This article and video is about how to do pushups with optimal technique. There are a ton of pushup technique videos and tutorials circulating the web, and I’ve viewed many of them over the years. But adhering to a couple of vague and generic technique tips isn’t enough to ensure proper pushup form, and unfortunately, most pushup performances these days leave a lot to be desired. I wish there wasn’t a need for me to post a pushup technique tutorial, but from what I’ve seen so far, most people still don’t know how to do this exercise correctly – let alone with optimal form.
Of course, you have the usual culprits of over-extending the neck backwards, and letting the hips sag, both of which detract from spinal alignment, and thus, greatly inhibit maximal strength and power potential. But even people who do pushups with a “flat back” often still haven’t learned how to truly push something with optimal alignment, range of motion, breathing, and ultimately with the greatest force production potential. You’ve got guys and gals who can successfully flex their triceps, delts, and pec muscles, but still don’t know how to actually transfer immense force into something in front of them (i.e. the ground) again and again.
Given that this is such a foundational strength training exercise that provides a host of benefits, I wanted to finally give it the attention it deserves. Check out the following video to learn exactly how to do pushups with optimal technique – including some subtle nuances in the movement that have the potential to sky-rocket your performance and pushup numbers. Even if you’ve been doing pushups for a long time, you’ll probably learn something new that will help you to do pushups even better.
How to do Pushups with Optimal Technique
Note: much of what applies to the plank exercise is also relevant in the pushup. Click here to check out a detailed plank instructional video that will help you refine some of the primary pushup technique points.
Pushup Technique Tips to Help You Master Proper Pushup Form
If you learn how to do pushups with optimal technique, you will ensure that you squeeze as much benefit out of every repetition as possible – and that means more results and less injuries. So, here are the main coaching points for the pushup exercise, in order of importance (they’re all important to a degree):
1. Hand positioning – Hands should be placed directly underneath your elbows, which should be directly beneath your shoulders. Make two vertical pillars with your arms, instead of allowing your hands to deviate either inward or outward. Spread your fingers, and grip the ground with your hands during the exercise.
2. Elbow positioning – Elbows should be fully extended and externally rotated in the top position – elbows pits facing forward. This direction is to be maintained throughout the entire range of motion. During descent and ascent, elbows should be kept tight into the torso, and should track just off of the ribs – NOT flaring out to the sides.
3. Shoulder positioning – Shoulders should be packed down onto the ribs (ie stabilized on the core) throughout the entire range of motion. Pull the shoulders directly downwards in relation to your torso (the opposite motion of a shoulder shrug) to pack them down properly. Do not allow the shoulders to unpack during any part of the exercise.
4. Spinal alignment – Keep the spine neutral throughout the entire range of motion, lengthening it in both directions. Reach with the crown of your head above and away from your body (in combination with shoulder pack), and also reach your tailbone in the opposite direction with a slight tailbone tuck as described below.
5. Hip activation – Tuck your tailbone down and rotate your pelvis backward slightly with a gentle abdominal and gluteal contraction (in combination with an exhale – see below). Think of a dog tucking its tail between its legs.
6. Leg and foot positioning + leg drive – Resting on ball of foot, the feet should be placed about hip-width apart, if possible. Deviating from this position will not likely affect the performance of the exercise much, but a hip-width stance allows for optimal leg drive, which can be accomplished by extending the knees to lockout and pressing the heels backwards. Maintain this leg drive throughout the entire range of motion of the exercise.
7. Breathing – For most people, exhaling during the effort portion of the exercise is ideal. So, when pushing yourself up, that’s when you perform a strong exhale. When lowering yourself back down, allow a passive inhale to get sucked back into your lungs, but don’t actively breathe in, which will over-oxygenate your blood and possibly make you lightheaded.
8. Range of motion – Descend as deeply as your range of motion allows, until either a) your chest/sternum touches the floor, or b) you cannot maintain one of the above technique cues. Ascend until achieving full elbow lock.
Using optimal technique in your exercise program is not just the best way to train, it’s the only way to train if you want to succeed for the long-term. When you integrate all of the above components into the pushup exercise, you ensure that ongoing improvements can be made over the long term because you’re practicing optimal technique. If you’re using a less efficient technique or if you’re neglecting one or two of the components, then you put a limit on your performance right from the start. Train smart and watch your performance skyrocket!
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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach