How to Do a Push-Up in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Upper body, abdominals, hamstrings

Level: Advanced

The Pilates push-up is a big challenge. It takes time to build up the core strength, arm strength, and stability required to fully do this exercise. In fact, it comes in as the final exercise on the list in Joseph Pilates's book, "Return to Life Through Contrology."


The Pilates push-up is a total body exercise. Practicing it strengthens your arms and shoulders, but you must also use your abs and core muscles to stabilize your torso. The legs get involved with a stretch to the hamstrings at the back of the thighs. The Pilates push-up helps you develop strong muscles to improve your quality of life and ability to perform daily activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin standing with good Pilates posture.

  1. Inhale. Keep your shoulders down as you bring your arms straight up over your head.

  2. Exhale. Nod your head and begin to roll down toward the mat, allowing your arms to follow your ears. As you roll down, pull your abs in and curve your spine until your hands reach the mat.

  3. Inhale. Walk your hands out on the mat in three big steps until you are in front support/plank. Be sure to keep your shoulders away from your ears and your hips stable, not rocking side to side.

    End in plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, your legs straight, and your body in one long line from your heels to your ears.

  4. Exhale. Hold your plank position. Your legs and arms should be straight. Your heels, hips, shoulders, and ears should be in one line.

    Rotate your arms are so that the inside of the elbow faces forward. This is important as it helps stabilize your shoulder blades and sets your elbows in position for upward movement.

  5. Inhale. Bend your elbows straight back along your sides so that your arms brush your ribs. (This is different than some push-up styles where the elbows are allowed to splay outward.)

    As you slowly lower yourself toward the mat, keep your shoulder blades settled into your back; they should not pop up.

  6. Exhale. Keep your abs lifted and extend your elbows so that you levitate your body, in one long line, up away from the mat.

    Many people find that keeping their inner thighs together and imagining that their sit bones are pulling together engages the lower body in a way that helps you get back up without collapsing.

  7. Inhale. Walk your hands back to your deep curve position. Keep your pelvis lifted, and again, don't let the pelvis rock.

  8. Exhale. Use your abdominals to slowly return the pelvis to the upright position and allow the rest of the spine to roll up, vertebra by vertebra.

    End in a standing position.

  9. Inhale to lift your arms.

  10. Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times.

Common Mistakes

Doing the push-up with proper form helps you make the most of the exercise. Remember that's it's not how many of these you do, but how well you do each one of them. Focus on perfect alignment, guarding against these issues:

Rocking Hips

Keep your pelvis very stable as you walk your arms out at the beginning of the exercise. Your hips should not rock back and forth with the movement or your arms.

Shoulder Instability

Keep your shoulder blades down as you lower from plank position to bent elbows. The shoulder blades should not lift up or move toward each other. This is an essential part of the exercise as it teaches you to stabilize your shoulders and torso.

Leading with the Hips

Rael Isakowitz, a Pilates master, points out that many students mistake the walking back part of this move as a yoga-like downward dog position, but it is not. You are using your abdominals to deeply pull in and move toward rolling up.

Modifications and Variations

Since this is a challenging exercise to do well, you may need to work up to it. Wall roll down, front support/plank and push-up on the ball will serve you well as building blocks towards doing a full Pilates push-up.

Need a Modification?

Bend your knees as you are rolling down from standing to get your hands to the mat. Review wall roll down as a prep for this part of the exercise.

You can also do the push-up portion on your knees, or place your hands on a desk or bench to do the push-up at an elevated angle instead of in full plank.

Up for a Challenge?

Try some other upper-body moves, like these plank variations.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise should be avoided if you have pain or injuries to your shoulder, wrist, elbow, or neck.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.