The Classic Push Up in 7 Steps

October 17th, 2013 by Tam Tran

The Classic Push Up in 7 Steps

Using proper form in exercise is necessary to get the best results while minimizing chance of injury. Here, we take a close look at how to achieve precise body movements to improve your classic push up.

Three details that you may find different than most instruction: 1. how to stabilize the length of your body; 2. how to engage your core and root into the ground; 3. how to efficiently use your breath deeply through a classic push up.

Enjoy the video, follow the steps below, try it out, and be safe!


1. Let’s Get Set:

Balance your body with your arms slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Walk your feet back close together. Lay the palm of your hands flat, your wrists flexed at 90 degrees, and your toes flexed onto the ground.

Tip: Touch your ankles together for more stability. If you have trouble laying the palms of your hands flat, try stretching your hands flat against a wall for about 60 seconds. (I’ll demonstrate on a future post.)

Push Ups

2. Stabilize Your Body in Full Extension:

Slowly and smoothly extend in the opposite direction through your head and heels until you are in plank position. Avoid having your buttocks up in the air or sagging down towards the ground.

Tip: Common limitations are caused by bending back at the crease of the neck and bending at the hips and knees.  These mistakes can be due to unawareness or from shortened, tightened muscles (muscles involved can be the hamstrings, calves, and upper trapezius).

Push Ups

3. Stabilize Your Core:

Stabilizing your core healthily is a sequence of very subtle movements that you won’t necessarily see but feel. Start by slightly tucking your tail (your coccyx), under and upward towards your head. Then, extend your core engagement down into your inner feet by pressing downward slightly with your big toes.

Tip: The popular advice given to stabilize your core is to squeeze your abdominals and tuck in your buttocks. I see three main problems with that: 1. engaging your midsection with such intensity can actually shorten your waist and limit your lumbar (lower back) rotation; 2. the rigidity in the abdominals and buttocks may become chronic and start to cause misalignments in the lower back and hips; 3. you may contract your abdominals and buttocks so tight, you lose the ability to breath smoothly and deeply through the push up. It is much more ideal to stabilize across the full length of your body as described above in #2 and #3.

Push Ups

4. Stabilize Your Shoulders:

Next is to stabilize your shoulders to guarantee a clean push up. Direct your shoulders down away from your ears and contract your shoulder blades with 10% capacity towards the midline of your back.

Tip: The shoulder blade is anatomically called the “scapula” and it is a big triangular shaped bone that provides an attachment point for muscles that move your arm. A muscle that attaches onto the shoulder blade but often gets overlooked is the serratus anterior. Serratus’ function is to stabilize the shoulder blade against your ribcage. It is very important to engage this muscle by directing the inferior angle, or bottom corner of the blade towards your spine, or midline of your back. By doing so, you will avoid shoulder impingements, rounded shoulders and winged scapulas. Get familiar with your shoulder blades!

Push Ups

5. Take a Breath:

Once all is balanced and stable, take a moment for a long, smooth, slow, and deep inhale. Feel your breath expand just below your belly button outwards around your waist and eventually through your entire body.

Tip: It is important to practice being relaxed and tuned-in through times of physical exertion.  If you find it difficult to take a long, smooth, slow, and deep inhale, slowly increase the depth and length for the inhale each time you do a push up, and soon you be able to breathe more deeply through exercise.

Push Ups

6. Lower Down to the Ground:

Now slowly and smoothly exhale, drawing your belly button towards your spine. Use the release of oxygen to lower your body to the ground. Lengthen through your heels and head even more while you bend your elbows back towards your feet. Your goal is to be as parallel and as close to the ground as possible.

Tip: Remember to keep your hands flat on the ground so you can use the entire surface of your palm and fingers to load your weight and push back up. Same with your toes. Your big toe is directly related to your core, so make sure to feel your big toe through this entire step.

Push Ups

7. Push Up:

Anchor yourself at your big toes and inhale again with a long, smooth, slow, and deep inhale while you push up into a plank from your hands. Maintain your stability at plank as described in steps #1-5 and then exhale downward for your next repetition. Repeat until you’re done with your set.

Tip: I would recommend 2 or 3 repetitions done slowly to feel how each step changes your body in preparation for your push up. Then adjust your pace to your workout without sacrificing your stability and your smooth deep breathing.

Push Ups

It only takes about 10 seconds to set up your body to achieve precise body movements, and once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature.

Try this out for yourself! Be safe. Questions and feedback welcome!




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