How To Do A Push-Up

By Karen Smith

We’re women on the move. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do: jobs to work, families to care for, lives to live. Sometimes some (or maybe all) of these seem to get in the way of our goals and our “Me” time. For many of us, the “Me” time that seems to get pushed back the furthest is our gym/training time.

Trainers hear this all the time: “I just don’t have time to work out!”

Sure, the tough love response is that if you really care about something, you make the time for it. But that isn’t just a switch you flip and voilà, you have time! No, no. I understand that making time for something requires thought and organization, planning differently (or planning, period). It’s a mindset change. We’re not going there today.

Instead, I want to show you a simple skill you can immediately add into your daily routine.

This skill has great returns, tremendous carryover to other skills and can be done anywhere any time because the equipment is always at your fingertips.

What I’m talking about here is The Push-Up.

Before you say, “Forget it. I can’t do push-ups,” let me teach you a few important details that will make them easier for you.

Knee push-ups vs. straight leg push-ups

pushup-karen-450x340For far too long knee push-ups have been called “girly” push-ups! This peeves me to no end, so let’s clear it up right now: Girls can do straight-leg push-ups, and they are not called “guy” push-ups. They are simply push-ups, with your legs out straight.

This type of push-up will make you stronger, faster. Because you have to recruit more muscle to do straight leg push-ups, they are much more efficient. Today, I want to teach you the progressions to a strong push-up, and how to add them into your daily routine.

The Plank

If you’re a beginner, straight-arm planks are a great place to start to build up your stabilizing strength, while also doing push-ups from an elevation that is appropriate for your current level of strength. This may even mean starting with your hands against the wall for some of you.

Before we move on to the plank and wall set-up, here are few technique pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Your body should form a straight line, it should not be sagging at the hips or low back.
  2. Focus on squeezing your glutes and moving as one unit.
  3. Keep your arms in, close to your ribcage. This is a much stronger position than trying to do push-ups at the 90-degree angle that we most often see.



  1. Start on all fours, and get your shoulders stacked over your wrist. Visualize “corkscrewing” your shoulders into the socket, as this will help you remember to engage your lats.
  2. Extend each leg out behind you and press through your heels to form a solid straight line from your head to your feet.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and point your belly button toward your face (pelvic tilt). This will help keep you from sagging or pushing your butt up in the air.
  4. Hold your plank for time, even if that means starting at 10 seconds. You will begin to get stronger in the positon.

The Wall Push-Up

When starting at the wall, the set-up is a bit different. You need to start in the bottom positon to accurately find the best hand placement.

  1. Step up to the wall, toes touching the wall and place your hand on the wall with your thumbs just under your chest.
  2. Step back from the wall, straighten out your arms, and go up on your toes.
  3. Inhale as you row yourself toward the wall keeping your elbows in, close to your ribcage. Pause, then exhale as you press yourself back away from the wall, keeping your whole body tight and moving as one unit for the desired number of sets and reps.

As you can see wall push-ups can be done anywhere. Once these have become fairly easy (maybe 3-5 sets of 10) you can advance to a lower elevation, like your kitchen counter, desk, or a bar in the squat rack at the gym.

The Push-up

After you have selected the appropriate elevation, it’s important to find the best set-up to keep your joints safe while gaining strength.

  1. Begin with a grip that is slightly narrower than your shoulder width. Make sure you stack your shoulders over your wrist to make a solid column.
  2. Plant your toes on the ground, either shoulder width apart, or together to make it more difficult.
  3. Inhale as you row yourself toward your elevation keeping your elbows in, close to your ribcage. Pause then exhale as you press your body back away. Keep your body moving as one unit.  Keep in mind that I coach elbows close to the ribcage because I teach a lot of bodyweight workshops where we work on skills like the OAPU (One-Arm Push-up) where the elbows must be close in to the body.  Your elbows can be out at far as 30-45 degrees, but my preference is elbows close to the body.

I recommend staying at a set elevation until you can do 2-3 sets of 5 reps with solid technique. After you have the strength to use several different elevations, you can program for a light, medium, and heavy day by varying the elevation as well as the sets and reps each day.

It is important to own each phase of the push-up. As you find a “sticking point” you can make that your new plank until you get stronger in that positon.

Push-Up Variations

Once you have gained enough strength to perform proper push-ups on the floor, you can start adding in other variations to continue your strength gains.

Some of my favorite variations is to use an elevation on one side and alternate which side you are working harder and which side is your assistance side. You can use medicine balls, sliders, TRX etc.



Push-ups can be done in sets or even singles throughout your whole day. For example, each time you get up from your desk or walk into the kitchen, do a rep or a few.

The most important part is that you get started, and the added bonus from doing push-ups daily will be strong, defined shoulders and triceps and a stronger core.

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About the author:  Karen Smith

Karen Smith is a highly-respected trainer and coach specializing in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a StrongFirst SFG Master Instructor and Chief Bodyweight Instructor. Karen travels the world instructing and certifying individuals through StrongFirst, and works with clients online and in person.

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