Push ups not only require a lot of upper body strength but also core strength.
They require you to properly recruit and engage everything from your shoulders to your knees so your body moves as one unit. You need to not only have amazing strength but also proper wrist, shoulder and scapular mobility and stability.
They are a much more complex movement than we often give them credit for.
That’s why I want to share 5 tips to help you not only dial in your push up form, but also strengthen all of the muscles involved in the movement so you can improve your push ups.
But first, I want to explain why it’s key we remember we may need to regress to progress to start.
And one of the best ways to do that is by using an incline over even the knee push up variation!
The knee push up variation is actually more challenging than we often give it credit for. And it doesn’t teach us to engage everything between our shoulders to our feet.
We need to train that full plank position to help us better engage everything as we build up toward that full push up from the ground.
That’s why the incline push up is a great way to modify the push up to start.
You can start off a wall and slowly lower the incline as you’re ready.
And by using an incline, we can even mix up the push up variations we include as we build up.
It can be boring feeling like you aren’t able to try some of those fun push up variations. But using an incline, you don’t have to stick with just the basic push up.
You can include other push up variations that may even be great accessory moves in and of themselves to improve your strength toward that first full push up.
Want to target your triceps more?
Try the close grip push up off an incline.
Or if you want to work on your core strength more as well as your shoulder stability?
Try the shoulder tap push up.
By mixing up your push up variations you can keep you training fun and interesting and even address your weak links to get stronger!
5 Key Tips To Help You Improve Your Push Ups
#1: Drive back through your heels.
Part of getting stronger is also about being more EFFICIENT in your movements. It’s about learning how to engage muscles correctly so it actually requires less effort to do the movement.
And one great way to make sure you have the proper tension during the push up to maintain that nice straight line from your head to your heels, is to cue yourself to drive back through your heels.
This will help you flex your quads for that nice plank position.
Because while this is an upper body move you need to have that proper full body engagement so you aren’t overloading your upper body but also making your lower body assist you in moving efficiently.
When you set up for the push up, push backward off the balls of your feet. Feel the change in how you flex your legs as you do this. Just make sure that as you drive back, you keep your hands outside your chest and don’t let them shift up above your shoulders.
Keep pushing backward off the balls of your feet as you lower down.
Feel those legs stay engaged to help you maintain that plank position!
#2: Push the ground away.
Want to engage your triceps, shoulders and pecs better while helping prevent elbow pain during push ups? Focus on your hands grip on the ground.
That tension we create through our hands down into the ground can really help us better activate the muscles of our upper body.
And it can help us prevent overuse from rocking out on our hands.
As you set up for the push up, spread your fingers with your middle finger pointing straight ahead. Grip the ground or incline with your entire hand, even pressing your thumb down into the ground.
At the top of the push up, think about pushing the ground away just slightly to even better stabilize your shoulders.
And do not lose this tension even as you lower down. Too often we just think about lowering down over maintaining that tension into the ground.
But this tension can also help us in that transition from lowering to pressing back up.
If you’ve ever felt like you struggle at the bottom to change to pushing back up?
This focus on your hands pushing down into the ground can make all of the difference. So even as you lower, push the ground away so that when you move to push back up, you’ve already created that tension.
#3: Feel your back assisting.
While yes, the push up is a move for our chest, shoulders and triceps, we can’t ignore the important role our upper back plays in this movement.
We often think about our scapular movement, or the movement of our shoulder blades, during things like rows.
But that scapular movement is essential to actually create a more powerful press.
Proper scapular movement can mean healthier, happier shoulders, elbows and even wrists. Not to mention you avoiding neck pain from push ups.
So as you perform the push up, think about your back working to support your shoulders.
Make sure that, when you set up, you very slightly pull your shoulder blades down toward your butt as you unshrug your shoulders. Think about feeling the sides of your back slightly engage to support your shoulders.
Then, as you lower down, think about your shoulder blades drawing together toward your spine.
As you press back up, focus on pulling those shoulder blades apart.
Use your back and that proper scapular movement to power your press!
#4: Use push up holds.
Push ups are basically a moving plank so often when we think push ups and improving our core strength, we turn to plank holds.
And those are great.
But you can actually work on that plank position from just about any point in the push up.
By holding even mid-way through the push up or at the bottom, you can really strengthen not only your core but also your upper body.
You can also help yourself overcome any weak points or stick points in the move.
If there is a point you feel you always get stuck at?
Hold there to strengthen everything.
When we hold, we can really focus on what we feel working because we aren’t distracted by trying to actually perform a movement.
We can stay in one position and run through the muscles that should be working to make sure we feel them. We have time to even assess our form and make small tweaks.
That time under tension can help us build strength as we work on that mind-body connection to use muscles efficiently.
So next time you include some accessory core work, try including bottom push up holds or mid push up holds instead of just doing even the high plank position to work your core!
#5: Quality over quantity.
Practice makes better. But only when you’re practicing the proper movement. If we get lazy with our reps and compensate or replicate improper movement patterns?
We are going to ingrain those bad habits through repetition.
So as you build up, make sure to focus on quality over quantity. Make every rep your best rep to really solidify those proper movement patterns.’
And focus on fewer reps of a harder variation to really challenge your body to progress.
Too often when we want to work toward that first full push up, we just make ourselves better at the modified variation by adding more reps.
Instead of doing more reps of a more modified push up, we need to think about doing fewer reps with more sets to keep attempting a more challenging variation.
So if you can do only 1 push up off a lower incline, but 5 off a higher?
It is better to include that 1 rep off the harder variation, simply resting longer between to create the volume over sets.
Because you need to use those harder variations to get better at them!
Use the incline push up variation to help you build up toward that first full push up from your toes. You can even start off the wall and lower the incline as you feel ready.
As you build up, use these tips and cues to help you dial in your push up form and use muscles efficiently to perform the movement.
And don’t be afraid to use some fun variations off the incline to help you target those weak links and keep your training fun and interesting!