How to do A Push-up Correctly & Safely (10 Variations With Video)

The push-up is one of the best exercises in the fitness industry.

What makes the push-up so great is that there are many variations you can do, making it one of the most scalable exercises possible.

Unfortunately, many people perform this exercise incorrectly.

In this post, you will learn how to do a push-up correctly, even if you are a beginner.

Let’s get started.

alex and brittany at the top of a push-up position

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Okay, let’s get started.



HOW TO DO PUSH-UPS FOR BEGINNERS

PUSH-UP BENEFITS

  • The push-up strengthens the shoulders, triceps, chest, and core muscles.
  • It teaches you how to maintain a stable neutral shoulder position.
  • It requires no equipment, yet you can quickly scale it to challenge any person.

WHAT MUSCLES ARE WORKED DURING THE PUSH-UP?

  • Chest (Pectoralis Major)
  • Triceps
  • Anterior Deltoids (Shoulders)
  • Upper Back (via Scapular Retraction)
  • Abs
  • Glutes

THE PERFECT PUSH-UP TECHNIQUE (STEP-BY-STEP)

  • Squat down and place your outstretched arms on the floor in front of you with your hands shoulder-width apart
  • Keep your fingers pointing forward
  • Brace your core and straighten your legs out behind you to get into the starting position
  • Ideally, your body should be in a straight line from your neck to your toes
  • From this position, squeeze your glutes and keep your core muscles tight
  • Before you begin the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades (scapula) together and maintain this position (this will keep your shoulders in a healthy position throughout the exercise)
alex in the top pushup position with his hands under his elbows and elbows under his shoulders
  • Start the descent by tucking your elbows to a 45-degree angle to your body
  • As you descend, do not let your spinal position change
  • Lower yourself until your chest touches the floor to achieve a full range of motion
alex in the bottom pushup position with his elbows bent head neutral and spine flat
  • Once your chest touches the ground, press back up until your elbows are locked out
  • Make sure to keep your glutes and abs engaged the entire time.

What If I Can’t Do A Single Push-up?

If you’re just starting, it’s perfectly normal not to be able to do a single push-up.

The good news is that you can always scale the exercise back to an easier variation.

For example, you can try doing them against a wall or on an elevated surface that you can lean on for support. Just be sure to keep your back straight and your core engaged.

Here is a video demonstrating several variations you can work through.

PUSH-UP PROGRESSION AND PUSH-UP VARIATIONS

COMMON PUSH-UP MISTAKES

LETTING YOUR SPINE SAG

It is essential to keep your glutes and your core tight throughout the movement. Keep your spine neutral and do not allow any change from this position.

FLARING YOUR ELBOWS

It will help if you tuck your elbows to approximately a 45-degree angle. Flaring out your elbows (about 90 degrees) is inefficient and can cause shoulder strain.

LETTING YOUR SHOULDERS INTERNALLY ROTATE

It is essential to retract your scapula and lock your shoulder into an externally rotated position. Allowing your shoulder to rotate internally under load can cause wear and tear to your shoulder joint.

If unsure, speak with a personal trainer to help you with the correct form.


By the way… if you want to see a complete list of all the best exercises for every body part, check out our E-book: The Best Compound Exercises For Your Entire Body!

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In it, you will find complete written descriptions on how to do each movement with proper form, plus a video tutorial for each exercise!


FREQUENTLY ASKED PUSH-UP QUESTIONS

Are Push-Ups Good For You?

Yes! The traditional push-up is one of the best exercises you can perform to develop great upper body strength. It does not matter if you are a novice, an advanced athlete, a male, a female, whatever. This exercise can benefit you tremendously.

Why Can’t I Do Push-ups?

If you are new to working out, your muscles may not yet be strong enough to support your body weight. The push-up requires a lot of upper body strength, specifically in the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

It also requires good core stability and balance. If you lack any of these elements, performing regular push-ups won’t be easy.

You can always scale back to wall push-ups or incline push-ups with your hands elevated to build the strength to do them.

It also requires good core stability and balance. If you lack any of these elements, it will be difficult to perform regular push-ups.

You can always scale back to wall push-ups or incline push-ups with your hands elevated to build strength to do them.

Is It Ok To Do Push-Ups Every Day?

Yes, you can do push-ups daily; however, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid overtraining or injury.

First, focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to do a few perfect push-ups than dozens of poorly executed reps.

Second, vary your routine. Try to use a different variation. If you do the same thing daily, your body will quickly adapt and stop seeing results.

Third, listen to your body. If you’re feeling sore or exhausted, take a rest day. Push-ups are an excellent exercise for building strength and conditioning. Still, like any exercise, they need to be done in moderation.

