Pushups can be intimidating. Lifting yourself up off the ground takes a lot of strength and coordination throughout the body. Despite the challenge, a pushup is one of the most practical exercises you can do. And not to mention the incredible feeling of accomplishment when you finally master it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it and comes in super handy. It’s an exercise you can do just about anywhere, even while you’re cooking, and can let you see some fantastic progress. This is just about everything you need in order to learn how to do a pushup.
How Do You Do A Pushup?
At its core (I love puns!), a push-up is a plank. The Plank forms the foundation for a lot of exercises and movements by training you to keep your core and hips stable and engaged. And the pushup is no exception. By taking the base of a plank and modifying it, you end up with this amazing strength building and core workout.
To start, the first step of performing a perfect pushup is nailing down The Perfect Plank. If you can stabilize yourself on your hands up in a plank, without breaking form, you’re a third of the way there! You can then move ahead and advance into the movement part of push-ups and focus on lowering yourself down to the ground. But before you actually start lowering yourself down, you have to prepare yourself.
How Do You Prepare for a Pushup?
Push Up Pads
When you’re first starting out, it can help to have some padding set under your body and head. A yoga mat is best since it is padded but it also stays in place without stretching too much under the tension of your hands. You could also use an exercise mat or a blanket, but make sure keep your hands stable on the floor right under your shoulders. Feel free to set up any extra cushioning under your knees if you need it.
First up, try to rotate your arms so the inside of your elbows are facing forward. When it’s time to start dropping down, pull your elbows in tight into your sides, scraping your ribs. You should feel the softness of your shirt on your elbows. This rotation of the arms and shoulders activates more of the Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) of the back and Pecs (Pectorals) of the chest. This recruits more muscles so you don’t have to rely on just your arms for all of the strength of the exercise.
Maintain the Plank
That plank wasn’t just for the top of the push up. As you move, make sure to keep thinking about each body part and maintain the form of the perfect plank. Keep the tension in the legs, in the glutes (butt) and abs. Try not to arch the back or bend the hips, and keep your hips pushing forward to keep your body in a straight line. When you lower yourself down, your hips and your chest should hit the floor at just about the same time.
They’re called a push-ups, but you’re doing a lot more than just pushing up. The first movement focus is on going down. Like in a lot of movements, going down is just as important as coming up, and the speed you go makes a big difference. Moving slowly has benefits for improving your strength.
This slow lowering is called an eccentric contraction, when you’re going in the direction of gravity but still fighting against it. Go super slow here. Pretend you’re in The Matrix and you’re moving in super slow motion. The last few inches are the hardest. Don’t drop down, but lower yourself gently and keep pushing yourself down to the floor, fighting gravity.
You made it more than half way! Most of the hard work is done, so go ahead and relax for a bit. You can keep practicing this part, and when you’re ready, come back to the floor and get ready for the real part, the Push Up!
Brace yourself. This is going to be hard. You can give up when it starts to get hard, or you can push through and reach the top. I vote for the latter. Think about what you did for that plank, and make sure everything is aligned and you’ve build up that tension while you’re still on the ground.
The key difference between planks and a pushups here is the arms. Place your hands nice and close into the armpits, and spread those fingers wide to get as much surface area and tension throughout your hands. Next up, roll your shoulders back, rather than down and forward, bringing your shoulder blades down and close together. We call this “packing your shoulders.” Keeping your shoulders packed and your chest puffed up helps to recruit the lats and the muscles of the back. It also keeps your back in a straight line, reinforcing that plank foundation. And just like with your plank, make sure to keep squeezing into your stomach and glutes
Get ready, and push with everything you have!
I’m not expecting you to be able to do all of that your first try, especially if you’re just getting started, and neither should you. If you can, awesome, power to you, you’re in the minority! Otherwise, you’re going to need a solid progression plan. You can start doing them against a kitchen counter, or a set of stairs, or on the floor on your knees. Just make sure to keep your hips forward and engage the abs and the glutes, just like you would in a plank or standard pushup.
If you could use a little bit more help, I’ve built out a proven program to get you doing full real push ups. Train with me online or in person, and I’ll be more than happy to help you get there.