Doing a proper pushup may seem simple at first glance. After all, you just get on the floor, extend your arms and legs so your torso is off the ground, and then bend your elbows, right? What could be so hard about that? Well, it turns out there is a way to use proper pushup form to maximize the effectiveness of this exercise and help you gain strength and stamina.
What is a Pushup?
A pushup is pretty much what it sounds like: pushing yourself up from the ground. But, of course, it’s much more involved than that. First of all, not only does a pushup involve “pushing up,” it also involves lowering your body down with control and precision. In addition to the strength required to propel your body up and down, a pushup also requires great core strength to keep your body rigid as you perform the up and down movements.
A pushup is also what’s known as a “compound” movement (meaning it works multiple muscles at the same time). It is a foundational movement as well; that is, a movement that helps you do other movements better. Pushups are something virtually everyone can include in their workouts (be it regular pushups or a variation thereof), and everyone should engage in them on a very regular basis.
What’s So Great About a Proper Pushup?
- Time effective—they’re quick and don’t require a lot of setup.
- Cost effective—free of charge, they can be done anywhere, virtually anytime.
- Build overall body strength—you can’t do a pushup without getting benefits throughout your body.
- Weight-bearing exercise—build stronger bones.
- Tighten your core—and a strong core can help with posture, strength, and help you avoid pain.
- Strengthen your lower back—and avoid back pain.
- Tone the chest and arms—pushups are one of the best ways to shape, tone, and strengthen your shoulder girdle and arms.
How to Work Your Way to a Proper Pushup?
Since pushups require quite a bit of body strength, both upper body and core, doing exercises that can help you strengthen the muscles you’ll be using for pushups is a good idea.
Start with planks. Learning how to do a plank can help significantly when it comes to doing a proper pushup. The body position for the plank is basically the same as your starting position for a pushup. Begin by getting on your hands and knees. Your palms will be face down about shoulder-width apart with your arms straight. Next, straighten your legs out behind you and get onto your tip toes. Your back should form a straight line (no stomach hanging toward the ground or butt in the air). Practice holding this position. Start with 20 seconds at a time and work your way up to 2 minutes.
Once you have mastered the plank (or you’re at least getting better at it), you can decide if you’d like to move on to a normal pushup or begin with some knee pushups until you can build your strength.
If you decide on a knee pushup, simply bend your legs so your knees are on the ground, but keep your upper body position the same. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your torso toward the ground. Ensure you keep your back in a straight line and move toward the ground and back up again.
Once the knee pushups have become somewhat easy for you, you can progress to a full proper pushup.
Now Try a Proper Pushup
Whew! You’re ready to progress to a proper pushup. Get into the right starting position. Your hands should be on the ground and slightly wider that shoulder-width apart, in line with your chest. Feel free to adjust the angle of your hands to accommodate your wrist flexibility.
You can place your feet wherever is comfortable for you. Keep in mind, the further apart your feet, the more stability you may feel. Once you’re stronger and pumping out a few sets of pushups is no big deal for you, you can try placing your feet together (touching) for greater core engagement.
Tighten your abdominal muscles and squeeze your glutes to help your body maintain a rigid straight line. Keep your head up (look forward) as you lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows tucked relatively close to your sides (just don’t allow them to flare out).
How to Improve Your Pushup
- Twist your hands as if you were pushing into the ground and creating torque.
- Squeeze your upper arms so they are tucked right up next to your chest.
- Push your hands figuratively backward toward your feet.
- Squeeze your abdominals and your glutes to stabilize your body.
- Keep your feet separated for extra stability.
- Keep feet together to move your entire body as one. Moving your body as one straight, stiff object may make the entire movement seem easier.
- Remember to breathe. Try to inhale on the downward portion of the movement and exhale as you push upward.
Step Up Your Pushups With These Variations
Once you’re comfortable with a regular pushup, you can try a multitude of variations. Here are a few:
- Wide Pushup—begin in the normal pushup position except place your hands well outside your shoulders. This variation will work the chest and front region of your shoulders.
- Diamond Pushup—place your pointer fingers and thumbs together on the floor in front of you to form a diamond. Proceed with a normal pushup. You’ll notice these are significantly more difficult than your traditional pushup and put a lot of emphasis on the triceps.
- TRX Pushup—using a TRX setup, grasp the handles with your arms straight. Lean forward and bend your elbows to do a pushup motion. The further back you place your feet, the more difficult the movement will be.
- Incline Pushup—place your hands on the side of a bench. Do a pushup as you normally would, but your body will be angled upward. You may also find this form of pushup to be easier to perform than a regular pushup and may be a good starting point for beginners.