Progress your Push Ups: Beginners Guide

The Push up is one of the most common of exercises and because of this, I believe, it is a movement that is taken for granted. Not only is it assumed to be easy to perform but it is highly underutilized in training programs and therefore not much attention is given to its technical reform.

I use push up variations in all of my athletes’ programming and I even use a push up assessment with a new or returning athlete and honestly I am very surprised at the number of people who cannot perform a push up properly.

This article will get you refocused on proper push up form, get you to perform more repetitions and prepare you for more intermediate and advanced progressions down the road.

Technically Speaking

When performing all exercise movements correct posture and control should be in the forefront of one’s mind. I tell my athletes that the push up is a moving front plank; the whole body moves as one unit from the top to the floor and back up.

So many times I see the hips remain high while the chest descends to the floor or the opposite happening where the hips drop below the shoulders especially at the bottom of the movement. Whether it is a lack of strength in a particular area or it is a lack of control of the body by moving too fast and becoming disjointed, maintaining proper body alignment is crucial to a proper push up.


push up


Starting Out

If an athlete’s push ups look more like a convulsing fish on land rather than a smooth movement they need to be brought back a few steps to progress forward. The best way to do that is to get them elevated.

Using a bar on a rack or Smith machine set it up to the proper level for the athlete to be successful. Have them start with the hand in a position where they will be the strongest. I ask my athletes to put their hands in a position where they would be if they were to push me across the room. Usually the hands are positioned just outside the body where the thumbs are very close to the armpits.

Set them up on the bar in this manner and before they move tell them to tighten the glutes and core. As they descend to the bar have them pull their body to the bar as if they were compressing a big spring with their chest, this will hopefully eliminate the desire to descend too rapidly as well as maintain tension at the bottom of the movement before they come back up.

The movement should be smooth with no compensation of body position. If the hips drop tell them to tighten up the glutes and core. If the elbows flare outward tell them to keep them tucked. One great cue I got from the IFAST strength and conditioning coach, Mike Robertson is to look like an arrow at the bottom position. Your head it the point and the elbows should descend downward to make the rest of the shape. If the elbows are flared out the arrow shape is not achieved.

The elevated bar is a nice progression tool for the push up. As the athlete gets better at performing them try adding repetitions and start to lower the bar until they are ready to perform push ups on the floor once again.

For further explanation of the progressions above check out the video below: