Strength & Fitness

The Push-Up

The push-up is one of the many foundational movements we do at the gym. While it’s not as glamorous or exciting as performing a clean or overhead squat, it is still a movement that requires sound technique to be done correctly. 

Why the push-up is so important

Performing a push-up is a great way to teach your body’s muscles to work together. To do so, you must create stability through your shoulder girdle, midsection, and hips while moving a load with your upper body. Creating stability in these areas will have positive effects on other movements, such as overhead presses and pull-ups. It also helps your body move correctly and will prevent injury when trying to add intensity to these movements.

3 common mistakes while performing push-ups

  1. Poor hand/elbow position

There are many different variations in how your hands and elbows can be positioned, with each method targeting different muscles in different ways. As far as the classic push-up goes, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Fingers should face forward to ensure your hand does not turn inwards or outwards.
  • Hands should be placed slightly below shoulders and in line with your chest
  • As you lower down, your upper arm should be at roughly a 45-degree angle relative to your torso. For visualization, think you are about to push someone (please don’t actually do this unless you warn them). Look at the position your arms are in. Generally speaking, the position your hands and arms are in should be close to your optimal push-up position.
  1. Your stomach/hips/quads are the first part to touch the ground (and the last to leave)

Performing a push-up requires you to maintain tension throughout your body. This means your body shouldn’t dip, snake, or perform the worm. It should remain in the same taut position at the top, middle, and bottom of the movement. You must keep everything tight. Keep your butt and gut squeezed throughout the movement. Ensure your chest touches the ground first and you then push-up off the ground in the same position. 

  1. You are trying a variation that is too difficult for you.

Does your hand/shoulder position change involuntarily while doing a push-up? Are you squeezing your core but still can’t help leaving your hips on the ground as you push-up? Is touching your chest to the floor seemingly impossible?

  1. You haven’t been practicing your push-ups through a FULL range of motion.

It doesn’t matter which variation of the push-up you are doing, if you are not going through a full range of motion, you’ll only train your body to get stronger through those partial ranges...and never really master the full movement. This is where you need to put your ego aside and make sure that you are working on touching your chest to the ground, every rep, and fully locking your elbows out at the top. Bro reps might get you a good “pump” but they’re not ideal for building strength through a full range of motion.

It’s okay to answer yes to any of the above questions. The great thing about push-ups, they are one of the easiest movements to scale to your ability. If you are in one of the above groups, consider trying a variation that is in line with your ability. You can do push-ups from your knees, or add a box and do them at an incline. Even doing wall push-ups is a great option. Any one of these will help to make you stronger. It’s important to focus on performing quality reps and not letting your form go bad, as this won’t make you stronger and could lead to injury. 

How can I improve my push-ups, Matt?

Do more push-ups! But do them perfectly, not mindlessly. Find out the max set of push-ups (of any variation) you can do in a row and make sure you can do at least 5. If not, scale to a different variation.

Below is a simple program you can perform anywhere to help with your push-ups. Make sure you pick the best option that works for you.

  • If you can do 5-10 push-ups, perform 5 sets @ 60% of max (rounded up) for a week.
  • If you can do 11-20 push-ups, perform 5 sets @ 70% of max (rounded up) for a week.
  • If you can do 20-30 push-ups, perform 5 sets @ 70% of max (rounded up) for a week.
  • If you can do 30+ push-ups, perform 5 sets @ 70% of max (rounded up) for a week.

Rest as needed between sets to hit the desired number with perfect form. Add 1-3 reps to your sets each week depending on which level you started at. Perform these sets 2-3 times each week. After 4 weeks, retest your max set of push-ups and use the new number to start at week 1 again.

Matt Kaitchuck

Coach/OnBoarding Specialist