How to Do a Perfect Pushup

How to Do a Perfect Pushup

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THERE ARE FEW exercises more basic—and more effective—than the humble pushup. The movement is likely one of the first you ever learned, long before you had any thoughts of following dedicated strength training plans or goals to build up your body. Whether you first encountered the pushup in gym class or youth sports, it’s an integral part of most peoples’ physical education. You had yourself, the floor, and that was it. Little did you know then that the pushup would be a training staple for the rest of your life (and if it’s not, it should be).

As elementary as the pushup can be for strength training plans, the exercise is more technically-demanding than it’s often treated. Proper form is paramount if you want to get the most of the movement, and the little mistakes that you make can be magnified if you’ve been repeating them for rep after rep, year after year. Pushups are simple, but doing them perfectly isn’t something you can rush.

Even if you consider yourself a pushup pro, take some time to brush up on the proper form before you include them in your training. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and senior fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Physical fitness, Leg, Shoulder, Arm, Joint, Abdomen, Thigh, Pilates, Exercise, Knee,

Men’s Health

Benefits of Pushups

The pushup is an excellent bodyweight exercise that targets the muscles of the upper body and reinforces a strong high plank position. It’s an expression of relative strength, which has more to do with how strong you are compared to your size vs. lifting external weights. You can do it just about anywhere you have space to stretch out and plant your hands on a stable surface. The pushup is also scaleable and versatile; beginners can build their strength up to the point they can do standard reps by elevating their hand position, while advanced trainees can branch out to more challenging variations to target different muscles.

Which Muscles Pushups Target

The pushup is largely an upper body exercise. Most of the focus goes to the chest (pecs) and shoulders, with your triceps assisting (and, if you move your hands into a narrow position, taking on more of the load). When you use perfect form, you’ll also engage your core muscles and upper back, as you hold the high plank position and maintain full-body tension.

How to Do the Pushup

Follow these form cues to learn how to do a perfect pushup. Once you’ve read the step-by-step directions, follow along for some higher-level tips from Samuel to dive deeper into the exercise.

  • Start in a high plank position, with your palms flat on the floor, stacked directly below your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your shoulders, glutes, and core to create full-body tension. Your spine should form a straight line, with a neutral spine.
  • Bend your elbows to descend to the floor, stopping with your chest just above the ground. Your elbows should be at a 45 degree angle relative to the torso.
  • Press back up off the floor, raising up to the top position with your elbows fully extended.

Own the Plank

Eb says: A pushup isn’t just a chest exercise. It’s a position of full body tension (or it should be). So start in a good plank: shoulders squeezed, glutes tight, abs tight. Check your form with this video guide to make sure you’re in the proper position.

Squeeze Your Shoulder Blades

Eb says: One of the most common pushup mistakes is trying to hollow out your back. You don’t want to do that. Doing so limits your ability to move your shoulders freely, and it’ll make the pushup a struggle. It can also lead to front shoulder issues, because every time you push up, you’re creating limited space for rotator cuff tendons to move between humerus and clavicle.

Think of squeezing a walnut between your shoulder blades as you lower into the pushup. Pull your torso to the ground, tightening those back muscles, then push up.

Hit the Bench

Eb says: The best regression for pushups isn’t knees on the ground. We see that a lot—and then we see people to struggle to evolve to the full pushup. That’s because you’re not training your glutes and core to properly stabilize.

Instead of doing starting your pushups on your knees, place your hands on a bench and gradually progress to using lower and lower benches (or whatever platform you have handy) for your hands. This will let you work with less load but still train core tension.

How to Add Pushups to Your Workouts

The pushup is a great bodyweight option on chest day, or just to get up and moving. You can do pushups every day as part of your general workout plan, as long as you’re balancing out that pressing with some dedicated back movements, too. Add the pushup to your workouts with 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps. Just make sure that you use solid form, and don’t cheat reps.

Want a more focused pushup endeavor to start a new habit and work up to 50 reps in one set? Try our 30-Day Pushup Challenge, which offers a progressive plan for a full month of training.

Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, a senior editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.

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