Let’s face it: there are a lot of misconceptions about what a push up really is. But it’s time to clear that up.
Because while it’s absolutely fine to be less than perfect when you’re first starting out, you should know what to aim for in the future and focus on building up the strength it takes to get you there.
The type of push up I’m talking about here really is a perfect push up because it works your entire body in one strong, straight line, and that’s exactly what you want.
And yes, there are different types of push ups that will help you focus on different body parts—for example, a wider hand stance will work your chest more, just like reptile push ups put more of a focus on your abs. But when I talk about just doing a basic push up, this is the type of push up I’m talking about.
Take a look at this short video tutorial to learn exactly how to do a perfect push up:
Or, just view the written instructions:
Correct push up positioning
Before doing anything else, you want to make sure you’re in the correct positioning. You should get into a plank position with your shoulders straight over your hands or just slightly wider—where your hands are will depend on your personal body composition and what’s most comfortable for you.
Your hips, legs and feet should be in a straight line and your eyes should be pointing downward. Push up through your shoulders, then squeeze your core, butt and leg muscles so that you’re not sagging at all.
Once you’ve got the position right, you can start lowering down toward the floor. Rather than flaring your elbows out—as many of us are taught to do when doing push ups—do your best to keep your arms as tight to your body as possible. This is going to make it significantly harder because it puts such a bigger emphasis on the triceps muscles, which tend to be weak for most people (especially women).
As you lower down, really focus on keeping your body as tight as possible and not letting your positioning change at all. I know it probably feels weird if you haven’t done push ups this way before, but you should actively be squeezing your abs and butt muscles! And make sure you’re staying in a straight line during the entire push up. Pause slightly at the bottom of the push up to remove any momentum you might have, then press back up through your shoulders so that your arms are fully extended again.
Ultimately, you’ll want to be able to touch your chest to the ground, but that can be tough even for people who have practiced push ups for years. So when you’re first starting out, you might find it helpful to place a tennis ball or other object on the ground to give you a reference point for how low to aim to go. Otherwise, you may find it too easy to cheat!
If you’re not sure if you’re getting the positioning right, one of the things that can really help is to do push ups in front of a mirror or even record yourself doing a couple of push ups. This will help you see if you’re allowing yourself to sag at all or cheating in any other ways.
Modifying your push ups
If full push ups are too tough for you right now, there are a couple of good options to modify your push ups to help you build up strength:
Incline push ups. To do these, you’ll need to find an elevated surface of some sort—the higher the surface the easier the push up will be. Get in the same position as you would in a full push up, making sure to keep everything in a straight line and as tight as possible.
Push through your shoulders then lower yourself down, pausing slightly at the bottom position. Push back up and extend fully through your shoulders. Remember, you can make incline push ups harder by lowering the surface you use to do them on.
Kneeling push ups. I know most people think of these as girly push ups, but they’re a totally legitimate way to build strength up to do full push ups for girls and guys. To do them, get into a push up position, then lower your knees to the ground.
Practice kneeling push ups until you can build up to a full push up.
Key points to remember when doing push ups
Here are the key points you should keep in mind when doing push ups (modified or regular):
- Put your hands directly under your shoulders
- Keep your body in a straight, strong line
- No sagging—keep everything tight and don’t arch your back!
- Push through your shoulders
- Keep your elbows in and arms tight to your ribs
- Lower as far as possible, aiming for the ground
- Push back up to full extension of the arms
That’s it! Now you know how to do a perfect push up, so anytime I tell you to do push ups, this is what you should aim for.
Don’t worry if you’re not good at them yet—with practice and dedication, you will get better and stronger, I promise!
Now go practice your push ups!