How to do a push-up properly

Here’s how to do a push-up properly to help you build up strength

Man learning how to do a push up properly
(Image credit: Getty)

Get to grips with how to do a push-up properly and find this crucial exercise easier to do than ever before. Armed with this guide, you should see your form and stamina improving, as well as your confidence in tackling this move altogether. Equipped with information for pros and beginners alike, this guide also has helpful variations if you need to take it a little easier, to begin with.

The golden rule when it comes to push-ups is to keep your core engaged as you would in the best workout for abs. Focusing on keeping your core engaged will not only help with your push-ups but you can expect improvements in your ab strength too.

By highlighting essential tips on form and helping you to correct common errors, this guide will stay with you during every push-up from here on in, and if followed correctly, you should feel increased strength in your core and your lower back, which is important to anyone looking to improve their fitness generally or to build muscle mass in the upper body. In terms of further health benefits, Scott Laidlet, a personal trainer with over 12 years of experience, also added that push-ups can even have positive effects on your cardiovascular health. 

We enlisted the help of expert James Thomas, who is a trainer and studio manager at Les Mills US (opens in new tab) to supplement this guide with his advice. He explained to Fit&Well; “Push-ups work multiple muscles at the same time, making this a compound movement pattern. They'll strengthen your chest, shoulders, triceps, biceps, and back”. To get started on perfecting your push-up form, all you need to do is keep reading the expert advice below.

How to do a push up

Push up

(Image credit: Future)
  • First, get into the starting plank position. Keep your legs together, with the balls of your feet and toes planted firmly on the floor. Your arms should be straight, with your hands placed just wider than shoulder width apart. 
  • In this starting position, your fingers should be spread out and pointed forwards. Most importantly, your body should form a straight line from your heels to your shoulders, with your head up. 
  • Start lowering yourself down towards the floor, concentrating on maintaining your straight body position. If you pull in your glutes (they’re the muscles in your backside) and your abs, this will help you maintain a rigid body position throughout. 
  • Keep lowering yourself until your chest almost touches the floor. Pause before pushing back up until your arms are straight. That’s one repetition – you should be doing at least 10 in a set. Go slowly at first, concentrating on perfecting the correct body position. 

How to do a push up: tips and common mistakes to avoid

The move may seem simple enough, but there’s a few common mistakes lots of people make when learning how to do a push up without proper instruction. You might not even notice yourself doing them, which could be hampering your progress. 

“People often lift their hips to give their abs a bit of a break, which is the wrong thing to do,” says celebrity PT Scott Laidler (opens in new tab). “From that position, you won’t be working your core." 

Push ups aren't just about your chest: to perform them correctly, you need to keep your body in a plank position, which takes core strength. If you push your hips up to give your ab muscles a break, Laidler says you also shift your weight from your chest to your shoulders, which means you're working the wrong muscles. 

Woman learning how to do a push up properly, demonstrating correct form

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"To fix this, you want your body to be in a straight line when doing a push up, from your shoulders to your heels,” Laidler tells us, revealing one of his top push up tips: use a mirror or a workout partner to keep an eye on your form. Alternatively, some fitness experts believe you’re more likely to maintain a straight body if you hook one ankle around the other.

You should start the move with your hands underneath your chest, and as you lower your body to the ground, your elbows should be no wider than 45 degrees. If your elbows start pointing at right-angles to your body, your hands are probably in the wrong place.

Push up variations

For those who can already do multiple sets of push ups, we’ve gathered lots of muscle-building, fat-torching variations on the move to help you on your fitness journey. 

How to do a Spider-Man push up

Spider-Man push up

(Image credit: Future)

The Spider-Man push up acquired its superhero-themed name as it mimics the leg movements of Stan Lee’s great comic book creation. It’s an altogether trickier – not to mention tougher – workout. 

  • Begin in the standard push up position, with your arms straight and hands placed just wider than shoulder width apart. As usual, your body should form a straight line from your heels to your shoulders.  
  • As you lower yourself, bring your right knee out sideways and pull it up towards your right elbow. Once you’ve reached the lowest position, slowly push back up to the plank position. While you’re doing this, reverse the leg movement so it finishes in the starting position. 
  • Once you’ve done it with your left leg, swap over and do the same exercise with your right leg. Alternate between the two during sets of repetitions. 

How to do a Judo push up

Judo push up

(Image credit: Future)

This variation on the push up adds in extra movements for the core and upper body, so it should help improve your core flexibility. 

  •  Start in an adapted push up position, with your body bent at the hips to make a rough “v” shape. As usual, your hands should be placed just wider than hip-width apart, with your legs together and the balls of your feet grounded. 
  • Lower yourself down in the adapted position, then bring your hips down to make a standard push up “down” position.
  • Pause briefly in the lower position. Don’t allow your chest or hips to touch the floor: pull in your abs and glutes to help maintain good posture. 
  • As you push back up again, raise your head and shoulders to gently stretch your core and lower back. Pause briefly in this position, before lowering your head and shoulders to return to the starting position. 

