How to Do the Perfect Push-Up
Illustrations by David Cushnie Bell

Push-ups — we’ve all done ‘em, but sometimes they just don’t look so pretty. Fear not! We’ve got the guide to get it right. Push-ups are a total-body functional move that's great for increasing strength, much like bench-pressing, and have the added benefit of engaging the core and lower body (thanks, gravity!). The bodyweight exercise can be done just about anywhere — with a ton of variations to liven things up. So let’s drop down and do the perfect push-up.

The Basics

Basic Push-Up 1. Get into a high plank position.

The perfect plank means your hands are planted firmly on the ground, directly under your shoulders. Ground the toes to the floor to stabilize the bottom half of the body. Engage the abs, by pulling your navel toward your spine, and flatten the back so the body is neutral and straight.

2. Lower the body.

Begin to lower the body—back flat, eyes focused about three feet in front of you to keep a neutral neck—until the chest grazes the floor. Don’t let the butt dip or stick out at any point during the move; the body should remain flat from head to toe all the way through the movement. Draw the shoulder blades back and down, while keeping the elbows tucked close to the body, so the upper arms form a 45-degree angle at the bottom of the push-up position.

3. Push back up.

Keeping the core engaged, exhale as you push back to the start position. That’s one! Repeat for 10 to 20 reps or as many as can be performed with good form.

Once you’ve nailed the basics, mix it up with one of these 82 different push-up variations.

The Most Common Push-Up Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

The Mistake: Focusing too much on the upper body.
The Fix: Sure, push-ups are known for strengthening the pecs, shoulders, and triceps, but they’re a total-body move. Pay attention to the glutes and legs, and keep ‘em tight! Tightening that tush can help keep the lower back from arching during the move. Instead of letting the bum flop down first (and compromising the lower back), hit the ground chest first, keeping the hips in the same plane as the shoulders. Imagine the belly button drawing in toward the spine to help keep the torso flat.

The Mistake: Flaring the arms.
The Fix: Letting those arms pop out to 90 degrees can be really tough on the shoulders. Instead of forming a “T” with the arms and body, keep the elbows tucked close to the body.

The Mistake: Forgetting to breathe.
The Fix: Faith Hill had it right: Just breathe. Concentrating on form and reps can make it easy to forget one of the most important parts of working out — breathing. Inhale on the way down, and exhale on the way back up.

The Mistake: Cheating Yourself.
The Fix: The key is quality over quantity. Make sure each push-up reaches a full range of motion by getting the chest as close to the floor as comfortable, then fully extending the elbows at the top. Having sloppy form will make for a less effective strengthening exercise that targets fewer muscles.

Originally posted on March 26, 2013. Reposted August 2013.

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