The push-up is one of the greatest exercises ever invented. Not only can it be done anywhere with zero equipment, but it’s also one of the most effective exercises you can do to gain muscle and strength.
Almost everyone knows what a push-up is. If you haven’t done one at some point in your life, you at least have seen someone else due one. Sylvester Stallone banging out one-arm push-ups in Rocky 1 comes to mind.
The problem is that the vast majority of people I see doing push-ups are doing them wrong! They are rushing through each repetition and trying to do as many as they can.
This is the wrong way to go about it. Unless you are doing them for a fitness test, you are more than likely doing push-ups because you want to add muscle and get stronger.
Blowing through every rep as fast as possible isn’t going to do that. You need to change your mindset. The focus when you do push-ups should be time under tension. You want to make them as hard as possible to get the most out of them.
Most people have no idea how to do this. They are so used to focusing on the total number of reps that they never stopped to consider the actual goal of push-ups. You want to build a big and toned freaking chest!
I’m going to break down the correct way to do a push up into 4 simple stages so that you can stop wasting your time and start seeing results
The setup stage
This is the beginning of the push-up. For most, things begin going wrong during this stage.
To start off in this stage, get down on your knees on your mat or floor. Lean forward while stretching your arms out straight until they touch the ground.
In relation to where you put your hands down, you should imagine a line going through the middle of your chest or “nipple line”. The middle of your palm should be right on top of that line.
The width of your hand placement should be slightly wider than your shoulders. You may have to adjust a bit depending on your body, but do not place your hands too wide. This is a common mistake.
Once you have the perfect hand placement, you can pick your knees up and get into the starting position. You need to think of your body as a straight line. From your heels up to the top of your head, your whole body should be in line.
Since your arms are going to force your upper body higher off of the ground than your feet, this line will be angled upwards. Just remember to keep everything in line.
At this point there is one final step and that is shoulder adjustment. Since we are looking to increase the tension on our chest muscle, the shoulders have to be moved slightly.
To do this, pull your shoulders back slightly (like a row) and down against the top of your lat muscle. This begins to add a stretch to your pec muscle and will maximize the amount of tension you can put on it. This is important!
Your whole body should be tight at this point. All of your muscles should be working together. If something feels too loose, like your abs or glutes, squeeze it.
The lowering stage
Now that you know and understand the setup stage, you are ready to get into the meat and potatoes of the exercise.
Most people will lower and push their body up as quick as possible in this stage. Don’t be like them.
We are looking to add as much tension as possible to your chest, shoulders and arms. Blowing through each rep like Santa blows through dessert isn’t going to help you.
You need to lower your body in a smooth and controlled movement. At the same time, you should put your weight slightly forward towards your hands to increase the tension on your chest.
It will take some experience, but eventually you will able to feel the tension and how it changes. Your focus should be on your pec muscles the whole time.
2-3 seconds is a good amount of time to take your body from the top to bottom position.
At this point, keep lowering until your chest touches the floor. If your chest isn’t too large, you might be able to touch your chin on the floor. Just go as low as possible.
Your chest should kiss the floor however, you should not rest it against the floor at any time so that it would decrease the tension on your chest muscles. This isn’t a rest!
The pause stage
Now that your chest is ever so slightly touching the floor while the tension is remaining on your chest and shoulders, you are officially in the pause stage.
Most people completely skip this stage. The second they go down, they immediately start pushing back up and totally miss out on the opportunity of the pause.
Spending 1-2 seconds in the pause position is the proper way to do it. It will keep the tension on your muscles while eliminating the temptation to push your body back up in a hasty manner.
In the pause stage, remember to keep everything tight while keeping your body in a straight line. There should be no sagging here. The only thing touching the ground should be your chest or chin and neither should be resting.
The pushing stage
This is the fourth and final phase of the push-up.
After you have paused at the bottom for 1-2 seconds, it’s time to finish the exercise and start pushing up.
Just like when you lowered your body down, you should push your body up in a smooth and controlled manner. Just like when you lowered, 2-3 seconds is a good time frame in which to push back up.
Remember to keep your shoulders back and down while putting your weight forwards towards your hands. Feel the tension in your chest and adjust accordingly if there isn’t enough.
Once you get to the top, you are back to the setup stage and have completed a push-up the correct way. Congratulations!
One final note at this stage is don’t lock your elbows out! This will take the tension off of your chest and put it into your arms. It will allow your chest to get a break. You don’t want that unless you absolutely need it.
There are a thousand and one different ways to do a push-up, but this is the correct way to do the standard push-up.
While you are going to find you are not going to be able to do as many reps as you can when you do each rep as fast as possible, you are going to get a lot more out of it.
You are going to be keep constant tension on your chest and shoulders which is going to help you maximize the potential of the push-up.
While it’s not as sexy as versions like clapping push-up or one-arm pushups, you are going to find a whole new respect for the push-up if you invest the time into doing them like this.
Until next time,
P.S. Do you incorporate push-ups into your fitness routine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them and answer any questions you have about the correct way to do them below.