Push-ups are one of the few total body exercise moves that you can do quickly, easily and without any equipment, engaging multiple muscle groups and giving you a cardio boost, too.
But warning: If you make any of these five common mistakes, this powerful tool can turn into a nightmare of injury or poor results.
1. Not Maintaining A Straight Line
This is usually the first lesson a personal trainer teaches a push-up newbie: Don’t sag your hips. Sagging makes the move far less effective and risks injuring your lower back. You’re also missing out on the opportunity to work those core muscles.
Your whole body should move up and down together. Sagging often occurs when people get tired or try to do too many reps, so their upper body comes up before their lower body (resulting in a worm-like dance). Don’t do the worm. Your body should basically be in a plank position from head to toe: core tight, butt clenched.
Solution: Squeeze your core and squeeze your butt tight, maintaining your plank position throughout.
2. Leading With Your Nose
If you’re head or nose touches the ground first, you’re definitely doing it wrong. Your chest should be the first thing to touch the ground.
Solution: Keep your head tucked back slightly and lead with your chest. If you’re following the rest of these tips to the letter, it will be obvious if you’re leading with your head.
2. Letting Your Elbows Drift
Many people tend to splay their elbows out in a push-up, creating a 90-degree angle. But when you do that, you’re not only cheating your workout, but placing strain on the elbows as well. Instead, pull your elbows in, resting them at a 20 or 40 degree angle to create a mechanical angle that allows for greater range and power.
Your elbows should be tucked in slightly, not out like a chicken. If you already have an elbow injury, this can cause even more pain and damage. Pay close attention that your elbows stay above your wrists during your push-up.
Solution: When you drop into your standard push-up, your upper arms should be at your sides at about a 45 degree position to your body. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Be sure to set yourself with a good starting position, with your hands about shoulder-width apart on the ground or just slightly wider. Too wide, will allow those elbows to flare outwards.
4. Not Paying Attention To Your Hands
The problem with incorrect hand placement is that your hands tend to dictate elbow position, making them flare out more or less than they should, which in turn will affect different muscles worked. For most people, the biggest mistake is pointing their hands inward. Unless you’re doing triceps push-ups on purpose (where your fingers form a triangle and your elbows stay pinned closely at your sides in order to activate the triceps), you’ll want to make sure your hands are in the standard push-up position.
Solution: Keep your fingers pointed forward and imagine that you are “pushing the floor apart.” That way you keep your elbows closer to your sides rather than flaring them out.
5. Not Doing A Full Rep
Whether you’re simply lazy or unsure of what a full rep actually looks like, you should be able to nearly touch your chest to the floor at the bottom of your push-up. Not sure if you are doing a full rep? Try picking your hands up off the floor at the bottom (called a hand-release push-up in CrossFit) to see what that actually looks like.
Solution: Touch your chest until it’s nearly touching the floor. If you can’t touch your chest to the floor and do a proper repetition, see mistake number six.
6. Trying Variations That Are Too Difficult
This leads us to the last mistake, which often leads to many of the other ones. Namely, be sure you can execute perfect form with the most basic/easiest push-up before moving on to more reps or more difficult variations. Trying a variation that is too hard, with too little strength, will inevitably break down your form, and this can lead to injury, as well as a not-very-effective workout. If you’ve tried our solutions and still can’t manage to do 20 perfect push-ups in a row, that’s OK! There are ways to work your way up.
Solution: If you need to, start with knee push-ups. You can even try doing push-ups with your hands on a stable elevated surface. The point is, begin with good form and fewer reps, and you will progress much faster.