Push ups are a commonly used bodyweight exercise, but do you know how to do them properly? Mastering the basic push up or press up is a good goal to have, and doing them correctly will help reduce your risk of injury while giving you a better workout.
For traditional push ups, take your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart, pressing firmly into your palms with your fingertips facing forward.
As you come down, lead with your chest until your nose is close to the ground with elbows bent square at 90 degrees so that your arms and chest form a ‘goalpost’ with the ground before pressing back up.
Make sure your neck stays level with your spine on the way down, as a common problem is to dip your head down to the ground first which can put a lot of pressure on your neck and prevent the correct muscles in your chest and triceps from working out properly.
Body positioning and core activation
Pull your belly muscles in tight – regardless of whether you are up on your toes or on your knees doing half push ups, there should be a straight line between your shoulders and your knees or ankles (if you are on your toes). Don’t let your hips drop so that your lower back is ‘sagging’; keep them up slightly to help activate your core muscles.
If you can’t hold the initial straight-armed plank position without feeling it in your lower back, start off doing half push ups with perfect technique on your knees until your strength improves enough to try it on your toes.
If you have lower back or shoulder/elbow/wrist issues and these push ups still put too much pressure on your injury, you can try doing them on all fours instead or with your hands up against a wall, leaning into it and pushing yourself back out.
For correct breathing technique, you want to breathe out at the most difficult part of the exercise. For push ups, this means breathing out as you push up, and inhale as you come down. If it feels odd at first, persist with it until it begins to feel ‘normal’ – which it should do once you get your rhythm!
Breathing at the right part of the exercise can help engage your core muscles more, which can improve the strength of your push.
How to do full push ups
If you’ve been doing push ups on your knees but would like to give full push ups a go, the best way to do them is to give them a go. It’s best if you have mastered perfect technique with your knee push ups first; make sure you ‘feel’ your knee push ups in your core and chest/triceps rather than in your lower back.
Once you’ve sorted those, try doing half a full push up as you lower to the ground and drop to your knees if you need assistance with getting back up again. You can also do this in reverse (stay on your knees as you lower, come on to your toes as you press up). By splitting your push ups in this way, you can develop your strength in parts.
If you can do a full push up but would like to be able to do more, aim for a number each time you attempt them; say 20. Do as many of these on your toes as you can, then drop to your knees without stopping to rest and continue the rest until you’ve completed your 20 reps. Next time you do them, aim to do at least one more full push up than your last personal best.
Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Ambro