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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 10, 2010

How-To: Proper Pushup Technique

By Mark Sisson
201 Comments

Over the next week I’ll be covering some key concepts related to the recently-released Primal Blueprint Fitness. You can get your own copy of the free eBook here. First up, proper pushup technique.

If you’ve ever taken a PE class, joined the military, played organized sports, or watched Rocky, you should be familiar with the basic pushup. In theory, it seems pretty simple, right? You assume the position, lower yourself to the ground, touch your chest to it, then push back up. Hence, “pushup.”

It’s a simple movement, but it’s arguably the best way to develop overall upper body strength and mobility. A proper pushup puts your shoulder blades (scapula) through their full range of motion, as opposed to the bench press, which forces you to keep your shoulder blades tight to protect your shoulders. The pushup is also unique in targeting the serratus anterior, an oft-ignored muscle whose development improves overhead movement and performance; the bench press doesn’t hit the serratus. Properly performed, the pushup also improves core stability by forcing you to maintain a rigid torso and straight legs.

The pushup forms the foundation of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Lift Heavy Things upper body program. It requires no equipment and can be scaled up or down depending on your strength and fitness levels. The basic pushup is easy to learn, but difficult to master, and the variations will keep your body guessing and growing for years.

How To Do the Basic Pushup

  1. Assume the pushup position: elbows locked; hands about shoulder width apart, flat against the ground; toes on the ground; torso and legs straight, core tight; body parallel to the floor.
  2. Lower yourself to the ground, touching your chest to it. Make sure you maintain a tight, rigid body. Think of your legs, hips, and torso as if they formed a cohesive plank or a straight line. Maintain that plank throughout the exercise.
  3. Push yourself back up, squeezing your pectoral muscles and completing the full range of motion.
  4. At the top, continue until your elbows are completely locked and your shoulder blades are fully protracted.
  5. Repeat.

Things to Remember

  1. Keep the tight, plank-like torso position at all costs. Never let your hips sag or bend; don’t point your butt in the air to make it easier. Maintain the straight line.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and flex your abs. This will keep your torso honest and avoid hyper-extension of the lower back.
  3. Head is part of the plank. Keep your head facing the ground; don’t tilt your chin up and strain your neck.
  4. Full range of motion! At the top, just as you feel like you’ve gone as far as you can, push a little more.

Watch this video on proper form and technique for the first 4 of 9 total pushup movements in the PBF Lift Heavy Things bodyweight progression.

Find out where you should begin in the pushup progression by taking the self-assessment test found in Primal Blueprint Fitness and then get started today!

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201 Comments on "How-To: Proper Pushup Technique"

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Chad E
6 years 1 month ago

Mark this is some good stuff. I’ve been referring out your e-book to as many people as I can. It’s funny how many people can’t do even a single push-up with good form these days.

Keep up the good work =)

Peggy
Peggy
6 years 1 month ago

how perfect! thanks for the how-to video clip. Helps alot for those of us starting or in the middle of the 100 push ups…

Angelo
Angelo
6 years 1 month ago

Just when I thought the e-book was perfect, you come along and give extra explanation on it all! The only thing I was really wondering about was *where* to do a pullup? Should I really go into the forest and find some low branches? 😉

Aaron Blaisdell
6 years 1 month ago

I love the coast scrub ecology of Southern California! Beautiful and aromatic. What a terrific place to exercise.

Greg
Greg
6 years 1 month ago

The new Crossfit standard requires one to pick up the hands 6 inches at the bottom of the pushup movement. Obviously you are laying on the ground for a second. Makes the basic pushup far harder.

Ben
Ben
6 years 1 month ago

That’s not true. At the CF Games the athletes were required to pick their hands up off the ground at the bottom of a push-up, for accountability purposes. It’s not the standard. Also….can anyone pick their hands up off the ground 6 inches at the bottom of a push up?? Not me!

cenz
cenz
6 years 1 month ago

Hands off the ground is deadly– love it. It requires re-enganging the muscles between the shoulders at the bottom of the pushup.

Ben
Ben
6 years 1 month ago

Yeah. It’s crazy hard. My gym tried it in a wod after the games.

ColleenT
ColleenT
6 years 1 month ago

Mark,

Any advice on a push-up substitute? I have a pretty serious injury to my elbow and can’t even lift any weight for a month.

