How to Do a Proper Pushup

Beautiful girl working out in a gym

Because pushups challenge muscles throughout your entire body and can be done anywhere, it’s not surprising that they find themselves in many people’s workout routines. Pushups are a body-weight exercise that require work from your pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps brachii, rectus abdominis, iliopsoas and quadriceps. Pushups need to be performed using correct technique to be effective.

Proper Pushup Technique

Get in the correct pushup starting position by setting your palms on the floor just outside the width of your shoulders with your fingers pointed straight ahead. Begin with your arms extended and all your weight on your hands and toes with your feet flexed. Your torso and thighs should create a straight line. Engage your core, glutes and quadriceps to maintain this straight-body position as you bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Once your elbows are bent to 90 degrees, straighten them again to raise your body back up and complete the rep.

Important Tips

As you’re performing pushups, your body should remain perfectly straight the entire time. Keep your core tight so that your hips don’t sag toward the floor or lift up toward the ceiling. When lowering toward the floor, your elbows should flare out just a couple of inches away from your torso. If you find they’re flaring out too wide, check to see that your hands are just barely wider than your shoulders and your fingers are pointed straight ahead. Avoid holding your breath while doing pushups. Inhale as you lower toward the floor and exhale as you push yourself back up.

Changing the Intensity of Your Pushups

If you find pushups too challenging or not challenging enough, you can modify them to increase or decrease their difficulty. For those unable to go more than halfway down without losing control and dropping to the floor or for those who have difficulty keeping their hips from raising or sagging, pushups can be done from the knees rather than the toes. If you do pushups from the knees, be sure that your torso and thighs still create a perfectly straight line. Once you're able to do 20 straight pushups from the knees, move on to regular pushups from the toes.

If you can do 30 or more regular pushups in a row, it's time to make the exercise more challenging. You can wear a weighted vest or alter your hand positions. By bringing your hands in closer together, you force your shoulders and triceps to take on more of the load rather than your stronger chest muscles. You can also place your toes on an elevated surface, like a step, or add a bit of instability by doing pushups with your hands or feet placed on top of an exercise ball.

Pushup Challenge

Add pushups to your workout schedule two or three days per week with one to two days off between workouts. Start with a five to 10-minute dynamic warm-up consisting of light jogging, arm circles and arm hugs. Perform three to five sets of pushups, with each set consisting of as many repetitions as you can do while maintaining proper technique. Rest 90 seconds in between sets.

Keep your pushup workouts exciting with regular pushup challenges. Regularly test yourself to see how many pushups you can do without stopping. You can also challenge yourself to complete as many pushups as you can in one minute. Keep track of the number of pushups you complete as you go, only counting the ones that you do with correct technique. You can stop and rest throughout the one minute, but keep the clock ticking. Test yourself every month to monitor your progress.