How to Perform A Better Pushup


How To Perform A Better Pushup (the easy way-ish)

Pushups are one of those foundational exercises that you can do pretty much anywhere, anytime and stimulate a good percentage of the body all at the same time.

They help us engage our core muscles and build those chest, shoulders, tricep and upper back muscles.  So you could say that pushups are pretty important.

Not to mention that, but they're super functional.  Not much more functionality than being able to get yourself up off the ground in a safe and effective manner.


Performing the Pushup

Performing a pushup correctly is definitely challenging for some people and rightly so, there's a lot going on.  You have to have your core braced strongly, which is harder if you're taller.  You have to keep your shoulders in a good solid position without a lot of excessive movement around and also engage the triceps extremely hard to force yourself from the ground.

Plus then we may be dealing with some wrist, elbow and shoulder pain from age or other fitness related injuries, making a pushup from the floor fairly difficult.

Still, with persistance and consistent effort you can bring your pushup skill into the realm of ease with a few of these simple tricks in the video.

Just remember the triceps should be doing a lot of the work, along with the chest, while the shoulders should be doing a bit of work, but not all the work.  Most people try to get their shoulders to do all the work and rest at the top on their front delts, which will end up getting super strong and sore, while neglecting the triceps and chest of their job.  Work towards making all the muscles do work!


The Hand Setup

Setting up for a perfect pushups begins with the hand position.  Many people start way to high with their hands making the pushup almost impossible to do correctly since their torso and upper body position put the shoulders at an advantage versus their chest and triceps.

An ideal pushup position is going to be having the elbows just slightly lower than the shoulders with the shoulder blades tucked back and leveled out.  Many times you can see a lot of people having trouble achieving even this solid setup position with the shoulders back and chest out posture creating a lot of winging in the scapula.  This isn't ideal and must be compensated for with a lot of planks and pushup plank holds.

Some other band exercises like single arm band press outs, scapula pushups, and rowing exercises will help build up these weaker back and serrates anterior musculature to prevent such winging, but that's a topic for another day.

Now with your hands in the right position below and slightly down from the shoulders you simply place your hands in a comfortable position a little wider than shoulder width.  That's it.  Too close to the ribs and you just made this a tricep dominant exercise, too wide and your chest and shoulders are going to take the brunt of the force.  Those are options, but in a perfect pushup where you want a balance of all muscle groups you want an even distribution of force from the triceps, chest and shoulders, while the upper back serves as your foundation.  All to many people forget to contract their lats to help stabilize this action, which often makes there pushups look more like rockers at a Slayer concert than a controlled exercise.


The Core

Now with your hands set in position, extend your feet until they're about a foot apart from one another or closer.  Keep the body tight and level.  Tight and level.  I'll say it again, tight and level.

You're going to have to take a deep breathe into your abs and contract around that air.  It's core bracing.  That's what you want.  A nice tight package that you can lower down and hold stable, while letting your upper body do the work.

Now that you're stable, descent to the floor, almost.  Don't quite touch, if possible.  Many will have to go all the way down.  Some will make a meager attempt and bend the elbows a bit and come right back up.  Don't do this.  If you can't achieve a full range of motion try something like this until you get stronger, that way you still can get the most benefit from having to engage your core.  See video below...


Once you're stronger, then you can start lowering yourself down lower and lower to get to the floor.


Sets and Reps..Practice, A Lot

Since pushups are a foundational exercise and something everyone should be able to do, you should do a lot of them.

Just remember that this isn't a full program and you always need to work on balance in the body, but you very rarely see someone who is fit that can't knockout 50-100 pushups at a sitting, if not more.

A good rule of thumb is to start with what you can do and do three sets of those.  Can't quite get 10, well, back of the intensity and elevate it until you can get 10-20 reps easily.  The start working on your 3 sets of 10.

From their you can start banging out pushups with ease and changing the intensity.  Do pushups in the morning.  Max out and see how many you can do.

When you're watching tv drop and do pushups during the commercial.

Bored sitting around in the office not doing anything, drop down and do a couple pushups.

To get good at pushups you just need to practice.  But make each repetition sexy.  You want the reps to look smooth and easy as possible.  Once your body gets stronger and knows just what muscles to brace and push from they're easy.

Take mind the small tips in the video and get started on your goal to reach 1000 pushups a day.  We used to do this in the military and it's not super hard if you break it up during the day.  After all it's only 10 sets of 100, but boy will your arms be sore the next day.

Here's one of my favorites from my client Lori.  She's an amazingly tough woman, who can now knockout 20 pushups off the ground with this technique.  Not to shabby...



Jess Howland

Jesse "Captain Smash" Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold's Gym. He's a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.