Would love to see more on injury rehab.

BTW – thanks (at least in part) to the PB, my injury wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and the Dr’s commented on how strong my bones are (for a 48 year old female) since none of them broke!

Josh the Monkey
Josh the Monkey
6 years 1 month ago
What a beautiful location Mark! My only suggestion or bone to pick is in the orientation of the arms. I personally prefer to keep my elbows in tight to my sides, basically rubbing my sides on the ways down and up (military style). Doing this takes a lot of tension out of my wrists which has built up over the years of martial arts and working in an office on a computer. The only down side is that this method is significantly harder than the elbows out to the side method which Mark expertly demonstrated. This is mostly just my… Read more »
Susan Campbell
6 years 1 month ago

Yeah, there’s no scenery like that in upstate NY!

Aaron Blaisdell
6 years 1 month ago

I used to live in Binghamton, and it can be a beautiful, bucolic setting for about 6 weeks out of the year.

And the countryside and small towns outside of Buffalo, my birthplace, can be lovely in the summer.

But now that I live in Southern California, I can’t imagine living anyplace more wonderful!

Jeremiah
Jeremiah
5 years 5 months ago

Yea I live in Buffalo. We don’t have quite the beautiful scenery as you guys in Cali :-). Still waiting for nice spring weather, so I can enjoy walking around more and more outdoor workouts!

Kris
Kris
6 years 1 month ago

My coach has us do them that way as well, “until you can do 20 in a row with perfect form.” It helps keep your back engaged and lessens the change of shoulder injury. Once you have built up sufficient strength you can experiment with variations (wide, diamond, elevated). It may seem harder, but in reality you will be able to do more work since you’re using the big muscles in your back rather than the small shoulder/tricep muscles that wear out quickly.

ava
ava
6 years 1 month ago

greg-that is NOT the new crossfit standard. at the games, the hands had to just come off the ground each time. it was only the standard at the games to make the judging easier (hands can’t come off the ground if chest isn’t touching the ground).

Christine Crain
Christine Crain
6 years 1 month ago

I still haven’t gotten the link to download the eBook, so I tried to re-register but it says that I’m already in your records… Any suggestions?

Peggy
Peggy
6 years 1 month ago

ya, me too. But I think I get my weekly newsletters a day or 2 later, so I’m being patient, yet jealous of the others that got to read it already. Hang in there Christine!

Dozer
Dozer
6 years 1 month ago
The new Crossfit push up (hands off the ground) is a great variation to a push up. When you lift your hands you release the tension in your core as a result of your body resting on the ground. Your body goes from relaxed to a state of tension in the push. It’s unique because generally in a push up you have the negative (down) and then the push (up). However, you carry tension from the negative into the push and it gives you a rebound as you start your push up. By stopping and lifting your hands at the… Read more »
Shawn
Shawn
6 years 1 month ago

What are you thoughts on the so-called “power pushup” where you push off with maximum force and clap your hands before coming down again?

David Grim
6 years 1 month ago

Mark,

Another thing that I see all the time is people dropping the crown of their head down. It limits the range of motion and makes it impossible to for you to touch your chest and nose at the same time. You are better off doing less reps properly than a bunch of reps at 50% of the range of motion.

David

Susan Campbell
6 years 1 month ago

The awesome thing about these progressions is that it is fairly easy to advance to the next exercise – even for women. I have some people who come to bootcamp who laugh at the kneeling push up but within 1 month they are doing a few decent push ups on their toes. I love seeing that! They become so proud of their accomplishments!

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[…] Original post by Mark Sisson […]

Matt
Matt
6 years 1 month ago

I’m so excited about some new posts involving exercise! All the biorhythm, hormone, mobility, etc stuff was really interesting, but it’s great to get back to the basics!

Primal Toad
6 years 1 month ago

Great video Mark! I need to print out the e-book immediately and dive in right away!

Woody
6 years 1 month ago

One thing that I tell people and seems to help is that the push-up is mainly a chest exercise and arms are secondary. I believe too many people struggle with push-ups because they try to use their triceps as the primary muscle, which creates unneeded tension and strain. Use the big muscles and the smaller muscles will go along for the ride.

TandyG
6 years 1 month ago

Any article or post that mentions the beauty and importance of the serratus is a favorite of mine. excellent breakdown. Thank You! I shared it on my fb fan page!

