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Chuck Gross

Nutrition and Fitness Coach (Pn1, ACE-PT, OTC) at HEMA Strong
Fitness Mentor – Broken Plow Western Martial Arts
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Who is this for?

Someone that cannot consistently do 10-12 push-ups with a good range of motion and form. If you have an injury or medical issue that would impede correct form, then this article may not apply to you.

Why Push-Ups?

The push-up is perhaps the most well-known bodyweight exercise, and that’s because it’s a great exercise to build both pressing, pushing, as well as core strength.

What is good form?

Good form for a push-up can be defined by three elements: hand placement, the plank, and the push.

Hand placement

Start by lying prone on the grounds with your hands placed as wide (or slightly wider) than shoulder width. There are other variations of hand placements (wider, narrower, diamond, etc) but these are outside the scope of this guide.

Some people may find that their wrists hurt when having the palms on the ground. An acceptable variation would be doing them from your knuckles or using something like two small dumbbells, or even push-up handles.


Keeping the body straight, lower body to the ground by bending arms at the elbows. The entire motion of a push-up from top to bottom is first a plank. That means keep your core engaged, and drive tension through your body and into the ground.

The Push

Raise body up off the ground by extending the arms. Reverse the movement. Repeat.

Your body weight should be lifted by the arms; don’t be tempted to use your butt, stomach or the lower half of your body to pull yourself up. To maintain correct body alignment, imagine a straight line running from your head down to your ankles.

Your elbows should remain close to your side, but not be touching. Having your elbows touching your side makes them more difficult and can be considered a variation once you’ve mastered the “standard” push-up.

Common Form Issues

The most common issues are incorrect arm placement (too wide vs too narrow), excessive elbow flaring, sagging the hips (as a result of the core not being engaged), and only performing half reps (generally due to end-range shoulder strength and stability).

To address these, only perform variations that allow you to use a full range of motion. In other words, pick the push-up variation that you can do correctly and progress from there. That also means ensuring that the variation you pick allows you to keep your core stable.

Push Up Progression

From the list of push-up progressions below, find the one that you can do with proper form and do a set 2-3 times per day. Once you can complete a set of 10 reps with good form, move on to the next progression. There is no issue with starting at the first step and working your way through the list until you find the version that challenges you.

Level 1 – Plank

Get down to the floor. Rest your body’s weight balanced between your toes and forearms, which should be in contact with the ground. Keep your core tight and remember to breathe! Build up to holding this plank for 1 minute. Once you can do this, you are ready to move up to the next variation. If you can’t plank for a few seconds, let us HEMA Strong coaches know in the group, and we will help you out.

Level 2 – Front Elevated Push-Up

There are various ways to do this type of push-up. The easiest way to start would be on stairs, and as you get stronger you can move *down* the stairs to be closer to the ground. The closer you are to 90 degrees (i.e., more vertical), the easier the front elevated push-up will be. Some other ways to do this variation would be using a barbell inside a squat cage, or against a bench or chair. Your form will be the same as the standard push-up.

Level 3 – Knee Push-Up

A standard form push-up, but on your knees. Your spine and thighs should be at a 90-degree angle, so your kneecaps should be in a straight line with your hips. You should look almost like a cat stretching, with your head lower than your hips.

Level 4 – Knees Supported

Have your knees on a bench behind you, but your thighs unsupported. Your feet will be up in the air, and you can cross them if you like.

Level 5 – Negative Push-Up

Get into the top position of a push-up, engage your core, and slowly lower into the bottom position for a duration of 5 seconds. You can reset rather than trying to push yourself back up.

Level 6 – One Rep Push-Up

You are now ready to try doing a single push-up. You may be fluctuating between Levels 4,5,6 as you work on getting your first single push-up.

Level 7 – Push-Ups For Reps

Congratulations! Great job! You’ve achieved a milestone of being able to do a standard push-up with good form. You are now ready to start working toward multiple reps in a set. As with the previous level, you may need to dabble in the lower levels as you work toward that.

Push-Up Variation Examples

In this video, HEMA Strong Coach, Michael Adams goes through the form for some push-up variations.

What’s Next?

Here at HEMA Strong, our coaches are working on more guides that address subjects such as:
* Push-up progressions beyond the standard push-up (one-arm, etc).
* Variations for other bodyweight movements (handstand push-ups, chin-ups, etc).

Which do you want to see next?

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