I do not recommend that you perform push-ups every day, and I prefer that you take at least a 48-hour break before training the same exercise again. Training them 2-4 times a week is sufficient.

What Happens If You Do Push-ups Wrong?

Doing push-ups wrong can lead to various injuries, including neck, shoulders, and lower back strain.

In addition, if you do push-ups improperly, you won’t be targeting the right muscles and won’t experience all of the benefits of this exercise.

Can Push-Ups Build Muscle?

Yes, push-ups are great for building muscle in the anterior upper body. However, it is vital that you progressively overload the push-up.

You will need to make the exercise more challenging if you can do 12 to 15 repetitions with ease.

For example, you should perform a more challenging variation, or you can add external resistance (like a weight vest) to yourself to make it more difficult. This is my favorite weight vest.

How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Push-ups?

Most people can see significant improvements within a few weeks with consistent practice. Depending on your fitness level, you may see results as early as four weeks, while others might need eight weeks.

I Have Shoulder Pain When I Do Push-Ups

Shoulder pain during push-ups is likely due to you letting your shoulders internally rotate at the bottom of the movement. At the bottom of the exercise, retract your scapula and screw your shoulders back into their sockets. Do your best to maintain this position throughout the exercise.

If you are still experiencing pain, then work on your shoulder and chest mobility.

I Have Wrist Pain When I Do Push-Ups

Wrist pain during push-ups is likely due to poor wrist flexibility. Focus on stretching your wrists and forearms.

In the meantime, you can also use parallettes to maintain your wrist in a natural position.

What Is The Best Push-Up Variation For Chest?

The best push-up for the chest muscle is wide grip push-ups. In this variation, you set your hands wider than shoulder-width and let your elbows flare out closer to 90 degrees.

This variation places the chest on a much greater stretch. However, this movement can easily strain your tendons, so exercising caution is essential. Because of that, I prefer the standard push-up with your elbows tucked at 45 degrees from your body.

alex in a pushup position with his hands much wider than shoulder width

What Is The Best Push-Up For Upper Chest?

The decline push-up (with your feet elevated) is the best push-up for the upper chest. This exercise increases the weight you have to lift and changes the angle at which you are pressing to an acute angle. As such, the shoulders and the upper chest do much more of the work.

alex in a push up position with his feet elevated

What Is The Best Push-Up For Triceps?

The best push-up for the triceps is the close grip push-up. This exercise requires you to tuck your arms completely at your sides to about a 15-degree angle from your body. As such, it emphasizes the arms much more than the chest. See the video above for a demonstration.

Can Push-ups Give You Abs?

Push-ups alone won’t give you abs, but performing push-ups with proper form will strengthen your core muscles.

Push-Ups Vs Dips: Which Is Better?

The push-up and the dip are great exercises to develop upper body strength. Neither is better, and I recommend you use both in your training.

Remember that they train similar muscles; however, the dip emphasizes the triceps much more than the push-up. As a result, the dip is much more challenging.

Push-Up Vs Bench: Which is Better?

The push-up is a calisthenics, aka bodyweight exercise, and the bench press is a weight exercise. Calisthenics has its advantages over weights, and weights have their advantages over calisthenics.

Push-Up Advantages:

  • You will build more core strength with the push-up
  • You will be able to do more repetitions with push-ups
  • You can do more variations with push-ups
  • You can help rehabilitate upper body injuries with push-ups
  • Push-ups don’t require any equipment whatsoever

Now contrast that with the bench press.

Bench Press Advantages:

  • You will be able to lift more weight with the bench press
  • You will be able to build more muscle mass with the bench press

Because each has unique benefits, I recommend you use both in your training. However, it is essential to remember that they both train the same muscle groups, which can affect recovery.

Here is my post on doing the bench press properly.

How Can I Do A Push-Up With One Hand?

Do not attempt one-handed push-ups until you get strong in many push-up variations. First, master the basic push-up. Then get good at close grip aka diamond push-ups. Then get good at decline push-ups. Finally, get good at uneven push-ups and then lever push-ups.

I go over all of these in this post of the complete list of calisthenics exercises.

Once you have mastered all those exercises, you should practice one-handed push-ups.

How Can I Integrate This Exercise Into My Workout Routine?

Check out our workout template for busy individuals to learn how to incorporate the push-up and every other functional exercise into your training routine.

PUSH-UP CHALLENGE

Here’s a quick challenge you should strive to achieve. Or, you can check out our push-up standards and a few others we have created.

Men: Perform 50 repetitions in 1 set

Women: Perform 30 repetitions in 1 set

PUSH-UP ALTERNATIVES

The push-up is a great way to train the pressing muscles of the upper body. However, here are a few other strength training exercises you can do to target similar muscle groups.



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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.