Nic Kirkland
Nic Kirkland
6 years 1 month ago

Mark I feel it would be remiss not to mention that your upper arms should be at an angle of less than 90 degrees with your torso. Doing them with your arms straight out (perpendicular to your torso) can cause impingment of the rotator cuff between the acromion process and humerus. Most people will naturally assume such a position, as it is more comfortable, but some beginners make that mistake.

Alyssa
Alyssa
6 years 1 month ago

Do you mean we should have our arms wider than shoulder width apart? Wouldn’t that be an angle of more than 90 degrees? Sorry, I just didn’t quite get what you meant and I want to get this right =)

Suse
Suse
6 years 1 month ago

Should one do pushups with a rotator cuff problem. When I was trying to do the 100 pushup challenge, I wasnt getting pain doing them, but my rotator cuff was definitely worsening so I stopped.

Nic Kirkland
Nic Kirkland
6 years 1 month ago

Yes, absolutely, as long as it’s not completely torn. If that’s the case you most likely will need surgery to repair it.

But push ups are an excellent exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Just start with the most basic progression and work your way up as you build strength.

Mike Sicuranza
Mike Sicuranza
6 years 1 month ago

protect your shoulders but having your elbows point toward your feet not flared. Flared elbows = hurt and overtrained shoulders.

Russ
6 years 1 month ago

I second the recommendation regarding positioning of the elbows. The push-ups demonstrated on the videos are slightly too flared for my taste, as it seems you can see the shoulders start to shrug up towards the head on the way down. Start with a 45 degree angle from the body and find your sweet spot from there.

As you appraoch 90 degrees you significantly increase your risk of shoulder/rotator cuff pain and/or injury.

Kilton
Kilton
6 years 1 month ago

Do you have a link to a video that shows this? I’d like to be totally sure I understand.

Nic Kirkland
Nic Kirkland
6 years 1 month ago

Check out how the guy looks at 1:05 in this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbDcMfu-i4w

That is good. This is bad (0:11):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbDcMfu-i4w

Pay special attention to the angle of the upper arm relative to the body.

Nic Kirkland
Nic Kirkland
6 years 1 month ago

Doh, just realized I pasted the same link twice. The first link (good arm angle) should be:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5ewKCtUGgk

Russ
6 years 1 month ago
I apologize for the confusion. I’ll see if I can get a link up. I can probably find a vid on Eric Cressey’s site somewhere. But.. Hand position isn’t all that important, there are many variations of hand positioning to tweak the exercise. Narrow, shoulder width, etc. For The standard push-up hands would be shoulder with apart – or more precisely the inside of your hands as you look at them on the floor should be under the outside or lateral head of your shoulders. The 45 degree angle I spoke of refers to the angle of your elbow in… Read more »
Russ
6 years 1 month ago

ericcressey.com/exercise-of-the-week-push-ups

There ya go.

Kilton
Kilton
6 years 1 month ago

Thanks!

Michael
Michael
6 years 1 month ago

Sorry, this seems important and I just don’t get it. Which angle should be 45 degrees? Are you saying the hands shouldn’t be directly under the shoulders? Where should they be? Or are you saying to not go all the way to the ground but start with arms straight and only go down half way? Sorry to be so dense.

Russ
6 years 1 month ago

See the above reply. You still go all teh way to the ground provided you have orthopedic restrictions.

Russ
6 years 1 month ago

I meant NO orthopedic restrictions.

Heikki Hallamaa
Heikki Hallamaa
6 years 1 month ago

Here’s another great book about pushups from my martial arts teacher http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-little-book-of-push-ups/6102670

Matt
Matt
6 years 1 month ago

Love the video but as a Military man, who has literally performed thousands upon thousands of push-ups, I have to say your form needs some tweaking. Keep that head tilted up a little to ensure proper alignment but I’ll still give you a solid A-.

Alykhan
6 years 1 month ago

Mark,

Great post. Glad you emphasized proper technique because pushups are way more effective when performed correctly. Looking forward to reading Primal Blueprint Fitness.

Alykhan

Paramjit
6 years 1 month ago

This is something that a lot of people will find useful. I guess women should pay more attention to this. A lot of women I have come across seem to think that the push up is only for men. Yet they do not realize the beneficial effects that they will attain from it. Another point I want to make is that those who are not able to do a full push up most likely have a weak core. While the arms play a part, the core is also equally important for performing the perfect push up.

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[…] here http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-to-proper-pushup-technique/ for an interesting article on “How to do a proper Push Up” as well other other good […]

Dennis
Dennis
6 years 1 month ago

Great video! What I did when I was starting to get into pushups, was to do it against the bathroom counter. I could get a good angle, to get a good amount of resistance, and I could also see myslef in teh mirror, to ensure good form.

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[…] Primal Blueprint Fitness. You can get your own copy of the free eBook here. Yesterday I covered proper pushup technique. Next up, proper pullup/chinup […]

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[…] Here’s how to do it (Courtesy of Mark’s Daily Apple).  My only note in addition would be: Keep elbows at 45 degrees from the body to avoid overloading shoulders.  […]

fixed gear
6 years 1 month ago
Quick burst of exercise (lift heavy things, sprint once in a while) BUILDS muscle. Chronic cardio DESTROYS muscle. I love to surf, but when I surf often in the summer I lose a little strength and muscle. I’m ok with this because I have all winter when the water is cold to get it back in the gym. But it makes me wonder about pushups. At what point do you think they cease to be “lift heavy things” that BUILD muscle and enter the realm of “chronic cardio”? If you can eek out 10 reps and that’s your max effort… Read more »
DAVE PARSONS
DAVE PARSONS
6 years 1 month ago

CORE STRENGTH IS THE SECRET TO IT ALL.
PLANK AND INCLINE…UNTIL YOUR STRONG ENOUGH TO DO PUSH-UPS.
LOWER THE BAR AND PLANK AND LEAN FOR PULL UPS.
HOLD A SMALL BALL BETWEEN YOUR KNEES TO
LOCK YOUR LOWER BODY TIGHT DOING PUSH-UPS AND PULL-UPS.
IT WORKS WONDERS ON THE INNER THIGHS/GLUTES/AND HAMS.GROK ON….

Lori B.
Lori B.
6 years 1 month ago

That was incredibly helpful, Mark. Nobody has ever explained the pushup like this to me before. I was just supposed to “do” them and they’ve never exactly been good for me. But now I can proceed with confidence! Thank you!

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[…] How To: Proper Push Up Technique – Mark’s Daily Apple […]

john lucich jr
john lucich jr
6 years 1 month ago

what is the proper sit up?

madeline
madeline
6 years 1 month ago

Thanks. I liked the wall pushup & work my way up. Loved how ez you make it seem too. This is just what I needed. 😀

Mike Sicuranza
Mike Sicuranza
6 years 1 month ago

Key to a good pushup is having the elbows tucked in and not flared. Elbows tucked in and pointed back protects the shoulders. Check out Steve Maxwell on Utube for perfect form.

Steven
Steven
6 years 1 month ago

The elbow angle is recommended to be at 45 degrees, but what if you want to concentrate more on your chest. Can you have a wider hand position?

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[…] How-To: Proper Pushup Technique […]

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6 years 1 month ago

[…] How-To: Proper Push-Up Technique […]

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[…] Stick to the basics. Master the core bodyweight movements, things like squats, pushups and pullups. I have linked to Mark’s Daily Apple who put in a great tutorial for all of these […]

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[…] push ups (if you can’t do a push up, click on link to see  the push up […]

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[…] visiting the Primal Blueprint 101 page. Thanks for visiting!This is the last in a series of posts (Pushups, Pullups/Chinups, Squats, Overhead Presses) covering proper technique for the 5 Essential Movements […]

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[…] If you’re curious, Primal Blueprint Fitness is one component of the overall primal lifestyle approach. You can read an overview here. I’ve been a paleo/primal eater for a little over a year now and have been exceedingly happy with the changes. (Don’t worry, those funny shoes in the videos aren’t requisite to the program!) Push-up […]

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[…] push ups (if you can’t do a push up, click on link to see  the push up […]

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[…] ***If you can’t do a push up, click on link to see  the push up progression: push ups […]

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[…] Pullup/Chinup 2 Pushups 3 Full […]

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[…] Ripley Point in CrossFit – Lisbeth Darsh Mark Sisson offers some guides on the push up, pull up, and squat. Talking Strategy 15 Days Until the September […]

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[…] push ups and sit ups […]

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[…] 25 push ups […]

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[…] 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 push ups […]

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