The Purpose of a Push-Up

23 Feb

I am sure we have all seen it…

The guy with shoulders attached to his ears, arms splayed out and walking around on stick-skinny legs, randomly busting out sets of 50 head-bobbing push ups to keep his “pump” going.

The girl doing a push up (sometimes with her feet up on a Bosu ball) and her body in the shape of a “U” because her hips are sagging.

push up sagging hips

Picture courtesy of

The guy with his arms out in a wide  “T” and his head and neck bobbing up and down with little to no bend in his elbows.

The girl with her butt WAY high in the air and little movement through her arms and shoulders.

baby push up

Picture courtesy of

STOP- admit it; you can’t do a proper push up. Back it up and start from the beginning.

A push up is supposed to be an entire-body movement.

Push ups focus mostly on the chest, shoulders and triceps, but every muscle in the body has a role in a proper push up. Your lats, traps and core must stabilize your pushing muscles (plank), while your quads, hamstrings and glutes need to stay tight and engaged in order to keep your hips from sagging or being raised too high. Push ups allow you to train your muscles to work in harmony with one another.

  • Get into a prone position plank, raising up onto your toes so you are balanced on your hands and toes. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. Your eyes should be focused on the ground, a few feet in front of your body.
  • Keep your body tight from head to toe without sagging in the middle or arching your back- core tight! Tighten your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine, rolling your pelvis forward. With your arms straight, butt clenched, and abs braced, begin to lower yourself by bending your elbows. Keep a tight core throughout the entire movement.
  • Steadily lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and your chest is close to the floor; elbows tucked in by your sides. Try not to let your elbows go way out to a “T” shape with each repetition. If they start to fly out, stop and rest; this is a sign of fatigue.
  • Inhale as you lower yourself and exhale as you begin pushing back up to the start position, keeping your core tight and your body in a straight line. Don’t lock your elbows- keep a slight bend and lower yourself again for another rep. Think of moving your body as a tight board.
push up form

Picture courtesy of

If a standard push up is too difficult, you can modify it.


Using your knees to modify a push up takes away the core work and you won’t build up the proper strength for a complete push up.

You can start by working on your plank- hold a tight plank for 3-5 sets of 30 seconds each. Remember: core tight, pelvis rolled forward, body like a board.

You can then progress to doing push ups against a wall, a box, a bench, even the arm of your couch or the side of your bed; it depends on how high you need the surface to be. The higher the surface, the easier it will be. Place your hands on the surface and get into your plank position.

modified push up on step

Picture from


Picture courtesy of

push up on bed

Picture courtesy of

Once your plank is solid, continue to lower yourself by bending your elbows, as described above.  As your strength progresses with this movement, lower the surface until, eventually, you are doing push ups flat on the ground.

One Response to “The Purpose of a Push-Up”

  1. Jen D. March 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Very timely for me! I’ve been working my way up to being able to do push-ups correctly and these tips on how to modify until I build up strength are really helpful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: