How to do push-ups correctly and correct 11 mistakes

Doing classic push-upsThis is where all the torture sessions for beginners in bodybuilding start. From the army to the firemen, it is thanks to this basic exercise that all the muscles of men began to develop. 

Even many women have taken up the practice, and with good reason. So it is probably the most practiced movement. And yet, it is also the one that is often the most poorly executed.

So here's a problem we'll try to solve together today. Start by making 100 push-ups on one hand before reading the rest of this article... No, I'm kidding!

You'll learn how to make them first. Don't go looking for shoe polish, it has nothing to do with it 😄 

Enough laughing, let's get down to business...

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Why do push-ups?

To begin with, let's just say that push-ups are definitely the best exercise ever invented for fitness. Plus, there are so many variations of push-ups that it's almost impossible to fall into a routine for your workouts.

And it's easy enough to make them easier or more demanding by switching from their slanted versions against a wall or cabinet to the classic pumps, and why not to the declined pumps.

Who invented the pumps?

I don't know, probably the first man who wanted to impress a girl... Did he succeed? That is the question.

What I do know is that push-ups are great for building your strength without spending a dime. If nothing else, a chair or table can do the trick to make the exercise easier, or on the contrary more difficult, but also to work the muscles from different angles.

For my part, in order to keep my wrists in line with my forearms rather than bent, I equipped myself with push-up handles.

It's a very small investment, but they are very useful to me.

In this article, you will not discover all the variations of push-ups, but you will learn how to perform them properly. You will also be able to watch a video where the important rules will be detailed.

This will allow you to:

  • Not to hurt yourself, especially if you are over 40;
  • To take advantage of the benefits of push-ups to improve your physical abilities.
Perfect Push Up V2 - Bodybuilder - Support Handles
  • High strength construction, 181kg load capacity
  • Padded handles - extremely comfortable
  • Anti-slip coating

Muscles involved in this exercise

Of course, this movement solicits essentially the muscles of the upper body. One thinks of it initially to gain mass at the level of the pectoral and the triceps which are the most solicited, of course. But they are not the only parts of the body which work.

In reality, this exercise of musculation solicits all the abdominal strap (the big right and the obliques in particular) and the buttocks which must remain contracted permanently.

In addition, the back muscles that must keep the shoulder blades together to preserve the shoulders also work throughout the set. This includes the trapezius, rhomboids and scapula elevators. In front of the shoulders, the anterior deltoids are solicited, even if they are preserved to the maximum.

To a lesser extent, the hips participate in the effort to maintain the alignment of the lower limbs.

NOTE : The more you spread your arms, the more it becomes a pectoral isolation exercise. On the other hand, by keeping the hands close, we concentrate more on the triceps.

Adjustable dumbbells 40kg

How to do perfect push-ups at home

Actually, the question came to me because a few weeks ago I decided to reinstate this exercise in my program. And I realized that despite being over 50 years old, this exercise brings me a lot.

Today, this is the exercise I start my Monday and Thursday sessions with after some warm-ups. But I have to be careful, because I have hurt my right shoulder a lot in the past.

That's why I'm going to explain and show you how to perform them properly so you don't injure yourself and work the muscle groups involved correctly.

What is a well-performed pump?

The quality of your movement is crucial. Each repetition of the exercise must be executed perfectly if you want to be able to measure your progress.

For example, if you did 20 normal push-ups with good form on Monday and then do 40 any old way on Thursday, such as reducing the range of motion or keeping your butt in the air, you will have no way to measure your progress.

ALSO READ:  13 Benefits of Farmer Walk Exercise

How to position yourself for this bodyweight exercise

  • Lie face down on the floor, and place your hands flat or on the handles slightly beyond your shoulder width. Place your hands to keep your wrists in a comfortable position. For me, my hands are slightly turned inward.
  • Spread your feet shoulder width apart for stability.
  • Keep your body as straight as possible by contracting your abs and buttocks.
  • Look at the ground or very slightly in front of you, but don't lift your head. Your chin should be the first thing to touch the ground, not your nose (unless your name is Pinocchio 😀 ). If you lift your head up too much, you will hurt your neck.
  • At the start of the movement, your arms should be straight.

Well, now that you're up and running and eager to get started, learn how to do a repetition. Remember that proper execution of the push-up movement is super important.

How to do full push-ups properly

  • Start with arms straight, buttocks and abs contracted. Lower by bending your arms until your elbows form a right angle. Depending on your experience level, age and flexibility, you may be able to go lower. Some people like to get down until their torso touches the ground. This way, they know they are doing the same movements over and over again.
  • Try not to let your elbows go outward during the movement. Keep them relatively close to the body. You'll notice that it starts to move out as you get tired.
  • Once your arms form a right angle or your chest touches the ground, pause slightly before doing an explosive push up until you return to the starting position.
  • Congratulations, you just did a rehearsal. Do as many as you can while keeping your execution perfect. This is called a set, even if you only do 2 or 3 at first 😉

Always remember that it is better to do 10 perfectly executed push-ups than 15 random ones. This is how you can really judge your efforts and progress week after week. Come on, I suggest you watch all this on video with the explanations of Alex from Olymp'Fit :


And if you can't do a single pump

That's okay. Many people don't get it right at first, especially when you have to do it the right way.

