Mastering the Perfect Pushup

No longer just an exercise for football and the military, the Pushup is a great upper body workout that can be done anywhere. The push-up involves full range of motion in the shoulder and is great at strengthening arms, shoulders, core and back if done with correct form. It tones the arms and helps with lifting heavy things (like toddlers pitching tantrums). While it was the bane of my existence in gym class, I have learned to love the push-up as a versatile part of my workout.

A full push-up with good form can be a daunting thought for someone who hasn’t done one in a while (like me when I started them!). Form is important, as with any exercise, to minimize risk of injury and maximize effectiveness. Proper push-up form includes:

  • Hands positioned just outside the shoulders and directly below the shoulder line.
  • Feet should be together
  • Body should be in perfect line from heels to head, such that a broomstick along the body would touch your head, upper back, buttocks and heels
  • Core and glutes should be engaged and tightened

To do a push-up:

  1. Once in position above, lower body to ground, lowering yourself enough to at least get elbows to 90 degrees, and touch chest to ground if possible.
  2. Raise your body back up by straightening your arms but do not straighten fully and lock elbows.
  3. Repeat, a lot!
  4. No matter what, keep the plank position with your body in line and core tightened.

For those of you (like me!) who can’t do the regular push up at first, there are variations that can be done to help you work up to full push ups. You will probably be surprised how fast you progress in these different variations until you can do handstand push-ups (yeah, really!).

1. Wall Push-Ups

If you haven’t done push-ups in a while (or ever) start with the wall push-up. This is the least difficult variation. Start by standing with feet together about 1-2 feet from a wall. Place your hands flat on the wall at the level of your shoulder and a little more than shoulder width apart.

easy push up form for women lose weight get muscle

Bend your arms at the elbows to lower your body toward the wall until your head touches the wall. Raise your body back up by straightening arms. Remember to keep abs and glutes tight throughout.

2. Incline Push-Up or “Girly” Push-up

Once you have mastered the wall-push up, move on to the incline or “girly” push-up. there are two options in this stage. You can put your hands on a bench, couch or chair that is a couple feet off the ground with feet together and body straight and lower yourself to the bench and back.

proper form incline push up girls

The other option is the “girl” push-ups of gym class of old: put your knees on the ground, bending them at a 90 degree angle and complete a push up like you would a regular one with body straight and abs/glutes tight.

proper push up form for girls

As soon as you master those, and it won’t take long… it is on to the regular push-up!

3. “Regular” Push-up

This is the push-up you see in movies and probably had to do at some point in school. Use the proper form above: feet together, hands under shoulder line and slightly more than body width apart, and straight line throughout body. Lower your body until chest touches ground, straighten arms until almost completely straight but not locked and repeat.

real push ups for girls

Thought push-ups ended there? I did too, but no, there are tougher variations!

4. Reverse Incline Push-Up

Now that you’ve mastered the regular push-up it is onward and upward to reverse incline push-ups. As the name suggests, instead of having your hands on the bench, chair or couch, your feet go on it. Place your feel on a study object a foot or two off the ground. The higher the object, the more difficult the push up. Keeping feet together, hands shoulder width apart and body straight, lower your body until your head touches the ground and raise  yourself back up. Repeat, because it’s fun!

reverse incline girl pushups shoulder strength

If you’ve mastered that, there’s no stopping you… it’s on to the toughest push-up of all.

5. Hand Stand Push-Up

Hand stand push-ups give you the most effect for your time (which is a big criteria for me!). As the name suggests, you do them on your hands… I do them in the kitchen while cooking sometimes. Find a strong wall or door (without glass!) and stand about two feet away. Bend forward, placing your hands on the ground, slightly more than shoulder width apart, with finger tips touching the baseboard or bottom of the door. Raise yourself up by slightly kicking your lower body up so that you are in a handstand position. Lower yourself down until head almost touches the ground, and raise yourself back up. Repeat.

proper hand stand push up form

Which push-up are you starting on? I started on “girly” ones, but the feeling of accomplishment from doing full push-ups or pull-ups is great! Willing to try push-ups? Tell me below!

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Reader Comments

  1. I do knuckle push-ups, where my hand is rolled into a loose fist and I’m balancing on the knuckles. (Obviously you need a carpet for this…or you can fold up a towel and put it on the floor.)

    This lets me go deeper, which works the pectorals harder. I also think it’s easier on my wrists.

    • How are your knuckles and fingers? Have you noticed any differences on how your hands feel and look now?

  2. will just doing push-ups enable you to move on to the handstand push-ups? i can do regular push-ups pretty well, but i have no idea if i can do a handstand…

    • Eventually it will. The handstand ones are more about balance than strength in my opinion. If you want to try it, try them against a wall (with no glass around) and have someone spot you.

  3. I have used weights, and spent money on gyms and nothing to this day still works better than push-ups!  I do them off my kitchen counter while I am waiting for water to boil. I do 15 reps 2 sets three times a day. I don’t look like a national fitness winner but I do have defined shoulders biceps & triceps! Plus it’s free. 🙂

  4. I’m doing wall push-ups and girlie push-ups now, thanks to your article.  I don’t feel like I’m progressing much, but maybe with leaving off grains and most of the starches, I’ll be able to do
    regular push-ups one day.  I don’t think I’ve ever had much upper body strength, so I need to work on it until I do.  

  5. I love any variation of pushup, but you should be clear on which body part you are working. The pushup is primarily to strengthen your chest and triceps (shoulders and biceps are secondary). In the hand stand push up you mention, you’ve changed the direction of force, so it’s actually a completely different exercise – the primary muscle group being the shoulders and not the chest now. A beginners variation of this would be what is sometimes called a pike push-up or inverted shoulder press. 

  6. I started with “girl” push-ups and graduated to regular. I do so many of them now I have to use push-up stands which I love because they keep your wrists in neutral. Body weight exercises are the BEST!

  7. Thank you for the good reminder. Going to start doing push-ups again. I got out of the habit after a fall and needing rotator cuff surgery. I lost a lot of muscle that I acquired through working out, but want to get full strength back again.

    Thank you for the reminder! 😉