July 21st, 2023
Push-ups: A staple exercise most people have known since high school gym class, often poorly executed or avoided altogether. No matter how fit you become, push-ups are a challenging exercise. You are pitted against your own muscle mass in an attempt to press the entire weight of your body. That’s tough!
It’s no wonder many Nielsen Fitness clients are at first intimidated by the movement: it requires strength and careful execution. That said, with dedicated practice—and of course expertise instruction—it is possible to master the elusive push up. Here’s a step-by-step progression you can use to get there:
How To Do a Push-Up
1. HIGH PLANK
Before even thinking about a push-up, a plank is a great place to start. Place your palms on the floor with your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart at chest level. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows to prevent hyperextension. Step your feet out and keep them hip-width apart and parallel. Engage your core for a strong and supported spine by pulling your navel in and squeezing your abdominals. Once you can comfortably hold a high plank for at least 60 seconds, move on to wall push-ups.
2. WALL PUSH-UPS
Stand arms-length away from a wall. Place your palms on the wall at shoulder height and slightly outside shoulder width. Step back your feet to form a line from your shoulders to your heels. Keep your weight in the balls of your feet as you bend at the elbows. Your shoulder blades shoulder retract as you move, and don’t forget to squeeze your core, lats, and glutes! Once your upper arms are even with your back, pause for a second before pressing against the wall and squeezing your chest to return to start. Once you can comfortably perform 15 wall push-ups, move on to modified negatives.
3. MODIFIED NEGATIVE PUSH-UPS
From a kneeling position, walk your hands forward to form a line from your shoulders to your knees. Maintain your practiced hand positioning: hands slightly outside shoulder width apart at chest level. Slowly lower yourself to the floor until you are laying on your front, applying all the same muscle control used in your wall push-ups: squeeze your core, lats, and glutes as your shoulder blades retract on the way down. This is one rep. Return to start by pressing against the floor while squeezing your chest if you can, otherwise roll onto your side to restart. Once you can comfortably perform 10 modified negatives, move on to negative push-ups.
4. NEGATIVE PUSH-UPS
Negative push-ups are performed with the same cues as modified negatives, but you’re working from your palms to your toes. Keep your feet hip-width apart and parallel as in your high plank.
Once you can comfortably perform 10 negatives, move on to modified push-ups
5. MODIFIED PUSH-UPS
Begin in your modified negative position. Slowly lower yourself to the floor until your upper arms are even with your back, applying the same muscle control used in your wall push-ups and negatives: squeeze your core, lats, and glutes as your shoulder blades retract on the way down, then press against the floor while squeezing your chest to return to start. Once you can comfortably perform 10 modified push-ups, move on to push-ups.
Begin in your high plank position. Apply the same muscle control used in your modified push-ups, but work from your toes with your feet hip-width apart and parallel.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS AND SAFETY
- Maintain an engaged core to prevent arching and pressure in your lower back, which can lead to pain and injury.
- Prevent shoulder blade elevation. In other words, keep your shoulders away from your ears. This will help focus muscle tension on your chest as opposed to the front of your shoulders.
- For a standard push-up, your elbows should be at about a 45-degree angle from your body. Again, this will keep your shoulders down and focus muscle tension on your chest.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Consistent work will yield results. At Nielsen Fitness, we suggest aiming for a minimum of 2 days of push-up practice per week for steady progress, but 3-4 is ideal to speed up the process. Be patient, and good luck. Reach out to us if you’d like hands-on support and more fitness tips. You’ve got this!