June 3

How to do a push up properly

Gym tips and exercise advice


Having taught group fitness classes for well over 10 years, I've noticed a LOT of people struggle with their push ups. In this post, I'm going to share a few tips and pointers so you'll know how to do a push up properly. Give them a go in your next group fitness class and let me know how you get on.

I've met many people who think they just can't do a push up. They believe they're not strong enough. Doing a push up though isn't just about strength though.


Push ups are a great exercise. Using just your own body weight, you can build valuable upper body strength. You'll find you also develop stronger core muscles and healthy shoulders and arms. The key to getting all these benefits though are making sure complete the exercise properly. After all, an exercise is only as good as the technique used while doing it.

How to position your hands when doing a push up

Firstly, we'll tackle perhaps the most important aspect. We want to set ourselves up for success. For most people, push ups are included in their workouts to build their chest and upper body strength. To target the chest effectively, we want our hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.

If your hands aren't wide enough, you may find more stress going through your wrists, elbows or even shoulders. So, as you come down onto the floor, place your hands wider than your shoulders. As you perform your push ups, with your hands wide your elbows will track out wide as well.

A good tip to help you at the beginning is aiming for elbow-width. For instance, if you were to lie face down on the floor and stretch out your arms to the side, away from your body. Notice where your elbows are. Place your hands around this position and you'll be in a good starting point.

At the bottom of the push up, we're looking for 2 things in relation to our hand position:

  • Elbows above the wrists, and
  • Shoulders in front of your wrists.

As you get stronger and your technique develops, you can experiment with different hand positions and feel how they change the push up exercise.

How to do a push up when you can't manage on your toes

Easy! Just come down a level until you're in a position where you can do a push up.

For example, instead of lifting up onto your toes, just lift onto your knees. With your knees on the floor, you'll only be pushing less of your body weight. You'll still develop strength, but it won't take as much effort to push yourself up.

One important tip to remember, though. If your knees are on the floor, so are your feet. This will help keep your knees safe during the exercise.

Body position while doing a push up

Posture is important.

Whether we are standing, sitting, lying or completing a push up, we want to acknowledge our alignment. Ideally, we want a flat back with long, neutral spine.

The easiest way to manage this is to pay attention to your hips. Don't allow them to sag too low. Lift them high, and you'll place more emphasis through your upper body muscles. Exactly what we want to build strength.

You may find you struggle with this part the most, and that's ok.

I've explained this in more detail in my video post 'Quick Tips for Plank and Hovers.' Check that one out and practise. If you can hold a strong plank, you'll be much stronger at pushups.

Lastly, we'll look at the range of movement

By range of movement, we just mean how deep you lower yourself down into the bottom of the exercise. Ideally, we want our elbows to bend to 90 degrees.

At this point, the sides of your ribcage will be between your elbows. Additionally, you should feel slight tension across the front of your chest.

We may 'cheat' ourselves by not dropping as low. Our bodies aren't daft. They won't work unless we force them to. Remaining strict with your range and dropping down your chest to elbow-height will give you the maximum strength-building effect.

That's just a few tips to help you get on your way. By now you should know how to do a push up and what you need to work on. Let me know which one you found most useful. Alternatively, if you have another sticking point, drop me a comment below and I'll help you out.

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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