How to do a diamond push up

Diamond push up

(Image credit: Future)

If you want a gruelling workout, you should try variations on push-ups with different grips. Closer and wider grips both make the exercise much more difficult. Another excellent alternative is the diamond push-up, which works the triceps just that little bit harder.

  • Assume the plank position, taking care to make a straight line with your back and legs. Place your hands a few inches apart, with your fingers pointing forwards at a 45-degree angle and your thumbs extended. 
  • The tips of your thumbs and fingers should be touching and form a triangle shape. Lower yourself until your chest is just a few inches off the ground, just as you would a normal push up.

How to do a scorpion push up

Scorpion push up

(Image credit: Future)

 In its purest form, the scorpion push-up offers a real test of your flexibility. In fact, only those with particularly flexible muscles can perform it accurately. Because of this, we’ve adapted the exercise to make it easier for those of all levels of ability and muscular flexibility. 

  • Get into the plank position, but this time place your feet roughly hip-width apart. Your arms should be straight, with your hands positioned in the classic manner. Remember to pull in your glutes and core to help make your body more rigid. This helps maintain that fabled straight line between your shoulders and ankles.  
  • Lower yourself in the standard fashion, until your chest is a few inches off the ground. 
  • As you push back up, flick your left leg over your right ankle and out to the side. To do this, you’ll need to twist at the core a little. How far you are able to flick it out depends on your flexibility; to begin with, don’t try and overreach and concentrate on keeping good balance and control.  
  • Once your arms are fully extended, go straight into another push-up, lowering your body whilst simultaneously bringing your core and legs back to the usual position, as shown in picture two.  
  • When you press back up again, reverse the “scorpion” leg movements so that you’re bringing your right leg over your left ankle and your right heel towards your left shoulder. 

How to do a walking gecko push up

Walking gecko push up

(Image credit: Future)

This variation on the push up requires good agility, and provides a workout for the core, legs and upper body. If you’re having trouble getting the movements right, imagine that you’re walking like a gecko.

  • Start in a regular plank position, but with your feet hip-width apart and your hands just wider than shoulder width apart. 
  • Lower yourself in the standard manner.  
  • As you come up, simultaneously bring your right knee towards your right elbow, and move your left hand forward.  
  • As you move forward, your body should naturally lower. In the lowest position, your left hand should be further forward than your head.  
  • As you come up, raise your left knee towards your left elbow, and push your right hand forwards.  
  • Complete the movement, so that you’re down low with your left knee touching your left elbow and your right arm extended forwards. That’s one repetition – now onto the next one… 

How to do a push-up into rotation

Woman doing a push up into rotation

(Image credit: Future)

If you're after a way to build muscle in your upper body and develop core strength, then consider adding a push up into rotation to your routine. In effect, this move combines a push up with a side plank but also requires your core for stabilization as you transition between the two positions.

  • Start in a push-up position, either on your toes or on your knees.
  • Lower your body towards the floor.
  • As you rise back to the start position, raise one hand off the floor and rotate up, so your raised hand is pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Return to the start position and repeat on the other side.

How to do a dive-bomb push up

Woman doing a dive-bomb push up

(Image credit: Future)

This push up variation blends the bodyweight move with yoga-style stretching. The movement starts in the yoga position downward-facing dog before transitioning into a chest and leg-focused strength exercise.

  • Perform a downward dog, raising your bottom in the air, so you look like an inverted 'v'.
  • Lower shoulders towards the floor, but before your chin hits the ground, swoop your body forward, so you push your chest out and forwards.
  • Your back should be arched and arms locked out.
  • Hold the position for a second, then return to the starting position by reversing the exercise.

How to do a close hand push up

Woman doing a close hand push up

(Image credit: Future)

Initially, this move looks similar to a diamond push up, but the placement of your hands is mid-way between shoulder-width and the diamond position. As a result, it works different muscles and is complementary to a standard or diamond push up.

  • Take up a plank position with your hands placed on the floor, narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly lower yourself down to perform a press up until your chest almost touches the floor.
  • Pause, then push yourself up to the starting position.

How to do a Swiss Ball push up

Woman doing a Swiss Ball push up

(Image credit: Future)

If you want to challenge yourself and get a whole-body workout, then give this Swiss Ball push up a try. The exercise targets your chest, triceps, and core as the ball's instability means your whole body will work to maintain balance.

  • Perform a press up with your feet on the ball, ensuring that you maintain a good neutral plank position throughout.
  • Once you have completed your press up, push your body back while keeping your core engaged and return to the start position.

How to do a knee push up

Woman doing a knee push up

(Image credit: Future)

If you're looking for how to do a push up for beginners, then a knee push up is a great place to start. By placing your knees on the ground, you don't have to support the majority of your bodyweight through your upper body during the exercise.

  • Start on all fours and lean forward so your hands are under your shoulders and your weight is over your top half.
  • With your elbows facing outwards, lower your body to the floor, keeping a straight back.
  • Lift your torso, pushing through your arms.
Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.

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