Form and technique | How to do a push-up the right way

The push-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises that anyone can do. An added benefit is they require no equipment and are great for building muscle and functional strength almost anywhere. Find out all you need to know about technique and how best to approach the push-up if you’re starting a 30-day challenge, below.

What are push-ups good for?

The main purpose of a push-up is to build strength and muscle in the chest area. But that’s not the only thing it’s good for.

Push-ups also:

  • work the shoulders and triceps
  • strengthen the lower back and abs by ‘dragging in your core’
  • improve your cardiovascular fitness, while helping to reduce body fat
  • help create stronger, denser bones – reducing the chance of osteoporosis.

Development of muscles in this way will also increase your heart rate. This means doing push-ups can have a beneficial effect on your cardiovascular system and help reduce body fat. Push-ups are also beneficial for strengthening bones meaning it can help slow down the possibility of osteoporosis by creating a stronger more dense bone structure.

Everyone will start at a different level but that’s the beauty of the push-up: there are variations and modifications so it doesn’t matter if you’ve never done them before or if you’re a seasoned pro.

How to do a push-up

If you’re a beginner, doing a full push-up for the first time can be a little daunting. As you build up your strength, you could start with incline push-ups or kneeling push-ups.

While many people think you should be in a T shape (elbows in line with your shoulders), this can actually strain your shoulder joint. But no matter what your level, you should focus on getting the technique right. While many people think you should be in a T shape (elbows in line with your shoulders), this can actually strain your shoulder joints.

Instead you should aim for an upside-down V shape by moving your hands back slightly and tucking them closer into your torso.

Push-up tips for beginners

If you can’t do a single push-up and are looking to get started, don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to gradually build up to the real thing.

Progress gradually

Don't be discouraged if you can only do a few repetitions at first. 

Progress in fitness is always gradual. This is the safest way to avoid injury and burnout.

Gradually increase the number of push-ups you do each session, whether these are wall or assisted push-ups.

Start with the wall

If you're completely new to push-ups, start by doing some wall push-ups. 

Stand facing a wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart against it. Step back a bit and lean forward, pushing your bodyweight down into the wall. 

This reduces the amount of body weight you need to lift and slowly builds the strength in your chest that’s required to build towards doing a standard push-up.

Use your knees

The way most people build up to repping multiple push-ups is by starting on their knees.

Once you’re comfortable with the form and you feel you’ve mastered the wall push-up, lay on your front and assume the push-up position.

Instead of planting your feet on the floor, plant your knees. This will result in less weight being pressed by the chest.

Incline push-ups

The final phase of building towards standard push-ups is to start getting comfortable with incline push-ups.

Find an elevated surface like a bench, sturdy chair, or low countertop and place your hands shoulder-width apart against it.

Step your feet back so your body forms a diagonal line from head to heel and lower your chest toward the surface, then push back up. 

Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 incline push-ups. Progress with incline push-ups is quick, as the movement is very similar to a traditional push-up.

Tips for the perfect push-up

  1. Start with on all fours, then raise yourself up into a high plank position, palms flat on the floor, hands in the tucked position mentioned above.
  2. Drag your abs in once you’re up in this position and keep your back flat.
  3. Slowly lower yourself to the floor while keeping your torso strong – try not to flex your lower back or hips.
  4. Continue down so that your chest is just above the floor and drive your hands down to raise your body up in a straight line.
  5. Repeat the motion until you can’t keep the same body position, or you can’t push yourself up anymore.

Try a 30 day push-up challenge

Once you’ve nailed technique, why not set yourself a 30 day goal? Some ideas include:

  • set a number of push-ups to do every day for 30 days
  • set a total to complete over 30 days
  • aim to progress from an incline or kneeling push-up, to a standard push-up, and maybe even to the variations below by day 30.

Over the course of 30 days you should notice your strength increase so don’t stand still, challenge yourself to increase the number of push-ups you do every day.

Try to increase the number of push-ups you do slowly and consistently, focusing on the technique tips.

Aiming for 100 push-ups a day by day 30 is a good goal to have. As you build up to 100 push-ups, don’t worry about completing them in one go. Take a few seconds break every few push-ups if you need to. It’s a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge.

Push-up variations to challenge yourself further

As with every exercise, it’s important to add some variation to keep challenging the muscles. If you feel ready to try some push-up modifications, watch our personal trainers explain how to perform them below.

How to do a wide hand push-up

Engage a little more chest and shoulder into the exercise by going slightly wider with your starting hand position.

How to do a suspended push-up

Add in the use of the TRX suspension trainer to increase the stability through the shoulders, giving you an added challenge plus the addition of trying to keep the core strong through this motion.

How to do a Spiderman push-up

Give yourself a real challenge and some variation to make the push up more interesting try this Spiderman variation.

Each of these variations has the ability to progress and regress just by changing the leg position. Drop to your knees to lift less of your body or change the angle on the TRX to allow you to complete the desired amount of repetitions quickly and safely.

Key takeaway

The great thing about the push-up is its versatility. Whatever your ability or fitness level, you can incorporate them into your workout to get stronger and fitter.

A 30-day challenge is a great way to make improvements and work towards a goal. Always think about your technique to avoid injuries and get the most out of your push-ups.

Last updated Tuesday 24 October 2023

First published on Monday 16 December 2019