In the past, I used to do them with my hands far apart because I thought it was better for developing pecs. But that's a mistake. What is true is that I often hurt my shoulders because of it.

Here's how you can fix this problem

You should start with easier push-up movements. Gradually, you will become capable of doing slightly harder versions.

Attack with incline push-ups using a support, such as a table, chair or bench as in this video:

Start by choosing a fairly high support for your first sessions, then gradually use lower and lower supports until you are able to train on the ground. You can even start by leaning against a wall facing you.

If you have a staircase at home, this is ideal. You can start with your hands on the highest steps and work your way down week after week. You'll end up at ground level faster than you think.

Make sure you always follow the rules you read above about hand position and body straightness. This will help you develop good habits right away.

Train this way until you can do 4 sets of 20 reps once every 2-3 days.

How you will progress with push-ups

Once you have successfully completed your first few sets of bodyweight exercises, you will definitely want to progress further.

How to get there ?

Here are some important basic tips (more below):

  • Lose fat! As you get rid of your excess weight, you'll find it easier to do your sets.
  • Don't cheat. Stop your set as soon as you start to get tired and can't do the movement perfectly. As soon as your elbows start to pull apart or you can't keep your body straight, stop.
  • Don't do push-ups 2 days in a row. You need to give your muscles time to recover and rebuild. Otherwise, you will not progress and you will increase the risk of injury. Stick to working this movement every 2 or 3 days, with no more than 3 sessions per week for this muscle group.
  • Get enough protein. Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. You should take in about 2 g per kilo of body weight per day (Example: 140 g for a 70 kg person).
  • Once you are able to do 4 sets of 20 to 25 perfectly executed push-ups, it's time to try out some more complicated push-ups. You will find 20 of them in the video I have reserved for you at the end.
  • Strengthen your abdominal muscles with exercises like the plank.
ALSO READ:  8 push ups variations for chest and triceps (in video)

To make this article really complete for you, I'm now going to show you 11 common mistakes and how to properly perform push-ups.

Let's go!

11 common mistakes to correct

When done the right way, push-ups help build strength throughout the upper body. This includes your pecs, triceps, shoulders, back and abdominal muscles.

As you read above, the pump movement can be adapted to your level and you can do them just about anywhere. That's probably why this exercise is part of almost every sports program.

But if you do them any old way, they won't help you get stronger and can even lead to injury.

So you should definitely correct these few common mistakes:

1. The lower back sags

A well-done push-up involves keeping your back straight as you do during abdominal planks. In fact, it is the whole body that has to stay straight because your abdominal muscles stay contracted during the whole movement.

If you don't, your lower back will dip or sag. As a result, you'll put more strain on your shoulders and spine, and that's not good at all...

How to correct: To begin, check your starting position, when your arms are still straight. Is your back straight and are your abs contracted? If so, flex your arms while keeping your abdominal muscles contracted. If you can't, try wall or incline push-ups like in the previous video.

2. Too much stress on the wrists

Push-ups are quite stressful on the wrists because the joint forms a right angle when the hand rests on the ground. This problem never bothered me when I was young, but over 50 it's a different story.

Apart from problems related to age or osteoarthritis, your wrists may naturally lack flexibility or your joints may have been damaged for one reason or another (accident, fall, old sports or professional injury, etc.).

How to correct: Use of pump handles. This will keep your wrists in a more neutral position. Another option is to do them on your fists, but this is particularly uncomfortable.

3. The head is in a bad position

Keeping the neck in neutral position is extremely important in almost every weight training exercise. And this one is no exception!

When a set of push-ups becomes more difficult, many people tend to lower their heads to the floor. Others raise their heads to look ahead as if they are finishing a 100-meter dash.

This is not good because it puts a lot of strain on the cervical vertebrae. And it's totally unnecessary... Keep the spine as straight as possible!

How to correct: Tuck your chin in a little and imagine that you are attached to a chain that runs from your heels to the top of your head. Keep the chain as straight and taut as possible.

4. Hands are too far apart during push-ups

If you place your hands too far away from your chest, you are putting unnecessary force on your shoulders, especially the anterior deltoids. Not only does this reduce the power of your push, but it also puts you at increased risk of pain and injury over time.

How to correct: Start on your stomach and place your hands directly outside your chest with your middle finger pointing forward. Then push up on your arms until they are straight. Now you're ready to start your set.

