How to Improve Your Push-Up Technique


Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Push-ups are one of the simplest resistance exercises. You use your own body weight to develop your triceps, activate your core, and sharpen balance in your body. However, push-ups are often performed with improper technique.

No need to worry, though. Through practice, you can learn how to improve your push-up ability and even bump up the difficulty with several variations of the exercise. A flat surface and a desire to progress is all you need to perfect your push-up performance.

Plus, you will build your strength and endurance while you do it. Keep reading to learn how you can improve your push-up technique.

What Is the Proper Push-Up Technique?

Push-ups offer numerous health benefits. For example, a recent study found that those who can perform 40 push-ups develop fewer cardiovascular events—such as heart attacks and strokes—than people who cannot do 10 pushups.

Push-ups also build your upper body and core strength as well as increase your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories, even though you are stationary. To attain the maximum number of benefits from push-ups, though, you need to learn the proper push-up technique.

Use the following steps to not only learn how to do a proper push-up, but also to gain enough strength in your arms that you can easily lower your body and push back up again to the starting position. Here's how:

  1. Begin in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. Keep your hands pointing forward and your body in a straight line. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
  3. Engage your core and legs to hold a plank position.
  4. Lower your body at your own pace by bending your elbows and keeping them next to your sides. Your arms might shake at first, but the more you perform push-ups, the less likely this will happen.
  5. Push yourself back up using your arms, core, legs, and glutes.
  6. Keep your neck and body straight and neutral. Focus your eyes a few inches in front of you to avoid straining your neck.
  7. Repeat 10 times or until you hit the maximum number of push-ups you can do while still keeping perfect form.

How to Improve Your Push-Up Technique

If you notice you struggle to complete any of the steps mentioned above, you may need to improve your push-up technique. Follow these tips and recommendations to perfect your push-up technique.

  • Modify the push-up by starting with your knees on the ground—especially if keeping your arms and legs in a plank position is too challenging.
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the push-up. Because your core acts as a stabilizer, keeping it engaged will help prevent collapsing.
  • Avoid locking your arms. If you lock your arms this can cause injury or lead to your blood pooling.
  • Refrain from arching your back. Arching like a cat adds unnecessary strain to your back.
  • Practice consistently. Because this movement does not involve equipment, you can even set a goal to do 10 push-ups right when you get out of bed. doing push-ups first thing in the morning allows you to get a good start to your day and can perhaps wake you up faster than usual.
  • Increase your reps gradually. If you find even one push-up challenging, work up to one with both your arms and legs in plank position (rather than your knees on the ground). You will find your strength improves over time and you will be able to do more.
  • Take a break from push-ups if you have an arm or shoulder injury. A physical therapist could help with proper exercises to rehabilitate you. Continuing to do push-ups could exacerbate the injury.

Push-Up Variations to Try

After you master the traditional push-up, you may start to find traditional push-ups mundane or boring. Spice things up by trying different variations and incorporating them into your exercise routine. Once you feel comfortable performing the basic version of the push-up, here are a few push-up alternatives you can try.

Decline Push-Up

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

In this variation, you elevate your feet on a flat surface (such as a bench) to target your upper chest muscles. To make this movement easier or harder, adjust the surface’s height. This will decrease or increase your body’s weight resistance because you are in a decline push-up position.

Incline Push-Up

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The opposite of a decline push-up, which targets the upper chest muscles, is the incline push-up. This type of push-up targets your lower chest muscles.

To perform this push-up, elevate your hands on a flat surface (like an exercise bench or a simple step) and lower yourself until your elbows are at 90 degrees, then come back up. To make this push-up easier, you can move your body away from the flat surface. Doing so, will reduce the body weight you are using.

Handstand Push-Up

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In a handstand push-up, you face a wall as you bend down and place your hands six to 12
inches away from the wall, spreading your fingers and pushing into the ground. Then you kick up into a handstand. This variation is a much more advanced alternative and should not be attempted until you can do a simple handstand without the push-up.

Spiderman Push-Up

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To complete a Spiderman push-up, you lower yourself down just as you would in a typical push-up. But with this version, you bring one knee toward your elbow on the same side. You then switch legs. This movement works the hip flexors and abs as well as your arms, core, and chest. 

Stability Ball Push-Up

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Incorporating a stability ball requires significant core muscles. In a stability ball push-up, you lie with your chest and hands on the ball (in a similar set up as a standard push-up). You then push yourself up, keeping the ball steady. This move builds balance in addition to adding strength.

