Pushups are one of the most bang for your buck exercises out there.
They can get you some pretty sculpted shoulders and triceps.
They don’t just work the upper body. They hit your core too.
They don’t require any equipment, so you can do them anywhere.
And when done correctly, pushups can get you freaking STRONG.
But the key phrase here is when done correctly.
Most people I know are at least familiar with pushups. But even those who have been doing pushups for years are usually doing something wrong and don’t even realize it!
So today I want to shed some light on the most common mistakes I see so that you can make sure you nail that pushup form and get the most you can out of the exercise. In the pictures below, the image on the right will show the common mistake, and the picture on the left will show the proper form!
4 Very Common Pushup Mistakes
Mistake #1: Flaring your elbows out to a 90 degree angle.
I call these goal post arms! You’ll know if you are flaring your elbows too wide if from above you look like the letter T like you can see in the picture on the right below. Doing your pushups with your arms like this takes cause you to work the chest and triceps less, and it puts unnecessary pressure on your shoulders. Like a lot of unnecessary pressure. Ideally, your elbows should form no more than a 30-45 degree angle, and your fingers shouldn’t point inward toward each other. The closer to the ribcage the elbows are, the better.
Mistake #2: Not getting a full range of motion.
Many people cheat themselves out of getting a full range of motion (ROM) for the sake of doing pushups on their feet instead of a modified variation. When this happens, the pushup is done with partial reps only. To get a full ROM and subsequently a more effective pushup, you should lower yourself until your chest nearly touches the ground, and then exhale forcefully as you push yourself back up. If you cannot do this while keeping all the other form tips in mind, I recommend taking your pushups to an incline with your hands elevated on a wall, step, bench, etc.
Mistake #3: Leading with the nose.
When you lead with the nose/face in your pushups, the hips end up raising into the air, and your body comes out of a neutral position. Your body should form a straight line, with all your muscles under tension, and you should be leading with your chest.
Mistake #4: Leading with your hips.
This one is similar to #3 where you aren’t leading with your chest. When you let the low back sag and lead your pushups with your hips, it puts unnecessary pressure on the lumbar spine, you’re letting your low back and shoulders help you cheat the pushup, and your core isn’t working effectively. I recommend bracing the core by squeezing your glutes and also pretending you are about to be punched in the stomach, and hold that throughout the entire pushup movement.
And just a little tip —> many women shy away from taking their pushups to an incline because they don’t think it’s as “good” of a variation as pushups on the floor or other advanced variations are.
But the best variation of a pushup for YOU doesn’t have anything to do with being on the ground or not. The best variation is the one that will let you keep your elbows in, get your chest to touch the wall/bench/floor, and keep your core braced and neutral with the glutes squeezed tight.
And usually, that won’t be a decline pushup with your feet up on a bench and a plate on your back out of the gate. Just saying!
Readers, let’s chat! Do you like working on pushups? Are you currently making any of these mistakes? What tips do you have for pushup form and building pushup strength?
Thank you Athena, those were great tips!