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How To Perfect Your Pushup Form To Fire Up Your Entire Body

Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor By Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career.
Young Woman Doing a Pushup

There are some staple exercises that create a strong base for any workout, challenging your full-body and putting your strength gains to the test. Of these, perhaps one of the most difficult (and essential) is the pushup

Nailing proper pushup form not only challenges your arm muscles but also calls for engagement in your core and glutes, making your body a united front as your push through the movement. While it is inherently challenging, fitness instructor Mindy Lai walks us through the best way to ace your pushups and build strength (plus, some modifications to help along the way).

How to do a pushup.

pushup

Image by mbg creative

Demonstrated by Mindy Lai.

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How to:

  1. Start in a high-plank position, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  2. Keep your arms tucked to your sides, bend your elbows, and lower down until your body is hovering over the ground.
  3. Engage your core, press through your hands, and come back to a high-plank position.
  4. Continue for 30 seconds. 

Form tips.

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Pushups are a full-body workout and therefore require you to engage multiple muscles outside of just your arms. Your core is the most important muscle group to call upon, allowing you to have more control over the movement, as you build your strength base.

Keeping your spine straight and your eyes trained to the floor between your hands will also ensure you're maintaining proper form. Looking forward as you push up can cause undue neck tension, and looking back toward your feet will lead you to lift your butt into the air and break the straight line of your body.

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Modifications & variations.

Incline Pushup

Incline Pushup -  Jeremy Varner x mbg Creative

Image by Jeremy Varner x mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Alex Silver Fagan.

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How to:

  1. Choose an elevated surface (a bench, block, etc.) for your pushups, noting the higher up you are, the easier the pushups will be.
  2. Begin in front of your surface, placing your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Step back one leg at a time to come into a high plank. Find stability here, with the back of the legs active and the core engaged to protect the low back. Bring your gaze slightly forward to keep the neck straight. The body is in one straight line.
  4. Slowly start bending your arms, elbows squeezing slightly toward the body, and lower your body until you're hovering just above your bench. Keep core and legs active.
  5. Straighten the arms to come back up to your high plank.
  6. Aim for three sets of 10 incline pushups.

Half Pushup Hover

Helen Phelan - Half Pushup Hover

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Helen Phelan.

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How to:

  1. Get into a plank position, with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Engage your core.
  2. Bend your elbows, and slowly lower until your body is halfway toward the floor.
  3. Hold for a few breaths, then lower to the ground.

Single-Leg Tabletop Triceps Pushup

Helen Phelan - Single-Leg Tabletop Tricep Pushup

Image by mbg Creative

Demonstrated by Phelan.

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How to:

  1. Start on all fours, in a tabletop position. Stack the shoulders right on top of the hands and your hips right over your knees.
  2. Extend one leg out, keeping it at hip height. Be sure the hips stay parallel. Keep your elbows pointed toward your knees.
  3. Inhale as you bend your elbows, and bring your chest toward the floor. Go as far down as you can; try to line your nose up with your fingertips. Press the opposite shin into the ground.
  4. Engage your core, and slowly lift your chest back up to start. Keep your chest open, but don't arch your back. Repeat for 8 breaths.
  5. Complete arm circles and hug the world again, then repeat this movement on the opposite side.

Add it to your routine. 

From upper body to core-focused work, adding pushups to nearly any routine will amp up the difficulty of your workout and build valuable strength that will be reflected in other exercises. Many people avoiding tackling pushups because of the challenge, but this move is one of the best when it comes to functional fitness.

For a mix of cardio and bodyweight strength, try out this boxing workout from Lai that features pushups as a key movement:

Or, if you want a solely pushup-focused routine, check out our roundup of pushup variations to target different areas of the body so you can push your strength and build muscle without a stitch of equipment. We promise you'll feel the burn.

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