The humble, but awesome, pushup

The humble, but awesome, pushup. A much overlooked exercise that’s getting its share of the limelight during the pandemic as people search for home workout ideas. But, when I cast my eye over social media streams, I see examples from the sublime to the ridiculous.

It’s time to pimp your pushup and learn how to get the most out of this awesome exercise.

Common errors

Let’s look first at 2 ways where it goes wrong. While the pushup may look a simple movement to do, it requires a great deal of skill and strength in order to do it well.

Sagging hips

I see this often, and when I first encountered it I thought it was a core issue, but in many cases, the floor hump pushup comes down to 1 of 2 things:

  1. upper body weakness, or
  2. the desire to stare at yourself in the mirror/ make eye contact throughout the reps. As if anyone has every said, “Oh god, the way they hump the floor while making awkward eye contact with me is such a turn on…”

If the reason your hips move more than your chest is number 2, then my advice is simply, stop it, you look ridiculous.

If, however, it’s point 1, then the fix is moving to an incline pushup to move some of your bodyweight towards your feet and make the press easier. As you get stronger, lower the height of the incline you use to make it harder, until you eventually get to the floor, having built up the prerequisite strength for the exercise.

Hips too high

If on your reps, you tend to end up with your hips up higher than your shoulders, and minimal elbow bend happening on your reps, then this tends to indicate that your core strength isn’t up to the task and your shoulders and triceps don’t have the strength to do what is essentially an incline press.

Working on positional understanding and core strength usually rectifies this issue pretty quickly. There are a few exercises below that you can use to build strength to help you find and hold the correct position.

Flaring elbows

If, when viewed from above, your pushup looks more like a T than and arrow, it suggests that you lack a little strength in your triceps and front of your shoulders. You’re basically trying to get your elbows above the line of press to get more chest involvement, and while this works for the press, it also increases the risk of getting grumpy shoulders.

Occasionally, this is fixed easily by adjusting the hand position so the fingers point forwards instead of slightly in towards each other. But if that isn’t the issue, then the fix I often use is eccentric reps. Concentrating on keeping the elbows at around 45┬░from the torso and controlling the descent. This overloads the triceps and shoulders in a controlled way to build more strength and eventually give you the juice to push your way back up.

Pushup progressions

Going from zero to hero with your pushups is easier than you may think. Yes it’ll take some work, but with a solid plan, your results should come fairly quickly.

Incline pushups

These are a great way to build better technique as you gradually build more and more strength by lowering the incline. Start at a height that allows you to get about 5-8 good reps, as that becomes more consistent, drop the incline by 15-20cms and build up the reps again. Rinse and repeat until you hit the floor.


Eccentric push ups

These allow you to build strength and control on the lowering phase of the pushup. Since you can handle more loading on the lowering part of an exercise than on the lifting/pushing part, you can build more strength with these, allowing you to eventually get better at the push part of the push up. Start with 5-8 slow, controlled reps per set, then start ot try pushing your way back up on the first couple of reps.

Regular pushups

Remember, the pushup is basically a plank, maintain good position.

Banded pushups

Adding a band is a simple way to add loading to the pushup. I like to cross the band so it makes an X on my back. This seems to stop it from slipping and smacking me in the back of the head.

Note that with the band you get more tension at the top of the rep than the bottom which helps you maintain more tension across the full range of movement.

Decline pushups

Decline pushups, or feet elevated pushups are good for adding more loading to your upper body and for putting more emphasis on your shoulders and upper chest. Make sure you can control the reps or you’ll face plant.

Pike pushups

The higher body position and steeper pressing angle targets your shoulders and triceps more, making this a good option for bodyweight shoulder work which is often missing from the bodyweight training repertoire.


Now, some non-pushup exercises that make you better at pushups.

Adequate core strength is needed to be able to hold good position throughout the reps, and I love the hollow body for this.

Build up to 3-4 sets of 30s holds at the extended (flat) positon.

Triceps extensions are a good way to build strength in the back of your arms. This is a key part of the push process, and as shown above, weak triceps can lead to flared elbows which you don’t want.

These can be done very effectively with a band attached to a high anchor point or looped over the top of a door.

Seated rows seem out of place when we talk about a pressing movement, but a stronger back tends to mean a stable shoulder girdle. And since your shoulders play an integral role in your ability to push, these become a more obvious addition to your goal of getting better at your pushups.

We could go on and on with how to tackle every nuanced section of the pushup, but I’ve found that these 3 exercises do a great job of building strength as you work on the techniques outlined above.

If you have any questions, or need help with building your pushups to a great standard, don’t hesitate in getting in touch.




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