Pilates Push-Up

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This modified push-up incorporates Pilates movements. In this push-up, you begin in a plank position with your hands right under your shoulders, rather than a little more than shoulder width apart. When you lower down, you keep your elbows right at your sides and your shoulders away from your ears.

Clapping Push-Up

In this push-up, you generate enough power to clap midair as you come up. Because this push-up requires core strength as well as balance and coordination, you must work up to it. You can injure yourself a lot easier with this style of push-up than you can with other variations.

How to Change the Plank Timing of Your Push-Up

To change up the classic push-up and add some variety to your workout, try varying the time spent lowering your body. This keeps you in the plank position for a longer period of time and helps you focus on your core. Here's how to do it.

  1. Begin in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Your feet should be hip width apart.
  2. Hold this position for 1 second.
  3. Lower both of your arms at the same pace until your nose is one inch from the floor. You are now in a low plank position.
  4. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  5. Stay in plank position and lengthen your arms coming halfway up from your starting position.
  6. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  7. Extend your arms and push yourself up into your starting position
  8. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
  9. Extend your arms fully and push yourself up as high as you can while keeping your hands on the floor.
  10. Hold this position for 1 second.

How to Incorporate Dumbbells Into Your Push-Ups

Another option for changing up your push-ups to make them more challenging is to incorporate hand weights, says TJ Mentus, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews. Using hand weights incorporates both your body weight and the weight of the dumbbell in one movement. Here's how to perform this move.

  1. Begin in a push-up position, holding a lightweight dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward toward your torso.
  2. Stabilize yourself by keeping your feet slightly wider than you would in a typical plank.
  3. Perform a push-up, lowering yourself until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
  4. Perform a row with one of the dumbbells once you reach the top of the push-up.
  5. Keep your back straight and hips square during the movement.
  6. Lower the dumbbell until it reaches the floor.
  7. Lower yourself with your arms back to the starting position and repeat.

Mentus suggests trying these moves for 30 seconds to start and work up to 1 minute as you get stronger in your plank, push-up, and row.

Other Things to Consider

As you get more comfortable with your push-ups, you may need to tweak little things here and there to ensure you are not only doing a proper push-up, but also getting the most from the exercise. Also, remember that you can perform push-ups on your knees as you build your strength. Following these tips can help you perfect your push-up technique.

Protect Your Wrists

To avoid injuring your arm or wrists, try incorporating equipment into your movements. You can wrap your hands around dumbbells on the floor for stability and keep them in a neutral position. Or, you can wear wrist supports. If you hear any popping sounds, you should stop what you are doing and talk to a healthcare provider. It is always important to ensure an exercise is right for you.

Strengthen Your Back

When you strengthen your back, you can better perform compound movements without risking injuries, says John Gardner, CPT, a certified personal trainer, co-founder, and CEO of Kickoff. Doing push-ups with an arched back or adding too much strain to your joints, can weaken your back muscles, he says.

If you find that your back tends to be on the weaker side, consider adding back exercises to your routine. Some exercises to consider are lat pulldowns, back extensions, and the bridge. By regularly working your back, you will find that your push-ups will begin to feel easier over time.

Perform Planks

Strengthening your core will help you improve your push-ups in the long run. And one of the best ways to improve your core strength is to perform planks on a consistent basis. Rather than start with your arms stretched out to hold the plank, you can begin with a modified version.

Put your elbows on the floor and keep your forearms in a straight line resting on the floor. Try holding this position for 30 seconds to a full minute, depending on your capabilities. Gradually, as your core strength improves, you can increase the amount of time you are holding the plank position.

The Bottom Line

Push-ups are a beneficial and accessible form of exercise that allows you to build strength and muscle in a variety of different areas. But, to get the most out of push-ups you need to ensure you are using proper form. As you become more skilled at doing push-ups, you can try different variations to not only make them more challenging, but also to keep things fresh and interesting.

If you are having trouble doing a proper push-up, you can modify it until you build your strength. You also can work with a personal trainer, who can help you build the strength you need to do push-ups on a consistent basis.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yang J, Christophi C, Farioli A, et al. Association between push-up exercise capacity and future cardiovascular events among active adult menJAMA Netw Open. 2019:2(2):e188341. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341

  2. Hunter GR, Singh H, Carter SJ, Bryan DR, Fisher G. Sarcopenia and its implications for metabolic health. J Obes. 2019;2019:8031705. doi:10.1155/2019/8031705

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, CPT
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."