The Proper Push-Up

About a month ago, I decided to start conquering one of my most dreaded fitness feats:  The Push-Up.   No, I didn’t choose to do push-ups for the Arnold Schwarzenegger arms, or for the perky chest, or for the high school boyish bragging rights, although those were all naturally added perks.  (Let me tell you ladies, do a few push-ups and you can stop going on that endless search for the perfect push-up bra.  Push-ups naturally push-up what yo momma gave ya.)  I chose to take on push-ups because for me, they’re one of my biggest challenges, and I simply thrive on challenge.  A fellow blogger actually implanted the idea into my head a few months back when she was conquering the push-up, and I thought, “I’ve got to do this!”

Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love a good challenge, I certainly wasn’t looking forward to doing push-ups everyday.  But I did love the thought of being able to test my body in new ways and set a goal that, with some effort, was almost undeniably achievable.  After a few months of practice, I wanted to make the act of doing more than a few push-ups not just look easy but feel easy too.

When I started, I could do ten full push-ups and make each one of them look easy.  Sure I could do a few more beyond that, but they sure wouldn’t look like the ones those macho men on TV do (not that my first ten really did either).   Each push-up beyond reaching ten, I’d look like a dying kangaroo with a bottle of hot sauce spilled down my face, while probably sounding like I was literally drowning in my own sweat at the same time.  Not a pretty site, and it didn’t feel like it either.

Even the first ten push-ups didn’t feel amazing, probably because I would hold my breath after the first five (no wonder I sounded like I was drowning).  However, when I saw other people doing push-ups, they not only made them look comfortable, but like they actually felt good!  I was determined to get to this point.

When I first started, I really wasn’t making much progress beyond ten.  The whole holding my breath thing was really hindering me.  I decided to look at a How-To website to fully implant in my head a correct knowledge of form and technique for the proper push-up.  I’m not sure why I didn’t do this at the outset of my challenge, but I think it’s because I thought push-ups were common knowledge.  I’ve been told to do push-ups since elementary school, shouldn’t I have known how to properly do them by now?  Obviously not.  Here’s what the How-To tutorial taught me was the correct way to do a push-up:

1.  Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width, feet should be together and parallel to each other with the toes tucked under.
2.  Head should be slightly tilted up and should remain still during the up and down motion.
3.  At the top position, keep the arms straight but not locked.  This makes the muscles contract during the entire push-up, enhancing what your muscles get out of each one.
4.  Lower the body between the hands until the inside angle of the elbows reaches at least 90 degrees.  Make sure to keep the body straight and palms in place.
5.  Exhale as you straighten the arms, coming back up to a plank position.  (This was what I was missing!)
6.  Pause, then inhale as you lower your body back down until the inside of the elbows reach at least 90 degrees.  Once your chest grazes the ground, begin to straighten the arms, exhaling as you come back up.

That my friends is the proper way to do a push-up, or so they say.  I’ve taken this knowledge and have put it to use, and have now progressively worked my way up to doing 30 full push-ups at a time.  The first 2o or so look easy and surprisingly feel pretty good too!  I’m working on the last ten or so.  My goal is to reach an effortless 50…we’ll see!

If you are a beginner like me and want tackle the push-up, here’s what I recommend:

  • Start by learning the basics (see above).
  • Next, determine the maximum number of push-ups you are able to do without feeling like you’ll collapse.
  • Make a set by combining the calculated number of full push-ups with the same number of “girl push-ups”-  For girl push-ups, simply start out with your knees on the ground, and proceed with the regular push-up instructions.  Make sure you remember to breathe!
  • Over the next couple weeks, as the first half of the set, the full push-ups, begins to feel easy, gradually start to increase this number, increasing the number of modified push-ups in the latter half as well.
  • Once the number of full push-ups in the set reaches a fairly high number, you can decrease the number of corresponding modified push-ups per set.  For instance, I started by doing 10 full push-ups and 10 modified push-ups.  Then I did 15 full push-ups and 15 modified.  Once I reached 20 full push-ups, I only did 15 modified.  Now I do 30 full push-ups, and 10 modified.
  • To speed up your progress, do more than one set per sitting.  This will boost your endurance and muscle building at a quicker pace.
  • As always, tailor the practice to meet your needs.

Do you do push-ups?  What’s your method of increasing the number and achieving an effortless set of push-ups?  What fitness feat do you find really challenging?

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  • Reply
    March 31, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I’m embarrassed to say that I can barely do 1 real push up. My strength training in general has taken too much of a back seat recently as I’ve increased my running mileage. One of my goals for April is to make sure I do at least a little bit of strength training a day because I know I’m increasing my risk of a stress fracture by not doing anything. And push ups are a really easy, cheap (no equipment involved) way to tackle that. Thanks for the tips!

