Push-ups are a great exercise to work the upper body as they work the pectorals, triceps, deltoids and core. So let’s explore proper push-up form, as well as many types of push-up variations.
Proper form on a push-up is important in order to protect the shoulder. Start with your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Keep your core tight. The joints in your body should be a straight line from the top of your head to your feet. This means that your head should stay down and your hips should not come up or drop down. As you lower yourself, keep your elbows close to your body. Often people will keep their elbows in line with their shoulders. This puts your shoulders in a compromising position and can lead to pain or injury. Lower yourself slowly as far as you can go. The goal is to almost touch your nose to the ground. Once you have lowered yourself explode back up to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.
When fatigue starts to set in focus on keeping form. Often people will “unlock” their body from the straight line. The hips and chest start to drop and depth suffers. Once this happens it is important to stop your set even if you haven’t completed the desired number of reps. Like any exercise when form starts to suffer the chance of injury increases.
Push-ups are not an easy exercise, especially when done using proper form. Luckily, there are modifications that can be made to meet you where you are at in your push-up journey. At the gym we typically start people out with bar(bell) push-ups. The higher the barbell is positioned, the easier the push-up is to do. The more vertical the person while doing a push-up, the easier the push-up as the person is pressing less body weight. As the person progresses the barbell gets lower allowing the person to press more weight.
Once somebody has worked their way down to low bar push-ups, the next progression is doing a push-up on the knees. Form stays exactly the same as if you were doing them on the floor. The only difference is that you are on your knees instead of your toes. This decreases the weight of the push up because some of your lower body has been taken out of the movement. It is still important to keep your joints in a straight line and get as low as possible while keeping your elbows tight. After knee push-ups one can progress to a regular push-up. Only progress to a regular push up when you are able to maintain form.
If regular push-ups become too easy, there are many different ways to make them more challenging. Doing a decline push-up (hands on the ground with feet elevated on a bench) requires you to lift even more of your body weight than a regular push-up. It also works more of your shoulders and upper chest. Other variations of the regular push-up include adding weight to your back or adding bands. Adding a weight plate on your back adds an equal amount of weight throughout the entire movement. Adding weight should not change your form. Bands work by making the push-up more challenging at the top of the movement. The bottom of the push-up is the most difficult position while the top of the pushup is the easiest position. Using a band allows the bottom of the push-up to remain relatively unchanged, but makes the top position much harder as the band stretches and provides more resistance.