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January 06, 2020 8 min read

Try as you may, if you want to be considered fit, you have to learn how to do a push-up. Push-ups are one of the most effective, most powerful exercises you can do to improve your total body strength and condition. That's why our trainers sneak them into so many of ourSweatflix workouts. Push-ups work, and they workhard.

Of course, they're also hard work, and many people have difficulty doing push-ups. The common reason for this difficulty is simple: these people didn't learn how to do a push-up correctly in the first place.

Just like you have to walk before you can run, you have to build the necessary core and upper body strength to do a push-up before you can actually do a push-up.

Keep reading. 

This guide is going to teach you everything you need to do about how to do a push-up. From beginner to advanced options, we're going to give you all the tips, intel, and tools you need to learn to crush this classiccompound move.

How to Do a Push-Up: Everything You Need to Know

  • Muscles Used to Do a Push-Up
  • Why Do a Push-Up?
  • Beginner Push-Ups
  • Intermediate Push-Ups
  • Advanced Push-Ups
  • How to do a Push-Up with Different Hand Positions
  • Push-Up Workout Playlist

Muscles Used to Do a Push-Up

It would be easier to ask what muscles a push-up doesn’t work. Push-ups are a compound exercise, which means that they recruit multiple muscle groups. 

Triceps: Triceps are the three-headed muscle that runs up the back of your arms. 

Biceps: The two-headed muscle that runs the upper front of your arms. 

Back: Lats, rhomboids, traps--push-ups work all these muscles of your upper back. 

Chest & area: Pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, as well as the serratus anterior--the muscle located on the side of the chest, under the upper arm.

Core: Abs, transverse abdominals, lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings.

Legs: Quads, hamstrings and calf and shin muscles can be utilized in many of the intermediate and advanced push-up variations.  

Why Do a Push-Up?

If it wasn’t obvious from the number of muscle groups worked, doing a push-up is one of the easiest, most effective ways to create a stronger, leaner body. 


Increase Metabolism All Day

Doing push-ups burn just over 8 calories per minute--more than walking at a brisk pace. And, unlike walking, because push-ups are building muscle across many muscle groups, you’re burning more calories for hours after you’re done working out. 

Build Your Six-Pack

Adding push-ups to your workout is a great way to burn fat and build muscle all over your body--especially your core. In fact, if you want to rock a six-pack, push-ups are even more effective than crunches. 

Multi-Level Move

Push-ups never get easy, and they never get old. You can keep things interesting and keep the good, lean gains coming by increasing the challenge of your push-up variations.

From beginner knee push-ups to advanced decline spider push-ups, this move can evolve with your fitness level. (More on push-up variations for different fitness levels further down!)

Beginner Push-Ups

Don’t expect yourself to be able to do a full plank push-up straight away. Instead, ease yourself into this exercise and stay motivated with these beginner push-up modifications. Learning how to do a push-up starts with the more basic incarnations of this classic exercise. 

Note: Being able to sustain a plank is key to being able to do a full push-up, so while you develop your upper body strength with the variations below, also work on doing plank pose. 

Plank Pose

Starting on your hands and knees, place your hands under your shoulders and step your feet back so your legs are straight behind you. 


Keep your hips parallel with the floor and pull your belly-button into your spine. 

Don’t let your shoulders hunch up! Pull your shoulders blades back and down. 

Maintain a flat spine. 

Drop to your knees if need, but try to sustain plank for 10 seconds, then 20, 30, 40, 50 and finally a minute. This procession can take months, so be patient. Attempt plank pose at least 3 days a week for the best results.

Wall Push-Up


Stand facing the wall, about two feet back. Place your hands on the wall, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows tucked in and lower yourself toward the wall, keeping your eyes on the wall and head up--don’t look down. 

Push-up just before your chest hits the wall 

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Counter-Top Push-Up


Stand facing a countertop, about two feet back. Place your hands on the edge of the counter, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows tucked in and lower yourself toward the counter, keeping your head up--don’t tuck your chin down. 

Stop and push-up just before your chest hits the counter. Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Knee Push-Up

Start on your hands and knees, then move your knees back about a foot so that your core engages (belly-button tucked into your spine) and your hips move closer to the ground. Don’t NOT allow your lower back to sag and keep your spine flat and long. 

Don’t round out your shoulders. 

Make sure your hands are placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows tucked in and slowly lower yourself toward the floor, stopping and pushing up just before your chest hits the ground. 

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Intermediate Push-Ups

The Classic Push-Up

Begin in plank pose. Keep your core engaged (belly-button tucked into your spine), your spine flat and long, and your hips parallel with the floor. 

Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your elbows tucked in, slowly lower yourself toward the ground, stopping just before your chest hits the floor. Push back up to starting position. Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Burpee Push-Up

Begin by performing one classic push-up, as explained above. Once you’ve pushed back up into plank pose, jump (or step, for a less challenging option) both feet forward so they land just beneath your chest. 

From here, jump up into the air, raising your hands above your head. (You can omit the jump if it is too challenging at first or if you have joint issues.)

Land softly on the floor. Place your hands on the ground, jump (or step) your feet back into plank pose and repeat the push-up. 

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Advanced Push-Ups

Spider Push-Up


Begin in plank pose. Keep your core engaged (belly-button tucked into your spine), your spine flat and long, and your hips parallel with the floor. 

Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your elbows tucked in, slowly lower yourself toward the ground. As you lower your body, take your left foot off the floor and move it out to the side, bending the knee so that it touches the left elbow.

Stop before your chest hits the floor, push back up, and bring your foot back to starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Decline Push-Up


Place your hands on the floor in front of you, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Then, place your feet directly behind you on a raised surface. (A chair,Balance Trainer,Step Riser, Challenger Bar orMini Challenger are all good options.)

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Make sure your spine is straight and long: your hips should not sag toward the floor but should be lifted parallel to the ground.

Lower yourself, stopping just before your chest hits the floor.

Push up.

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Read more about why you should do decline push-upshere

Tricep Triangle Push-Up


Begin in plank position, then move your hands together, bringing the index finger of each hand together and the thumb together so that they lightly touch, and your fingers form a triangle.

Keeping your elbows tucked in, slowly lower yourself toward the ground, stopping just before your chest hits the floor. Push back up to starting position. Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Modification: Drop to your knees if you find this push-up variation to difficult at first. Even people at advanced fitness levels can find triangle push-ups challenging at first. This is because they take the bulk of the work out of bigger muscle groups, like the chest, and put it in your triceps.

The result is an exercise that’s amazing for creating stronger, more toned arms, but definitely challenging.

Balance Trainer Push-Up


Grab yourBalance Trainer and flip it upside down so the ball is on the ground. 

Now, place your hands on each side of the platform and grip the handles. 

Step back to plank pose. Keep your core engaged (belly-button tucked into your spine), your spine flat and long, and your hips parallel with the floor. This will be challenging and require a ton of core strength since you will need to stabilize yourself on the rocking ball. 

Keeping your elbows tucked in, slowly lower yourself toward the ground, stopping just before your chest hits the floor. Push back up to starting position. 

Repeat for 8-12 reps, for 2-3 sets. 

Modification: Drop to your knees if staying in plank is too challenging. TheBalance Trainerpush-up requires (and develops) even more core strength and conditioning than standard push-ups, so just because you can knock-out dozens of regular push-ups may not mean you can do this (at first!). 

Single Arm Push-Up


Start in plank pose and master a one-arm plank, first. Your supporting hand should be directly under the shoulder. 

Make sure your shoulders are rolled down and back--no hunching. Place your feet a little wider than hip-width apart to give you solid support. (You can move your feet closer together as you become more adept at this move.)

Lower yourself to the floor. Stop before your chest hits the floor, then push back up.

Notes on how to do a push-up with one arm:

You will likely need to be able to do all the advanced variations before you can do this move. 

You can do a single-arm push-up against the wall, then counter-top, the Challenger Bars, then a Challenger Mini, then alow step and then the floor, if you're finding performing a one-arm push-up impossible off-the-hop--which many, many people will!

Also, focus on lowering yourself down, first. You may need to drop to the floor and then push yourself back up on your knees. The point is to expect a sizeable challenge from this move, but to keep trying!

How to do a Push-Up with Different Hand Positions

While you should always keep your elbows from bowing out during a push-up and you should always keep your spine flat and core engaged, your hand position is not a fixed fundamental of the move.

Yes, in classic push-ups your hand placement is always slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, but--as exemplified by spider push-ups--a seemingly small change in the position of your hands can be game-changing.

Use these different push-up hand positions to keep busting through fitness plateaus by keeping your body (and brain) challenged with variety.

Here are the two best push-up hand placement variations that anyone of any fitness level can try.

Narrow Push-Up Position: Move your hands together, right under the centre of your chest, so that they touch.

Great for training your triceps!

Wide Push-Up Position: Perform a push-up with your hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart. A palm-width wider is often enough of a challenge at first.

Great for training the spectrum of chest muscles!

Push-Up Workout Playlist

Now that you know how to do a push-up, put that knowledge in action. Here are our favourite Sweatflix workouts that include push-ups. 

Start today or save for your next workout! Not a Sweatflix member? Sign up for a 30 day free (no risk!) trial today. You’ve got nothing to lose and only gains to gain. 


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