Do you want to get strong and muscular arms? How about a powerful chest and shoulders? Well, then start doing push-ups! This simple exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your entire body.
Push-ups are highly underrated and need to be added to every workout!
In this article, we will teach you how to do push-ups correctly so that you can get the most out of this amazing workout.
We’ll be covering these topics:
- ✊ Push-up technique and push-up form
- ✊ Push-up biomechanics
- ✊ Muscles used for the exercise
- ✊ Benefits of push-ups
- ✊ & Common mistakes you need to be avoiding
🔥How to do push-ups
- Go into a quadruped position. Meaning you’ll be on your hands and on your knees.
- Extend your legs backwards to straight.
- Move your feet so that your legs are together.
- Push your shoulders away from your ears. This is called scapula depression.
- Tilt your hips backwards to get a straight body line from your head to your feet.
- Fully engage your whole body. This is the starting position.
- While keeping the body engaged, slowly lower down your arms by bending at the elbows until your chest lightly touches the floor.
- Brief pause at the bottom position.
- Push back up to the starting position by contracting your chest and triceps until back.
- Brief pause at the top with straight arms.
- Repeat the motion for reps.
- Imagine pushing the floor away from your body when pushing back up
- Let your shoulder blades naturally retract or get pinched together when going down. At the bottom, you should be able to place a coin vertically in between your shoulder blades. This is a full retraction.
- Keep your shoulders close to your body to avoid unnecessary stress on your elbow and shoulder joints which can cause injuries.
- When descending, be sure to go down with a slight forward motion to keep your shoulders, wrists, and elbows stable.
- Tilting your hips backwards is called Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT). This position braces the trunk muscles as well as avoids unnecessary loading on your lower back. You don’t want to get lower back pains after doing push-ups.
- Always get to a straight lockout position at the top. Contrary to popular belief of “don’t straighten your arms at the top“, locking out your arms is perfectly safe and in fact, strengthens your elbow joints. If straight arms are bad, then why are gymnasts doing them all the time and just getting their arms and elbows MUCH STRONGER?
- Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings together to add total body tension.
- Hands shoulder-width apart. This is a standard position. A common misconception is going wider hits your chest more. However, a 2005 electromyography (EMG) study showed that a narrow base offered more tricep AND CHEST activation. Even the shoulder width delivered more activation than the wide base. For now, stick to the shoulder-width stance.
We’ll cover the common mistakes when doing push-ups later in the article.
🧐How many push-ups should I do?
We can provide you with a range of sets and reps for beginners to advanced, but this will not be ideal since you will need to consider also the intensity of the exercise, the exact skill of an athlete, and goals.
It’s best to do push-ups around 2 – 4 sets of 5 – 12 reps with a push-up progression appropriate for your skill level to build strength.
If you’re interested in building muscular endurance or working capacity (which can still build muscle, according to studies), then aim for 3 – 5 sets of 15+ reps.
The key is to train with the exercise short of failure. These means do push-ups until you’ve just 1 to 3 reps left in your tank before you can no longer perform a push-up with good form. This is the strategy for making gains while keeping training sustainable.
💪Muscles used in push-ups
Let’s first talk about the muscles used when performing the push-ups. These targeted muscles are the ones that build strength and muscle for stronger pushing mechanics.
The prime movers for the push-ups are your:
👊Pectoralis Major (or pecs for short)
This large fan-shaped muscle group is located in your chest and helps to move your arms. The pecs have two heads, the sternal head and the clavicular head. The sternal head is the lower part of the pec, while the clavicular head is the upper part.
When doing a push-up, both pec heads are activated, but the lower sternal head is more engaged. The muscle fibres of your chest lengthen when you lower your body during a push-up and contract when you push back up to the starting position.
The front delts are located in your shoulders and are made up of three heads: the anterior, medial, and posterior heads. The anterior delts are the ones that we’re emphasising when doing a push-up. However, the other two heads are still active for stabilisation.
This muscle helps to raise your arm in front of your body. During a push-up, as you lower down your body, the front delts are lengthening (eccentric phase), and as you push back up to the starting position, they’re contracting (concentric phase).
During the push-up’s ascent, the anterior deltoids assist in adducting the shoulder joint by bringing the arms inward toward the chest. They additionally assist in keeping your shoulders sturdy throughout both phases of the movement.
The triceps are located at the back of your arms and are also made up of three heads (hence the “tri” in triceps): the lateral head, medial head, and long head. All three heads work together to extend or straighten your elbow joint.
As you lower yourself down during a push-up, your triceps help in stabilisation. During the upward phase, they work to straighten your elbows to get you into the starting position.
Finally (but definitely as equally important), your core muscles help to stabilise your body during the exercise. The core muscles specifically targeted are the abdominal muscle group which is made up of the following:
- Rectus abdominis – “aka” the ab muscles
- Transversus abdominis – The underlying muscles
- Internal & external obliques – The side of your abs
- Erector spinae – Your back muscles to keep your spine straight
Now that you know which muscles are used in push-ups, let’s briefly discuss the short mechanics of the push-ups.
It’s time to get a bit nerdy in terms of the push-up biomechanics to help you further understand the importance and benefits of push-ups.
✅Push-ups as a Closed kinetic chain exercise
The push-up is a close kinetic chain exercise meaning that the distal segment of your body (or the furthest away from your trunk,) which is your hands in push-ups, is fixed to the floor while the rest of your body moves. In contrast, to the open kinetic chain exercises, the distal segment, like your hands in a bench press, moves the resistance.
Close kinetic chain exercises are more functional and are more transferable to daily movements because these exercises force our body to share the loading of the resistance by other muscle groups. Unlike the open kinetic chain, which is more ideal for isolating muscle groups.
For example, in push-ups, while the prime movers are, as mentioned, the pectoralis major, triceps, and anterior deltoids, push-ups, are emphasised in the exercise. A study shows that compared to their open kinetic chain exercise counterpart, push-ups have more activation in the infraspinatus, middle traps, lower traps, erector spinae, and external obliques.
This is like when you’re pushing heavy furniture or carrying your groceries. Your body works in totality and not in isolation to produce force and do these actions.
✅Joint Arthrokinematics (Joint movement)
There are four joint movements in a push-up. These are the glenohumeral (shoulder), radiohumeral (elbow), and ulnohumeral (Other elbow) joints. As mentioned earlier, since the exercise is a close kinetic movement, these three joints share the loading of the exercise.
The glenohumeral joint is a ball-and-socket type of synovial joint that allows for a wide range of motion. This joint is responsible for the shoulder’s flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, and internal & external rotation movements. In the push-up, this socket rolls up to the ball and then glides in the same direction.
✅Elbow (smaller bone) joint
The radiohumeral joint is a hinge type of synovial joint that only allows for flexion and extension movements. Rolling and gliding occur in the same direction in the elbow joint as it does in the shoulder joint.
✅Elbow (bigger bone) joint
The glenohumeral joint is a gliding type of synovial joint that allows for a limited range of motions like pronation and supination.
The ulnohumeral is a gliding type of synovial joint that allows for side-to-side or up-and-down motions. In push-ups, this movement happens at the wrist when your palms press against the floor.
🏆Benefits of push-ups
Now that we understand more about the mechanics and muscles used in push-ups, we can talk about why you SHOULD do push-ups in the first place. There are many benefits to performing push-ups on a regular basis.
⭐️Increases strength and muscle
First and foremost, they will help you build strong muscles throughout your body. As we mentioned earlier, push-ups target your pecs, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. Don’t underestimate push-ups for building strength and muscle. While it is a beginner exercise, most people will still find the basic push-up with good form challenging.
This is because when you’re doing push-ups, you’re basically pushing 70-75% of your body weight, as supported by a study by Suprak, et al.
A recent 2020 comparative study between push-ups and bench presses also shows that push-ups can match the strength and hypertrophy gains from bench presses given that you match the intensity with progressions or variations.
Aside from the regular floor push-ups, you can also use different variations to emphasise different muscle groups and/or increase exercise intensity.
Don’t sleep on push-ups for horizontal pushing strength.
Just remember to follow the proper training guidelines on 📍how to build muscle with calisthenics, so you don’t get frustrated.
In addition to building muscle, push-ups also improve your cardiovascular endurance. Yes, the push-up is considered a resistance strengthening and muscle-building exercise. However, one study shows that resistance training can offer cardiovascular benefits.
In the study, a circuit-style approach was used as the participants’ method of implementing resistance training. You can easily do this with push-ups along with other calisthenics exercises.
Read more here: 📍What is Circuit Training: Everything You Need to Know
⭐️Fewer risks of heart disease
Being physically fit and able to perform a good number of push-ups lowers your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, research suggests.
A 2019 study of male firefighters found that those who could perform more push-ups were less likely to experience cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
Those who could complete more than 40 push-ups had a decreased chance of cardiovascular problems than those who were capable of doing less than 10.
This indicates that push-up ability might be used as a measure of physical fitness and that the capacity to do more push-ups may indicate better heart health.
However, it’s worth noting that this research didn’t account for important lifestyle elements like nutrition. Furthermore, it’s unclear if the results apply to other populations apart from adult males.
Still, better do your push-ups to increase longevity!
⭐️Reduces risk of injuries
Because of the strength gains, you can get from push-ups along with joint conditioning, you can prevent injuries (especially higher impact moves such as in sports) by preparing your body for the goal movements.
Take note that in calisthenics, you still can get injured if not careful and not following the proper protocols.
Learn more here:📍 How to Avoid Injury When Training with Calisthenics
⭐️Improve your posture
Furthermore, push-ups can help improve your posture by improving your core strength and scapula stability. Studies link weakness in this area to poor posture. This is because your body will compensate for the weakness by rounding your back and tilting the hips backwards.
⭐️Help promote fat loss
Want to lose fat? Do some push-ups.
But let’s get things clear. Cardiovascular exercises like jogging and running are still superior options for losing fat in general according to a 2012 study on the subject. However, it’s important to take note that losing fat alone is not ideal. You still need to build or at least retain muscle by performing resistance exercises such as push-ups.
Push-ups, combined with some cardio, can help boost calories burned, which can result in fat loss.
Remember that fat loss takes place primarily through diet, so always keep that aspect in check. Combine calisthenics with a proper diet (you can include cardio) in your lifestyle for better results to improve your body composition.
🥺Limited range of motion
From the starting position, go all the way down until your chest grazes the floor, then all the way back up to starting position.
Don’t do just the bottom half or the top half of push-ups. You will be missing out on gains.
🥺Sagging or piked hips
Not unless you like to have an aching back afterwards, engage your core by tilting your hips forward so that your body is in a straight line.
You might also be bending at the hips, which could probably be a compensation for having a weak core or lack of upper body strength to perform the movement. If this is the case, move to an easier progression.
We are meant to breathe the air and not hold it during this type of functional movement.
For most people, flaring the elbows can get uncomfortable and can get you a shoulder impingement if your body isn’t capable of the internal range of the shoulder joints. Keep them close to your body, or find a shoulder position that will suit your own anatomy.
A common way to cheat push-ups is by extending your neck too forward to give yourself an illusion of getting low enough in your reps. Your head will reach the ground first before your chest which limits the range of motion. In addition, this puts unnecessary strain on your neck. Keep it in a neutral position, people!
🥺Improper shoulder blade positioning
A protracted push-up (or shoulder blades pushing outwards) isn’t bad form. However, it does increase the difficulty of the exercise and offers a purpose for other training goals such as improving protraction for planche. Instead, keep it in a neutral position at the top, then let it retract and naturally move when pushing.
Also, don’t forget to push down the shoulders instead of shrugging it towards your ears. Shrugging hits the scapula elevators, which isn’t a goal of the exercise.
🥺Too fast push-ups
This has the same sentiments as the scapula protraction. Fast push-ups aren’t bad if you’re aiming to improve your push-up reps in a timed test. However, if you’re a beginner, fast reps can increase the potential for form breakdown. This also decreases the mechanical tension since you can use the “bounce” from the momentum to lessen the push-up intensity.
Instead, go down for 2 counts. Pause at the bottom, then push explosively to the top. Pause and repeat.
🥺Not using the suitable push-up
Not all beginners are the same. Not all intermediate and advanced athletes are the same. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
This means if you’re a complete beginner, the basic floor push-up might be too challenging for you. An advanced athlete might find this exercise too easy unless getting into the 100+ rep range which isn’t a good use of your time (unless this is your goal).
Use 📍push-up progressions to match your skill level.
Here’s the brief progression:
🥺Not promoting progressive overload
Progress overload is the name of the game if you want to keep on building strength and muscle with push-ups. This means making your push-ups a bit harder compared to your last training session.
The first way and most popular way to promote progressive overload is by adding reps and sets. The problem is that many people tend to focus solely on adding training volume, which can make strength gains limited and muscle development inefficient.
You can check out these advanced variations to get more challenges from regular push-ups!
Read here: 📍15 Advanced Push-up Variations
Another way to increase the difficulty of push-ups is by using gymnastics rings. Rings are free to move which requires you to work harder to first stabilise your body on the rings before you can do a single push-up.
Read here: 📍6 Advanced Push-ups on Gymnastics Rings
🥺Training through pain
If something is painful, then something is wrong. Pain is a signal to your brain to let you know that there’s something in your body or something wrong with the movement.
Once you experience pain, numbness, tingling sensation, or anything out of the ordinary other than your muscles engaging, stop immediately. Assess where the feeling is, then try using a much lighter progression. If the pain still persists, consult with your local physiotherapist.
Calisthenics can help treat injuries.🤕 However, this is within the context of your situation and the purpose of the exercise.
Read more here for a comprehensive explanation of the common mistakes: 📍10 Push-up Mistakes You Need to Avoid
🥺Bonus Mistake: Underestimating push-ups
Push-ups are sooooooo easy to underestimate. Since everyone knows push-ups and exercise are taught in gym class way back when we were young. It is also taught as a beginner exercise, making people underestimate the exercise.
It’s a basic and beginner exercise. This should be the basic level of strength people should have to maintain functionality and strength over the years. However, most still find push-ups too challenging. To be fair, you need to be able to push around 75% of your body weight which shows a good level of strength.
Understand that push-up is a resistance exercise. It can be challenging, but it will help you build functional strength and other benefits you might want to utilise.
Take a step back, assess, and then do push-ups properly according to your current skill.
Read more here: 📍Why You Can’t Do a Push-up & How to Fix It
PUSH-UP IS FOR EVERYONE!
Push-ups are a great exercise to build strength and muscle. However, many people make the mistake of not using the right push-up progression for their level, not promoting progressive overload, training through pain, and underestimating push-ups.
Use the correct push-up progression for your level, focus on adding difficulty in your push-ups, listen to your body and understand that push-ups are a great exercise to help build functional strength.
Did you find this article helpful? Let me know in the comments below!
🤔Need help learning push-ups?
The best way to learn push-ups is to follow a PERSONALIZED & ADAPTIVE training program that caters to your skill and adapts to your dynamic life.
The Movement Athlete offers exactly this type of programming that breaks down push-ups and other exercises so you can make progress much faster and safer even until you’re already an advanced athlete!
The old 📍cookie-cutter style or one-size-fits-all programs are proven obsolete. You deserve a program that’s built only for you.
Try out The Movement Athlete program and see the difference for yourself!