How to do Push Ups The Right Way

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Nine out of ten people will claim they can perform push-ups properly. After all, this exercise is very simple, it requires no equipment and can be done almost anywhere at any time. As long as you are willing to give in the effort. To me, push-ups are the equivalent of what eggs are for nutrition—but for exercise because both are popular and convenient.

Most of you will group themselves with the nine people claiming they can do pushups and maybe that is true, but don’t you think it’s worth your while to verify if that? On the other hand, if you find that pushups cause you some discomfort on the wrist and the back of your neck then it’s definitely worth your while to read through this article. It’s very likely you’re doing them incorrectly.

Pushups are a very simple exercise. That is a fact. Where most people get it wrong with simple exercises is proper form. There goes that phrase again. You’re probably thinking to yourself. Why are exercise practitioners so obsessed with proper form? Well, only because it sets apart exercising from wasting your time. Also, it can mean the difference between repetitive injury and training. That’s enough schooling for now. The pertinent question here is, are you doing pushups optimally? Let’s find out.

Assuming position

Most people usually go down hands first when getting into the push up position. This was a mistake I made initially as well. Unfortunately, this puts extra strain on the wrists.

A better approach is to go down knees first and then hands after. This way the weight of your body will be absorbed by the legs when assuming position. Try this method next time and your reps will increase.

There are many variations of pushups. These includes wide grip pushups, shoulder width pushups, triangle pushups and a lot more. See, just like eggs. You can enjoy them your way. Our focus is on getting the basics right.

Whatever your choice of pushups, at some point you should be down on all four. With your knees bent as if you were in the yoga Cat or Cow Pose. Start with one leg. Extend it and lock it into position. Then follow up with another and lock it into position. Again it’s up to you how wide apart you want your feet or hands to be. We suggest shoulder width apart. “Generally speaking, the wider apart your feet, the more stable you’ll be for your pushups” [1].  Finally make sure you’re facing down, that your neck is in its neutral position and your back is straight the whole time.

You are now ready to perform the exercise.

Exercise

This part is where most people get it right. However not entirely. To perform the exercise, you slowly bend the elbows, allowing gravity to drop you down as far as possible without dropping completely. If you have a history of elbow pain, or maybe just starting out, then its best to drop to the recommended 90-degrees angle. This is the Eccentric phase of the exercise. You can learn more about Concentric and Eccentric phases here. Once in that position, paus slightly and then lift yourself back up a bit faster this time by extending your elbows. This is one repetition. Easy enough right?

To alleviate wrist pain, Nerd Fitness suggests that you do your push ups holding onto push-up handles so your wrists aren’t as compromised, or use a bar. [1]. I have also found that knuckle push ups put less strain on the wrist than palm push ups. For this reason, I suggest you do those. Provided of course you have a soft surface like a gym mat or thick floor carpet.

Another additional trick to make sure you get maximum benefit from the exercise is to put in some extra effort. During the Eccentric phase (when going down), consciously try to bring your scapulae (shoulder blades) closer together. This will transfer the weight of the body to the muscles you are exercising. Which brings us to the next part.

Muscle Involved

It helps to know what muscles you are exercising to help you gauge yourself and monitor your progress over time. The muscles being trained with pushups are the:

  • Pectorals group (Muscles on your chest);
  • Abdominals group (Muscles on your stomach);
  • Serratus anterior (Muscles under your armpit);
  • Triceps (Muscles at back of your upper arms);
  • Deltoids group (Muscles covering the shoulder);

These are the muscle groups to observe to check if you are making progress. These muscles are also where you should feel “the burn”.

Breathing

Sometimes people fail to complete their reps during an exercise not because they are incapable but because they don’t get their breathing right.

The recommended breathing technique for pushups is to inhale (Breath in through the nose) while going down and then exhale (breath out through the mouth) when going up.

End of exercise

The basic idea is to learn doing an exercise correctly before doing it repeatedly. This applies to all exercises. If you do an exercise wrong again and again you are causing micro damage to the same ligaments, muscles or joints. Micro injuries might not seem significant at first but trust me. Those damages add up very quickly and they are the hardest to recover from.

Now that you know proper pushup form. How many pushups can you do? According to Guinness World Records Jarrad Young was able to perform an impressive 2,806 Pushups in one hour [2]. He is the current World Record holder of most pushups in one hour in the male category. The world record holder of the most knuckle push ups in one hour by a female is 1,206 and was achieved by Eva Clarke [3].

Do you think you can you beat Jarrad or Eva, or maybe even come close? Let us know in the comment section below. I’d be impressed if I had a reader like that. Don’t forget to share this article if you found it informative. Until next time. Keep moving.

References

[1] Nerd Fitness, “How to Do A Proper Push Up,” 2 February 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/proper-push-up/.

[2] Guinness World Records, “Most push ups in one hour (male),” 2 February 2019. [Online]. Available: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-push-ups-in-one-hour.

[3] Guinness World Records, “Most knuckle push ups in one hour (female),” 2 February 2019. [Online]. Available: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-knuckle-push-ups-in-one-hour-(female).

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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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