How to Get Better at Push-Ups, No Matter Your Starting Point

Learn how to get better at push-ups and use the exercise for a full-body challenge.

an exerciser in a high plank position, presumably before a push-up
Photo: Getty Images

Push-ups are a classic exercise for a reason. The total-body move can help you target your upper body — and with tons of variations, you'll never plateau. Push-ups are especially great for your chest, triceps, and entire core, says Curtis Williams, a former NFL athlete and founder of Team Training C.A.M.P. in New York. "Whether you're new to exercise or a professional athlete, push-ups are still beneficial," he notes.

Here, Williams and personal training manager Angela Reynolds break down how to get better at push-ups.

How to Improve Push-Ups

Whether you're starting from square one or can crank out push-ups with ease, you can always build up to a tougher variation — or a longer string of reps — of the exercise. Use these tips to learn how to get better at push-ups.

Start from the Bottom

Beginning your push-up on the ground is a great way to ensure you're doing the move correctly and building endurance through your core, says Williams. It also helps you decide if you need to modify. Lie on the ground with legs locked and abs tight, then press off from the palms of hands. If you can't maintain a flat back, try a modified push-up or keep practicing to increase your strength.

Drop to Your Knees and Modify

The best way to get better at push-ups is to perform a version of the exercise that's right for you. Sure, push-ups may seem simple enough when you watch a coach or instructor do the exercise, but the move takes a lot of work. Instead of risking injury, beginners should start with a modified version — such as on their knees or with hands on a wall, and work up to a regular push-up — advises Reynolds.

Place Your Hands Slightly Wider Than Shoulder-Width Apart

Narrow and wide push-ups can hit different muscles, but you may end up sacrificing form if you're not experienced with the exercises. Stick with a standard push-up stance, keeping thumbs in line with armpits and elbows at a 45-degree angle from the sides, suggests Reynolds.

Don't Stick Your Butt in the Air

When your back is not flat, you minimize activity in your core, points out Williams. Since the push-up is really just a moving plank, you want to engage your abs throughout the exercise. Plus, piking your hips in the air can put stress on your shoulders.

Keep Hips from Sagging Toward the Ground

Your body should look like a board (not a banana!) if you don't want to feel lower back pain. Luckily, Reynolds has an easy fix: Engage your core by squeezing your abs and drawing your belly button in toward your spine.

Don't Drop the Head When Lowering Body Down

Keep a neutral spine, so your head is aligned with the rest of your body. To ensure your alignment is correct, find a fixed spot on the floor and keep your eyes focused on that area until the set is complete, recommends Reynolds.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

You should be more focused on how to get better at push-ups than how many reps you can do in a row. "I'd rather see a client do five perfectly executed push-ups and build on that than 20 push-ups with terrible form," says Williams. Practicing poor movement patterns can lead to muscle imbalances and eventually injuries.

Slowly Incorporate Variations

The great thing about push-ups is that there is always a way to make them more difficult — but progressing before you're ready will only hurt you, so master the standard push-up first. Try push-up variations only after you can do three sets of standard push-ups for 12 to 15 reps, advises Reynolds.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles