The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Pushup - Part 1: The Mechanics

PART 1 - PUSHUP MECHANICS

Seemingly simple, the pushup — when done correctly — is a challenging measure of upper body strength, shoulder flexibility, wrist flexibility, and core strength (yes, really...all of that).

You can tell a lot about a gym, a personal training program, or a personal fitness trainer based on how they teach (or don't teach) the pushup progression, and what path they use to build pushups in their clients. This is part one of a three-part blog series to help you develop the correct pushup form in volume. The best pushup progressions maintain a solid plank body position and a steady range of motion that challenges and assesses the measures listed above.  Whether you’re wondering how to improve pushup form at the gym or are simply curious about the right way to do a pushup, here are the key elements to a correct, full range of motion pushup.

THE SETUP

gETTING INTO THE CORRECT PUSHUP FORM

  • Body in plank position with head neutral (look about two feet in front of your fingers).

  • Feet and legs completely together.

  • Quads, butt, and belly squeezed tight.

  • Shoulders directly above elbows, which are both directly above the wrists.

  • Hands at, or slightly wider than, shoulder-width apart with fingers pointed forward. Place the thumbs beneath the point of the shoulder as a guide.

  • Keeping fingers pointed forward, twist arms so your elbows point mostly backward.

PUSHUP SCALING

MODIFYING PUSHUPS BASED ON ABILITY

  • If you are unable to hold a plank with your hands on the floor for more than 10 seconds, elevate your hands while maintaining the plank body position.

  • Lean slightly forward to stack shoulders nearly above elbows and wrists. The higher your hands are elevated, the further your shoulders will be behind your elbows.

  • You can use a bench, a desk, a table, or even luggage in your hotel room to elevate the hands if you’re doing a travel workout.

A note about scaling: We don't generally use knee-pushups in our pushup progression. We are not absolutist about this, but have found developing and maintaining the full plank from the beginning of the pushup progression more beneficial in the long run (improved core and shoulder stability that carry over to other movements).

Correct pushup form (setup position): feet together with the shoulders, elbows, and wrists aligned and the butt and belly squeezed tight.

Correct pushup form (setup position): feet together with the shoulders, elbows, and wrists aligned and the butt and belly squeezed tight.

Correct pushup form (setup position): fingers forward, elbows spun mostly back, feet together, head neutral.

Scaled plank hold: elevate hands, but maintain the same plank body position during your pushup progression.

Scaled plank hold: elevate hands, but maintain the same plank body position during your pushup progression.

Holding the correct pushup form in a plank position is challenging (even for those who can do lots of pushups). Our first step in teaching the right way to do a pushup is outlining the correct plank position, then increasing the duration of plank holds (gradually over a few weeks).

THE pushup DESCENT

  • Bend elbows and shift weight slightly forward (you'll be on your toes).

  • Elbows track 45 degrees back (not out to the side).

  • Head stays neutral (don't bow your neck).

  • Maintain tight plank from setup (butt, quads, and belly squeezed).

  • Lower body as far as possible without losing correct pushup form (plank) — this generally places the lower portion of the chest very close to, or in contact with the ground.

  • At the bottom of your downward pushup progression, the elbows should be directly above the wrists.

PUSHUP SCALING

modifying PUSHUPS based on ability):

  • As with the plank position, elevate hands to scale the pushup.

  • At the bottom of the pushup, your elbows will be slightly behind your wrists.

  • You may or may not contact the object used to elevate your hands; if you do, it will be lower toward the belly (instead of the chest). If your chest contacts the object, then your elbows are likely shooting out to the sides instead of 45 degrees back.

  • As you progress in strength over time (weeks), you can decrease the elevation of your hands. If you’re wondering how to increase pushup resistance, this is a great way to gradually ease into a whole bodyweight pushup.

Pushup descent: rock slightly forward, maintain plank, elbows track 45 degrees back, wrists directly above wrists at bottom.

Pushup descent: rock slightly forward, maintain plank, elbows track 45 degrees back, wrists directly above wrists at bottom.

Scaled pushup descent: maintain plank (don't leave butt in the air!) with your elbows slightly behind wrists at bottom.

THE pushup ASCENT (press)

  • Maintain the correct pushup form (plank) with neutral head.

  • Squeeze butt and quads hard to ensure they don't lag behind.

  • Press firmly through flat hands.

  • Establish plank position at the top with shoulders, elbows, and wrists stacked.

  • Don't tuck your chin on the way up; keep your head neutral.

PUSHUP SCALING

modifying PUSHUPS based on ability

  • Same pushup mechanics as listed above.

  • At the top, your shoulders will be slightly behind your elbows.

Pushup ascent (the press): press firmly through flat hands, maintain plank, keep head neutral, re-establish beginning plank position with shoulders over elbows and wrists.

Pushup ascent (the press): press firmly through flat hands, maintain plank, keep head neutral, re-establish beginning plank position with shoulders over elbows and wrists.

Pushup ascent (scaled): press firmly through flat hands, maintain plank, keep head neutral, shoulders will be slightly behind elbows at top.

THE FULL PUSHUP & SCALED PUSHUP

Even weathered pushup veterans may find themselves challenged with the mechanics of a correct pushup form. It's okay to decrease pushup volume, or, when your plank form begins to fail, to scale your pushups. It will pay dividends in the long run if you’re just beginning to learn how to do a pushup the right way.

Part two of our blog series on "How to Get a Pushup" will have a step-by-step pushup progression for how to get you to your first pushup, or how to to increase pushup quality and quantity if you have already mastered the pushup progression.

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