The perfect push-up: Your guide to getting there


(Photo: Sheknows.com)


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When you’re a woman, the push-up—the most basic and effective of all exercises—is rarely done in its purest form. We do them on our knees. We go half way down. We drop our bellies before our chests. The result?

“Women, after many years of working on their push-ups, aren’t any better,” says Upper East Side CrossFit center EVF Performance owner and trainer Eric Von Frohlich. “It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that no one is requiring you to.” He, however, will.

The makings of a perfect push-up
“The movement is historic and amazing,” Von Frohlich gushes. It’s straight-forward yet involves lots of elements that engage muscles all over your body.

What are the basics? First, your fingers should be facing forward while your arms are externally rotated, shoulder blades back.

Next, “we’re looking for midline stability from the top of the head to the tailbone.” In order to create that stability, you need to seriously contract both your abs and glutes. Ab contracting will stabilize the spine, while glute squeezing stabilizes the hip complex.

EVF Performance

“Push-ups on your knees just helps you get better at doing push-ups on your knees,” says Von Frohlich.

Proper range of motion is key, Von Frohlich says, “which means moving all of the way to the floor, so that the chest and thighs touch the floor at the same time.”

Keep your movement fluid, in other words, push right up when you reach the bottom, and go right back down at the top. Pausing or stopping makes it harder to push back up (no momentum). And ideally, your breath should be synced with these movements (inhale on the way down, exhale back up).

How to get there
Of course, many women will read about the glorious appearance of a perfect push-up with one question in mind: “How can I do it if I, um, can’t do it?”

“You can learn the progression of a proper push-up,” says Von Frohlich. And forget doing them on your knees. Instead, start by doing push-ups against a wall or on a bar. This will allow you to practice midline stability and the correct full range of motion, but it will take some of the weight off of your arms, making it easier. Want to make some progress on your push-ups? Try these three moves from Von Frohlich now.

In the end, just like with pull-ups, the key is getting as close to the actual movement as possible. “Do the thing that you want to do to get better at it,” Von Frohlich says. “If you want to be a baker, you don’t go work on cars, you bake.” —Lisa Elaine Held

Watch Von Frohlich demonstrate proper push-up form:

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7 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. January 23rd, 2013 at 11:21 am

    This article is great…I always was concern about my form when doing pushups and I can clearly see that I was doing it wrong. Now, I will do push ups the right way and probably see some results in my upper body strength.

  2. January 23rd, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I completely disagree with the form discussed in this article.

    First off, your glute maximus is designed for leg extension, which does not occur in a plank position. Furthermore, overly working your glutes effects the attachments sights, one of which is your sacrum, where coincidentally you have your sciatic nerve. Not only could you experience a decrease in flexibility but you could begin to experience sciatic pain.

    Secondly, the image of the woman doing a plank has terrible form in her shoulders and back, and although she is attractive, a picture of someone in improper form is misleading.

    Lastly, glossing over how one could begin to understand the mechanics of a tricep push-up is where many could easily hurt their shoulder, especially the rotator cuff. One must learn to have scapular stability before attempting any type of tricep dip. Starting with a different arm position would be better.

    It’s one thing to just move your body, it’s another to know how it was designed to create movement.

  3. January 24th, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    As someone who has taken lots of Eric’s classes, I’d like to say what an amazing trainer he is. He will definitely kick your fitness level up a notch!

    This guy knows his stuff!

  4. July 27th, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I don’t know if I can do this. I usually do the light push up. Anyway, if I’ll have a trainer like Von Frolich, I will definitely level up. :-)

  5. July 27th, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    Good article. The stability factor I think is the most important factor. I found though that this type of exercise need to be mixed uo abit. A good tip is to elevate your feet. It’s harder but will work different muscles. Fingers facing forward always a good idea though.

  6. July 29th, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Very useful article. I knew about keeping a stable trunk, but I never think about where my fingers are pointed when I’m doing push-ups. It’s really made a difference.

  7. Vinnie
    July 30th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Many thanks for making me improve my pushup technique. I never took care if my chest and legs are touching floor at the same time. This video was extremely helpful.

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