyweight is involved in a push up, save for cases wherein dumbbells or weights are added.32 A major advantage of push ups is the opportunity to utilize free range of motion, unlike the latter that tends to restrict your shoulder blades.

Despite their differences, both exercises require correct posture and form, not just for increased workout efficiency and success, but for decreased injuries too.33

Q: Can I do push ups every day?

A: If your body has gotten used to doing push ups, you can do them every day provided that:

You are aware of your fitness level and know the number of push ups you can perform.34

You remember the proper push up form and ensure that you stick to it to prevent injuries.

You perform push ups staggered throughout the day instead of doing them all at once.

You allot a rest period to promote muscle recovery.35

Q: How many push ups should I do during a workout?

A: As Adam Bornstein of Born Fitness highlights, most people can perform about 20 push ups on average. However, the answer to this question ultimately depends on your fitness level. Ideally, your "baseline" should be the number of push ups you can do with proper form.36

Q: What are other effective push up alternatives I can try?

A: If you're looking for alternatives to push ups, consider the following:37,38

Pull ups/chin ups

Dips

Pulldowns

Pushdowns

Fly

Resistance band chest press

Chest fly on exercise ball

Triceps dips

Wall presses

High planks

Plank taps

Push planks

Walking planks

Suspension rows


+ Sources and References