Correct technique for push ups (inc. video of variations)

What I love about push ups is that you can do them anywhere, you don’t need any equipment, there are variations for every fitness level (see video at the end) and they’re half a burpee!! Not only are they great for increasing upper body strength, but you’ll also get a core and lower body workout if done with correct technique.

Performing a push up correctly is VITAL. If you’re completing them incorrectly, and then doing a lot of them, you may experience shoulder impingement, lower back pain, neck pain, elbow pain, headaches and the list goes on. It’s a much better option to complete 10 push ups with correct technique than to complete 100 push ups with bad technique. DO NOT LET YOUR EGO CONTROL YOUR TRAINING (which I’m the first to admit is easier said than done).

Good technique:

  • Begin in plank position with your hands under your shoulders or slightly wider.
  • Take your feet hip width apart to help with balance.
  • Keep the body rigid with your core engaged (belly button drawn into your spine) and glutes / legs engaged (push back through your heels and squeeze your butt).
  • Throughout the whole movement, keep your eyes to the floor so your neck remains in a neutral position
  • As you lower your body, keep your back flat and your elbows pointing backward rather than flared out to the side (this is not good alignment for your shoulders)
  • To complete a full push up YOUR CHEST SHOULD TOUCH THE FLOOR thus giving a full range of movement. If you do not yet have the strength to do this, you’re much better off performing the movement on an incline and gaining full range of movement (see photos further down). Remember: DO NOT LET YOUR EGO CONTROL YOUR TRAINING.
  • Press through your hands and the balls of your feet, keep your core and glutes engaged and push your body back to plank position.

Bad technique and what to do about it:

  • Hips dipping or “sagging” through your lower back: this will happen if you’re not engaging / are weak through your core or if you’re not engaging your glutes and legs. Make sure you have a strong, straight position BEFORE you start moving.
  • Head dips forward or your leading with your chin rather than your chest: Make sure your head remains in a neutral position by looking slightly forward of your hands at a point on the floor.
  • Poor hand and elbow positioning: Fingers should be slightly turning outwards, which will allow the elbows to come in closer to the body. Your elbows should not move out beyond your wrists – this will cause unwanted stress on the elbow joints and may lead to an overuse injury. 


How to get started and get better:

Practice make perfect! The more push ups you do, the better your body will adapt and then be able to perform more of them. It’s important to note too, that any body weight exercise is easier if you have less bodyweight to be pushing / lifting / pulling etc.


Yes push ups on your knees are good for increasing upper body strength, however you will not utilise the same set of muscles as you would for a full push up. If your goal is to complete full push ups, then the progression exercise should be to use the same body position (plank) and movement, but at different elevations.

Progression to 20 full range of movement push ups:

Every day the goal is to complete 20 push ups in total. Remember DO NOT LET YOUR EGO CONTROL YOUR TRAINING! be honest with yourself and be strict with your technique. If you are unable to complete the modifications with correct technique, don’t progress to the next level. 

  • Complete as many continuous wall push ups as possible and then rest as much as required – till eventually you can complete all 20 wall push ups continuously.
  • Once you can complete 20 wall push ups with good technique, advance to incline push ups.
  • Complete as many high incline push ups as possible and then drop back to wall pushups to complete the set of 20  – till eventually you can complete all 20 high incline push ups.
  • Once you can complete 20 high incline push ups with good technique, advance to low incline push ups.
  • Complete as many low incline push ups as possible and then drop back to high incline push ups to complete the set of 20  – till eventually you can complete all 20 low incline push ups.
  • Once you can complete 20 low incline push ups with good technique, advance to full push ups.
  • Complete as many full push ups as possible and then drop back to low incline push ups to complete the set of 20  – till eventually you can complete all 20 full push ups.

Once you can complete 20 full range of movement push ups it’s time to enjoy some variations! These are great to spice up your training

 Yes, I’d like to become a SBF member  


Author: Sally Brouwer

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