Humans have probably been doing push ups for thousands of years. Ancient men likely didn’t quite understand how good for you they were, but throughout history, we’ve found different ways to ask, “How much you bench, bro?” Maybe that used to be “How many floor dips canst thou execute?”
Push ups are a great bodyweight exercise, and a fantastic way to measure your overall fitness level. Unfortunately, most people do them wrong, losing much of that benefit.
Starting Position For A Push Up
Today, we’re going to dig deep into the move, so let’s start off with the set up.
- Get in a plank position, resting on your hands and your toes.
- Position your hands a little wider than your shoulders. Viewed from the side, they should be directly under your shoulders, not out in front.
- Your body should be in a straight line from head to toe. Don’t raise your butt or let your back sag.
- Your eyes should be looking slightly in front of you. Don’t dip your head down.
Doing a Push Up
Now that you’re set up properly, it’s time to execute it.
- Clench your butt and engage your abs.
- Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your body. Don’t flare them out.
- Lower your body in a straight line. Avoid hinging at your hips and just lowering your chest.
- Lower yourself until your chest is about 3 inches from the ground.
- Reverse the motion and explode back up.
For some people, doing a single push up is a huge challenge. When we’re young, we’re taught to drop to our knees if we can’t do a full one, but that’s not the best way to go. Push ups are a full body exercise. When you drop down, you’re taking half of your body out of the equation.
Instead of knee push ups, start with an elevated variation. You can start out on a wall, then drop to a bench, then a step, etc. So instead of just working the top half, you’re getting the whole body involved. You also have a clear path of progression instead of just doing them on your knees until you’re ready to move up.
Once you’ve mastered the push up, it’s not a matter of just doing more and more volume. You can change your hand positions, feet elevation, or any host of factors to hit different parts of your body.
Diamond Push Ups
Move your hand close together. Turn the slightly inward so that your pointer fingers come together. Everything else stays the same. This forces your triceps to work harder. Do this as a secondary move to standard push ups, as it won’t give your chest as good of a workout.
Incline Push Ups
Put your feet up on a bench and do an otherwise normal push up. Not only does it make it harder, but it also targets your upper pecks and shoulders more. This can be done instead of standard push ups, but make sure you alternate from workout to workout.
4 Second Push Ups
If you want a great chest burn, try slowing down your descent. As you’re lowering yourself, count to 4. Take the whole 4 seconds to reach the bottom of the move, then explode up. This can be done with any variation, beginner or advanced.
Now you’re ready to take on the single best exercise in human history. Whether you’re just looking to incorporate it into your workout, or you’re breaking into calisthenics, this is the bread and butter of functional strength training. Go forth and conquer.