5. Hands are too tight

If you can already do long sets of classic push-ups without a problem, bringing your hands together can be a good way to increase the work of the triceps. Diamond push-ups, as they're called, are a real plus for your workout after you've fatigued your pecs.

However, while this position with clenched hands is good for building triceps, it decreases the strength of your push. So, if your goal is to progress and develop your pecs, this is not the right choice.

How to correct: Initially, focus on the hand position for the classic push-ups (see point 4). When you've progressed enough and want to specifically target the triceps, move the hands closer together. But keep in mind that you will then be doing fewer reps.

6. Elbows are too far apart

If your upper body looks like the letter "T" when you do push-ups, you are putting your shoulders in the wrong position. Also, you are recruiting less muscle than if you were doing them correctly.

How to correct: Adjust the position of your elbows to look like an upside down "V" or arrow. When your elbows are the right distance apart at about 45 degrees, you are recruiting the right muscles. Your progress will be faster and you won't risk unnecessary injury.

7. You don't protect your shoulders

If you have shoulder problems, lowering your chest to the floor during push-ups may just make your injury worse. You really don't need to do that.

ALSO READ:  Dumbbell shoulder muscles: TOP 7 exercises in video

Of course, unlike point 8, you won't do a full pump movement. But that's much better than having to stop your sessions, don't you think?

How to correct: Protect your shoulders by decreasing the range of motion of your push-ups, and only go down halfway to the floor. You can increase the amplitude when your shoulders feel better.

8. You don't do the full movement

One of the biggest mistakes is to reduce the range of motion if it is not necessary. This is the case when you don't bring your ribcage all the way to the floor or extend your arms to the elbow lock (or both).

If you want to get stronger in the different variations of push-ups, half the movement will only lead to half the gains.

Of course, as mentioned in point 7, reducing the movement is sometimes a necessity. But if you have no shoulder or elbow problems, do the full movement to get the most out of it.

How to correct: No matter where you are in your journey to pushup heaven, train to be able to do 10 with perfect execution. After that, it'll just be a matter of training frequency and determination 😉

9. You are not using the right muscles

Although you may think that push-ups are just for building triceps and pecs, that's not quite true. As you saw in point 1, the abdominal muscles are constantly being used.

But you also need to mobilize your back muscles.

How to correct: Contract the back muscles to bring the shoulder blades together throughout the movement. This involves the trapezius and scapula elevators, among others.

10. Learn to do push-ups gradually

I will explain this point by giving you an example:

If your goal is to bench press 120 kilograms, but you can only lift 60 kilograms, how will you get there? Do you load the bar at 120 kilos and tell yourself that you'll get there eventually? Of course not! Not only would you not do it, but it would get you nowhere. Except for injury or an accident...

However, you may be able to do this if you gradually increase the load, week by week, month by month. This is a principle called progressive overload.

The same is true for push-ups. To progress safely, leave your ego at the door and start with the version you can do well. You won't start with an arm pump or declined pushups anyway 😉

How to correct: Start by doing variations of knee or incline push-ups until you can do 10 good quality reps. Next, try a set of traditional push-ups. Remember, building muscle is a long process. Patience and time...

11. Don't look for quantity over quality

It's OK to do reps to failure, but only if the quality of the movement is not sacrificed.

You should never agree to do an extra repetition if it's done "just about right" or on the fly. In fact, a poorly done push-up only sets you up for injury. It doesn't do much for your future performance. On the contrary!

How to correct: As soon as you find that you can't continue in the right way, end your set and take a break. Or, choose a variation of push-ups that allows you to do a few more reps with the right positioning. For example, there's nothing to stop you from putting your knees on the ground to continue in the right way.

Discover 20 types of pumps

Just to gross you out, I can't resist showing you this video from Jordan Yeoh that features not just one variation of the classic push-ups, but 20 variations... including the craziest ones like the vertical push-ups or the Spiderman push-ups. Each jumping version is a plyometric exercise that you can incorporate when you're an advanced athlete.

The former are easy enough for a human being, but the latter probably require Marvel superpowers. Older folks, like me, might think of "the man who was worth 3 billion" 😉


Push-ups are a great way to build muscle and lose weight at home. Definitely incorporate them into your circuit training, no matter what your current level is. Your fitness will thank you 🙂

However, you should complement this exercise with others so as not to unbalance your physique.

I noticed that many articles on the Internet talk about a challenge from the USA. It is called Objective 100 push-ups in French. As the name suggests, it consists of training to be able to do 100 in a row. I tell you what I think about it in this article. Without tongue in cheek, as usual.

Share your experience or ask your questions in the comments area below. THANK YOU!

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Last updated on 2022-03-03 / Affiliate links / Some images are sourced from the Amazon Product Advertising API

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