Simple, strenuous, and easy to do almost anywhere, push-ups are an exercise virtually everyone is familiar with and a mainstay of military, sports, and fitness training regimens. They’re a “basic, foundational movement,” said James Whitener III, a strength and conditioning coach at Florida’s Bethune-Cookman University.
Since you must be aware of the position of your entire body, from head to toe, the exercise helps develop what is called kinesthetic awareness, an understanding of how the body moves in space. This awareness helps exercisers sense their body’s capabilities and prepare for “larger, more complex movements,” such as deadlifts or squats, he says.
But getting the most out of pushups requires good technique. This is what you need to know.
Why are lizards so good?
Push-ups hone your chest, shoulders, and arms—particularly your deltoids, triceps, and pecs—but they’re really a full-body movement. “We think of them as an upper-body workout, but they also work core muscles and build coordination,” Whitener said. Keeping the body in a rigid plank position while performing a push- up engages the core muscles and sometimes requires some effort from the legs as well.
“They are very versatile, because they work many things at once,” said Tessia De Mattos, physical therapist and strength, conditioning and performance rehabilitation coach at The Strength Athlete .
How to do
To start, get into the classic plank position with your palms on the floor, your arms slightly shoulder-width apart, and your palms shoulder-width apart. Knowing how to do regular planks well is important, De Mattos said, because “if you can’t do a full plank with proper posture, you’re going to have a hard time doing a perfect push-up.”
If you want to be sure you’re using good posture, try recording yourself with a smartphone, advised Hampton Liu, a personal trainer, fitness influencer and founder of Hybrid Calisthenics. “You don’t have to show anyone your video! You can even delete it immediately after viewing it. It’s just for you.”
Two common mistakes, De Mattos said, are letting your belly sag or arching your lower back instead of keeping it straight with the rest of your body.
The number of reps you should do depends on your current ability and your goals. For the average person trying to get healthier, fitter, and stronger, the best approach is to aim for momentary failure—the point of fatigue at which another repetition of the exercise cannot be completed with good form—rather than doing a number. rep-specific, says Patroklos Androulakis-Korakakis, a researcher at Solent University in England and a strength coach at StrongerByScience.com
“By reaching momentary failure, or at least almost reaching it, people ensure that they are receiving sufficient stimulation for strength and hypertrophy adaptations,” he said.
If you’re having a hard time doing more than just a handful of reps before you get to this point, you may want to try some of the easier variations below. As you progress, you can go back to standard push-ups and then move on to more difficult variations to increase the difficulty as you get stronger, Androulakis-Korakakis said.
To make it easier…
“There’s no reason to be embarrassed if you can’t do a push-up. Fitness is a process and at some point you have to start,” Liu said in a video about push-ups . If you still can’t do a push-up, “you can work your way up a little bit at a time,” she added.
wall push ups
If you’re just starting out, Liu suggests you try wall push-ups. Stand in front of a wall at arm’s length and place your hands on it at shoulder height. Lean in until your face almost touches the wall, and then push back up to the starting position. Do as many repetitions as you can, and when it’s easy for you, start doing push-ups on your knees.
Push-ups with knees supported
If you’re not yet able to do a standard push-up, you can give yourself a little boost by starting the movement from a kneeling position, which reduces the amount of load you’re putting on your arms, shoulders and chest, De Mattos said.
To make them more difficult…
As you become more proficient with push-ups, you will have to do more to get to the point of momentary failure. Performing any exercise up to this point can maximize motor unit and muscle fiber recruitment, Androulakis-Korakakis said, which in turn will stimulate adaptations and make you stronger. “Reaching momentary failure is a great way to make sure people are getting the most out of each series.” Here are some ways on how to achieve it.
Push-ups with elevated legs
Once you become adept at standard push-ups, you could increase the difficulty by starting the push-up movement with your feet elevated above you, Liu said. You’re bound to feel a noticeable difference if you start with your feet on some books, she said. From there, you can try with your feet on a short stool (perhaps a foot off the ground) and then work your way up to using a chair or even a railing.
This is a more difficult variation of push-ups, which is done by bringing your hands together so that your thumbs and forefingers touch to create a diamond-shaped hole. You can do these push-ups in progression by simply bringing your hands a little closer at a time, and then bringing them closer together until they finally touch, says Liu.
Push-ups with weights
When you can easily do sets of 10 push-ups, you may want to increase the difficulty by placing a small weight on your back to increase the load you’re pushing. If you’re at home and don’t have weights, one option is to pack a few heavy books into a backpack and use them as weights, De Mattos advised. The extra weight shouldn’t be so heavy that you can’t do more than a couple, but it should be enough to bring you to momentary failure after 10 reps or less.
One arm pushups
These require excellent core strength in order to hold the body in position while pushing up with one arm, Liu said. “It’s a great exercise for your core muscles.” The trick is to use your legs and core to keep your body stable as you push up with one arm. Spreading your feet further apart will help stabilize you.
There are many ways to do push-ups, Liu said. “Find one you can do and work on it.” As you get stronger, move on to a more difficult version.