The push-up is a classic exercise. It’s a “classic” because it has withstood the test of time. It’s a fundamental movement and can be varied to fit any goal in terms of strength, fitness, flexibility and stamina.
The push-up mobilizes the whole body. Nearly every muscle of the body is required to work together to fight gravity: The active muscles are the triceps, the shoulders (front deltoids) and the chest (pectoralis major). In order to stabilize the body in this position, the biceps, abs, obliques, quads, pectoralis minor (a muscle under the pectoralis major, connecting the shoulder blade and the 3rd to 5th rib) and serratus anterior (another muscle connecting the shoulder blade to ribs 1 – 9) have to be activated.
The great thing about push-ups, apart from building strength and giving you a tight and toned upper body, is that you can do them anywhere. You don’t need a gym membership or equipment. And anyone can do them, from beginners to heavy weight lifters. However, speaking from my own experience and observing others doing push-ups, it is not that easy to do them well. But proper form and alignment is crucial to avoid injury and get maximum benefits. So here are my tips to perfect your push-up for the next time you drop down and pump out 20 reps!
- Get into a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders.
- The hands are open with the fingers gripping into the ground as if you pulled at it.
- Keep your head and neck straight – imagine holding an orange under your chin.
- Keep the shoulders away from your ears. On the way down, the shoulder blades move towards each other, on the top the shoulders are in neutral position (not abducted).
- The hips neither lift nor sag – the abs, glutes and legs are squeezed to hold the body straight as in a plank position (it’s not a downward dog!).
- The feet don’t move but stay up (i.e. no sideways movements).
- Breathe in on the way down, breathe out on the way up. Don’t hold your breath.
If you can’t do push-ups with proper form and alignment, it is better to modify them and gradually work your way up from there. You can start by doing them against a wall. The further you walk out the feet, the more challenging the push-up (it’s more like a push-off in this case). You can then move on to putting your hands on a bench. And finally, on the floor, you can do push-ups on your knees.
When you have graduated from proper push-ups (meaning you can do at least 20 with correct form), you can elevate your feet to make it more of a challenge (bench, chair, sofa, trx, Swiss ball etc). You can start doing clapping push-ups or one-arm push-ups. There are endless varieties to make a push-up as challenging as you want it to be. If you want to add some cardio into it, do burpees with a push-up in between. That will get you nice and sweaty in no time, I guarantee!
And if you are a girl – being able to do proper push-ups on your toes has got badass written all over it!