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Finally Learn How to Do a Push-Up Correctly

There's a reason that push-ups stand the test of time: They're a challenge for most people, and even the most physically fit humans can find ways to make them hard AF. (Have you seen these staggered plyo push-ups?!) 

And while adding any exercise to your life will result in positive change, adding a few push-ups a day can make all the difference in your upper body and core strength—not to mention your overall "I'm gonna crush it" attitude in life. (Case in point: See what happened when one woman did 100 push-ups a day for a year.)

Push-Up Benefits and Variations

"This simple upper-body exercise is a solid option to work the muscle groups in your shoulders, triceps, chest (pecs), and core," says Rachel Mariotti, an NYC-based trainer demo-ing the move above. 

You may be tempted to skip these because, well, they're hard and you'd rather move on to something more fun. However, "this is one of the standard fitness exercises for upper body and should be a baseline for other upper-body strength exercises," says Mariotti. Take the time to master this before you attempt other exercises, and your body will thank you. (BTW, the push-up is also a great indicator of whether you have adequate core strength since it's essentially a moving plank.) 

If full push-ups just aren't doable at this point or cause wrist pain, don't feel ashamed if you need to drop to your knees. NO, they're not "girl" push-ups, they're just the appropriate progression to make sure your form is on-point before you try the standard push-up variation. Fun fact: You're lifting approximately 66 percent of your bodyweight when doing a standard push-up, but 53 percent of your bodyweight when on your knees, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. You can also try doing push-ups with your hands on an elevated surface (like a box or bench) to place less of your weight on your upper body. No matter which progression you're doing, the key is to keep your body in a straight line from shoulders to hips—just like in a plank or a regular push-up. (Resist the urge to hinge at the hips and stick your butt out.) 

Once you've mastered the standard push-up, you can upgrade to some tricky variations: Here's an entire 30-day push-up challenge dedicated to mastering the move in all its forms. 

If you want to challenge your core even more, take your push-up off the ground: Doing push-ups on a suspension trainer (like a TRX) activates your abs and spine stabilizers in your lower back more than any other "balance" device, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness

How to Do a Push-Up

A. Start in a high-plank position with palms just wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the floor and feet together. Engage quads and core as if holding a plank. 
B. Bend elbows back at 45-degree angles to lower entire body toward the floor, pausing when chest is just below elbow height. 
C. Exhale and press into palms to push body away from the floor to return to starting position, moving hips and shoulders at the same time. 

Do 8 to 15 reps. Try 3 sets. 

Push-Up Form Tips

  • Don't allow hips or low back to sag toward the floor. 
  • Don't let elbows flare out to the sides or forward while descending.  
  • Keep neck neutral and gaze slightly forward on the ground; don't tuck chin or lift head.

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