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What is the Best Way to do Push Ups?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The best way to do push ups, according to most exercise experts, is to use a technique that will help you strengthen your shoulder and triceps muscles but will not hurt your body. You can do push ups in various ways, based on your fitness level. A standard push up is done by lying face-down on the ground, then pushing up with the hands until the arms are fully extended and only the hands and toes are touching the ground. Modified push ups include those done with the knees staying on the ground, those done at an incline and those done while standing.

Standard Push Ups

A standard push up is performed in the following manner:

  1. Lie face-down on the ground. You can lie on an exercise mat, thin pad or towel, if necessary.
  2. Flex your feet so that the undersides of your toes are on the ground.
  3. Place your palms on the ground at chest level, with your fingertips at shoulder level.
  4. Keep your hands somewhat close to your body but not under it. Placing your hands about one hand's width away from your sides should be about right.
  5. Your elbows should be slightly away from your body, at roughly a 45° angle from your shoulders.
  6. Slowly push your upper body away from the floor. Keep your body straight, from your heels to the back of your head. Avoid dropping your hips, arching your back or letting your head sag toward the ground.
  7. When your arms are fully extended, briefly hold this position with your body straight.
  8. Slowly lower yourself to the ground. For multiple repetitions, your chest should lightly touch the ground or very nearly touch the ground each time.

Although this exercise is called a push up, the motion of lowering yourself down also is an important component. Do not simply collapse to the ground. Working your way slowly down to the ground enhances the workout and prevents bruising. Doing this exercise without reaching a full range of motion — such as going only part of the way up or only part of the way down — will limit its effectiveness, and you will not achieve the same results as you would by using proper technique.

Easier Push Ups

There are various techniques than can be used to make this exercise easier. The most common modification is the knee push up, sometimes called a "girl push up" — a term that some people consider to be sexist, especially considering that men can use the technique, too. This type is done the same way as a standard push up, except your knees remain on the ground. Keeping the knees down reduces the amount of weight that you must push upward from the ground, making them easier.

Another modification that makes push ups easier is to do them on an upward incline, with your hands higher than your toes. For example, you could place your hands on a bench, chair or other sturdy object. As with other push up techniques, your body should be kept as straight as possible.

If an upward incline push up is still too difficult, a standing push up can be done after positioning your feet 12 inches (30.5 cm) or a little farther from a wall. Place your hands on the wall, lean forward until your face is almost touching it, then push your upper body away, just as you would push away from the ground in a standard push up. This technique also might be helpful for people who have lower back problems.

More Challenging Push Ups

There also are various techniques that can be used to make push ups more difficult. One technique is the downward incline push up, with your feet raised higher than your hands by placing your toes on a box, bench, chair or other object. The steeper the incline, the more difficult the exercise will be. A handstand push up is done with your body in a vertical, upside-down position, usually with your back to a wall and your heels touching it. This difficult technique is done by doing a handstand, lowering yourself until the top of your head touches the ground, then pushing upward until your arms are fully extended.

Another challenging modification is the ring push up. This technique uses a pair of gymnastics rings that hang from the ceiling or some type of support beam. The rings are lowered until they are close to the ground, and instead of placing your hands on the ground, you place each hand on a ring while doing the push up. The instability of the rings forces you to steady yourself as you lower yourself and push yourself upward, working your arms and core muscles to an even greater extent.

Other Techniques

This exercise can be done in many other ways, all with the same basic premise of fully raising and lowering yourself while keeping your body rigid. Some variations include the one-handed push up, clapping push up and hand-release push up. In a clapping push up, you push your upper body upward forcefully enough to be able to clap your hands together before putting them back on the ground to catch your fall. A similar variation is done by lifting your hands slightly off the ground at the top of each push up but not clapping each time. In a hand-release push up, you must briefly lift your hands off the ground at the bottom of each push up, while your chest is on the ground.

Adjusting your hand position will cause you to work different muscles. For example, you could place your hands closer together, under your body, or farther away from your body. A common variation involves creating a diamond shape between your hands by having your the tips of your thumbs and index fingers touching. Caution should be used when trying any variation or modification of the standard push up, because improper technique or trying something that is too difficult can lead to injury. A certified athletic trainer can help you choose the best way to do this exercise based on your levels of strength and fitness.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Sep 01, 2012

I work part-time as a fitness instructor and always hear groans when it is time to get down on the floor and do push ups.

I don't know if there is such a thing as a perfect push up, but the technique you use is really important. The last thing you want to do is put too much strain on other parts of your body when you are doing push ups.

I always tell everyone to start out very slowly. At first you may only be able to do a couple of push ups, but if you keep working at it, you can gradually increase the number of push ups you can do. There is always a great feeling of accomplishment when they can complete all the push ups without stopping to take a break.

By LisaLou — On Aug 31, 2012

I have found the best way for me to do push ups is standing up and gradually leaning into the wall. I don't have the best back, and doing push ups lying down or kneeling always put too much pressure on my back.

I don't know if doing push ups this way is as effective, but it is much better than doing nothing to tone your arm muscles. I know they are doing some good because if I get lazy and don't do them for awhile, I can really feel it when I start doing them again.

By SarahSon — On Aug 31, 2012

@honeybees-- I feel the same way as you do about push ups. When we were in high school we had to take the Presidential fitness test every year and I always scored very low when it came to doing push ups.

I am amazed at anyone who can do consecutive push ups. I have even seen people do a one handed push up, and this is beyond my comprehension. I can't imagine how much training and stamina it would take to do very many of these push ups.

By honeybees — On Aug 30, 2012

I call the bent knee pushups "girl pushups" and this is the only way I can do a pushup. I try to avoid them anyway because I don't have much upper arm strength.

I know that by doing more push ups this would give me more strength, but these are my least favorite exercise. Of all the exercises out there to tone and strengthen our muscles, push ups have been around for as long as I can remember.

By ValleyFiah — On Jul 12, 2010

@ Alchemy- You should also feel push ups in your pectoral muscles in your chest. When doing a push up you should not let your chest touch the ground. You should drop as low to the ground as possible without touching. If you touch the ground, you are actually resting your muscles.

Beginners may not be able to go all the way to the ground, but as you get better, you may want to go further than the ground allows. Once you get to this point, you can buy cheap push up bars that will allow you to go a few inches lower.

Additionally, changing the width of your hands can change the impact on certain muscles. If your chest is stronger, you may want to start with a wider arm stance and work your way in. If your back and triceps are stronger, the opposite is true. In addition, the longer your arms, the wider you may want to space your hands. Long limbs have less leverage, making push ups harder.

By Alchemy — On Jul 12, 2010

How does the width of your arms and hands affect doing push ups? When I do push ups, my hands are wider than my shoulders, but it makes doing push ups easier. I noticed it makes it harder for me to go down all the way to the ground though.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia...
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