While easy for some, push-ups still represent a challenge for beginners that have low upper body strength. In my experience, push-ups are especially hard on woman, even in some that train regularly, because very little emphasis is put on the upper part of the body, due to the fear of getting to much muscle (what is not true at all).
Other usual problem is believing you are doing them right, but you are not. Because of that, I’ve included a specific section for the usual mistakes on the bottom.
But let’s get into the important stuff:
Steps to a proper push up
Place your hands on the floor right bellow your shoulders, pointing your index fingers forward
Put yourself in the plank position, paying attention to have the feet, hips and shoulders aligned
Make sure your arms are about 45º from your body and engage your core (remember to keep your butt aligned and contracted)
Your feet can be closer or wider apart (the first will have less stability, if wider you can get more stability)
Now go down, focusing on moving at the same time both your hips and shoulders
I recommend you go down as much as possible, almost getting your chest to the floor. This way you will able to train the full range of motion your body allows.
When going up make sure you keep your core engager (no not arch your back) and remember to extend your arms at the top.
How to do the push up when you still can’t do it right
Depending on your strength level there are several incremental variations you can use to get there.
The easier one, and the one I recommend only if you absolutely cannot do any of the other, is the wall push-up. It is meant for people with low upper body strength and should be used as a steppingstone to the next variations.
The concept is similar described above, but you will use the wall instead of the floor. You should place yourself at least your arm’s length away from the wall (it will be harder as you get away of the wall). Straighten your arms to the wall and flex as if you were doing a normal push up. Although it is easier to keep your body straight, focus not to curve your back when doing it.
The inclined push-up is the next step from the previous version – it all depends on the height of the structure you put your hands on (the higher, the easier). You can easily progress it by reducing as your training progresses (stairs are good for this).
The good thing is that you will manage to see your progress clearly, as you reduce the height, but not everybody will have stairs at home or a stable structure to do this. Yes, you can use a chair, the living room table or the kitchen table. But not all are suitable and sometimes there is no easy way to position our hands. It’s a matter of taste mostly, but I still do not recommend this as the “go to” option.
The knee push-ups are the ones I usually recommend, even for the ones that can do one or two reps, as this mimic well the movement and allow you to switch easily.
To do them, simple place your hands on the floor as described above for the standard push-up, but instead of moving to plank position you keep your knees on the floor (you can cross your feet if you want). Pay attention to keep your core engaged and back completely straight (no butts up!). Once you have the position correct you can start executing the movement.
Mistakes to avoid when doing push ups
My biggest concern when people start exercising by themselves is the risk of injury. That is why all my plans have, not only video, but also descriptions of the movement, as it is quite easy to think we are doing it right just by trying to repeat what we see. If you are forced to think of how you should move your body, you will more likely do it well.
And that is also why I like to include this mistakes sections. I hope that by looking at the issues it alerts you to control better and avoid the following:
- Placing the arms to wide apart: doing so puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on your shoulders and focus also a lot on the chest muscles, limiting the aid the triceps give to the movement.
- Body not aligned: when your butt is too far down or too high it means you are not using well your abs, not providing stability to your body (and in the first case, there is the risk of hurting your back). Part of the beauty of the push-up is that we can work a set of different muscles with only one exercise – but only if we do it right.
- Not extending the arms and not going down enough: in this case there is not a question of possible injury, but more on not getting all you can from the movement – you should aim to use your body to its optimal range of motion. It is very common when the person does not yet have the strength to do well the push-up. If that is your case, I recommend you opt to use one of the variations above until you have the strength to go into the normal push-up.