How to do the perfect pushup

The key to the perfect pushup is technique. (Courtesy Lisa Reed)

Lisa Reed
WTOP Fitness Contributor

WASHINGTON — Pushups are one of the easiest exercises to perform anywhere. You don’t need a gym and you don’t need any special equipment.

In addition to strengthening the upper body and improving core strength, pushups work the chest, shoulders, triceps, abdominals, upper back, erectors, legs and glutes.

So how do you perform a pushup that will build and tone all of these muscles? Pay attention to a few specific things, and you’ll be perfecting your technique in no time.

  • Hand placement: Start with your hands directly under your shoulders and then move them outward so the distance is slightly wider than shoulder-width-apart. Draw your shoulder blades back and down so your elbows naturally go back towards your body.
  • Body: Your body should be in one straight line from the top of your head to your feet. The key is to tighten your glutes by squeezing them together. Your abs should be tight, as if you are bringing your belly button to your spine by contracting your abs. These two cues will prevent your back from arching or your butt from sticking up in the air.
  • Head: Your head should remain in a neutral position. To check your head position, take your hand and place it with your thumb and pinkie finger on your collarbone, and rest your chin on your index finger.
  • Feet: Keep your feet close together with the balls of your feet stabilizing your lower body.

Now that you’ve got the form, let’s try the pushup.

Begin with your arms straight, your abs engaged and your glutes squeezed. Then, slowly lower your body. Bend your arms with your elbows pointed slightly out and draw the shoulder blades back and down.

Descend until your chest touches the floor. The key is to not “let go” of your form as your chest touches. As you’re doing the pushup, inhale on the descent and exhale as you pushup to a full straight-arm extension. Remember to rest after a set, not after each repetition.

Once you’ve perfected this, your strength will improve, and you can move to the next progression or add sets and repetitions. Record the number of pushups you can do on the first day. When you can perform one set of 20 repetitions and you feel ready for more, move to the next progression. Don’t forget to stretch your chest after each set.

Here are some progression options (using the same form/technique) to build your way up to a traditional floor pushup:

  • Wall pushups
  • Counter pushups
  • Kitchen table pushups
  • Coffee table or box pushups
  • Knee (modified) pushups

As you become stronger, here are some ways to make pushups more challenging:

  • Medicine ball pushups: Place one arm on a medicine ball and one hand on floor. Roll back and forth. For a very advanced pushup, put both hands on the stability ball.
  • Stability ball pushups: Keep your feet on a stability ball, and your arms on the floor. Try lifting one leg up as you do the pushup.
  • One-arm pushups: Do a traditional floor pushup with one arm.
  • Fingertip pushups: Do a traditional floor pushup using your fingertips.
  • Decline pushups: Do a pushup with your body at a declining angle, with your feet up on a chair or on the bed.
  • Plyometrics between pushups: In between each pushup, get up and do another short-burst exercise. Step up on boxes or try clapping between pushups.

As always, it’s important to make sure you are eating well and fitting in cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, along with your pushups, in order to live the Reed-iculoulsy fit life!

Editor’s Note: Lisa Reed, MS, CSCS, is a USA Fitness Champion, IFBB Pro, personal trainer, educator, motivator and owner of Lisa Reed Fitness, LLC, where she leads a team of in-home personal trainers in the Washington, D.C. area. Lisa and her team design online fitness and nutrition programs for clients around the world. She has trained hundreds of elite and professional athletes, including Monica Seles. She was the first female strength coach at the United States Naval Academy, and trained top athletes as a strength coach at the University of Florida. For more information on Lisa, visit her Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and Instagram account.

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