  • Reply
    Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman
    March 31, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for the shout-out! When I decided to start doing push-ups I couldn’t even do one. Now I can do 15 or so, depending on the day. I like using the 100 Push-ups app for my iPhone because it breaks it down for you. So it’ll have you do 3, rest, 2, rest, 4, rest, 4, rest, 2 rest and before you know it you’ve done 15. Then the next day it’ll add another 2 or so. Breaking it down like that helps me not be overwhelmed and doing them in spurts definitely makes it easier since I’d say I’m a beginner. Great tips!

  • Reply
    Positive Massage Therapy
    March 31, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Good job! I’ll add a couple bits of advice.

    Keep a slight tuck at the midsection in order to avoid the lower spine from bowing downward. Incidentally, just holding the body parallel to the floor for the exercise is a great, and safe, core workout.

    Don’t let the shoulder tips point down toward the floor. This can endanger the front of the shoulder joint, and encourages bad posture.

    I recommend using stairs if pushups to the floor are too difficult. Start with your hands on the edge of the 3rd or 4th or 5th step and feet on the ground. After a couple weeks, when you can do about 15 clean pushups in a row, go one step lower. Soon you won’t need the stairs at all.

    Positive Massage Therapy

  • Reply
    Kady @ Livin, Lovin, Learnin
    March 31, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I don’t like push-ups either, but I’m going to add your routine to my workout with the regular + modified push-ups. I definitely need to work on my breathing too.

    I can’t do pull-ups at all (and honestly, I don’t feel the need to do them either so I guess it’s OK). I occasionally do one and then hold in the up position, but that’s it. They’re just way too hard!

  • Reply
    Fat Estonians State Legislature U.S. shed pounds and | The Best Spa Health
    March 31, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    […] to soldier Quin State Park in MississippiThanks SOLEBO!- Justin Simmons for State RepresentativeThe Proper Push-Up « Food-Fitness-FreshAirRelated Health ArticlesState Legislature Estonian lose a few pounds of fat, stuff friedThe State […]

  • Reply
    March 31, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Pushups are so hard but such a great workout!

    Thanks for the instruction info…!

  • Reply
    March 31, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Great tips! “Real” push-ups are so hard! I can pound out the “modified” push-ups pretty well, but the big girl ones are tooough! I just tried and I could do 7. I should work on these!

  • Reply
    Lily @ Lily's Health Pad
    March 31, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Pushups are my achilles heel! I’ve been doing the 100 pushup challenge though, and I’ve improved so much!

  • Reply
    Stephanie from Juicy Fresh Bites
    March 31, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I’ve always known that a push-up is a great exercise move since it targets so many different muscle groups in the chest and upper back area, but I never really learned how to do one properly…until now! Thanks for posting this article, it really helped to clear up some questions that I had about how to do this move correctly.

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    April 1, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Congrats!! Moving from ten to 30 is a huge feat. You should be proud! Actually about five years ago I started doing the same thing as you, and working on push-ups. I used to have the WEAKEST arms. I could barely do 5 full push ups. Now I could probably do about 30 too, maybe more. I like to do them against our large arm chair, sort of “standing up” part way.
    The next challenge for me is mastering the pull-up. those things are TOUGH! My parents have a pull up bar in their house and I used to be able to do ONE, maybe. Now I can do three, almost four. I’d love to be able to do five one day!

  • Reply
    Can You Stay for Dinner
    April 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

    THanks for the help on mastering the push up! I’m ashamed to say that I can’t do a real one. I do the knees down version and even that can be tough after a couple! I’m really working on getting stronger though! Glad to know that with some consistency and effort I can do it!

  • Reply
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    marla {Family Fresh Cooking}
    April 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I love push ups…they do wonders for the upper body. They really help open me up when tightness settles in. Yes, proper form is essential…glad to read you can now ditch the push-up bra 🙂

  • Reply
    April 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Ive started doing push ups because I SUCK at them. I could hardly get through 5 a month or so ago, and now Im at 10 so thats improvement.
    Ive always been pretty weak in the upper body strength department. I wont lie, up until recently, I wouldnt even bother with real push ups. I was all about the knees bent version. I like those ones 🙂

  • Reply
    April 1, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Great push up info. And great job! I tend to avoid push ups. You have motivated to work on them again…

  • Reply
    March showers bring April flowers? «
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    […]  Right now my strength training mostly consists of sporadic crunches and modified push ups.  I want to do a REAL push up! Even if I’m crunched (ha!) for time and need to scale back my running a little, it will help […]

  • Reply
    April 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    I like these, nice lines!

  • Reply
    April 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    I know you somewhat implied you aren’t doing it necessarily for the strength, but in general to get stronger it is better to do a few really hard things instead of many easy(ier) things. If you are interested in challenging yourself, instead of trying to get a hundred push ups, start elevating your legs or somethin’. If you’re interested in this sort of thing more, you could check out this website:
    Here is an example of their work (I am not close to this):

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