3 Exercises to Help You Execute Clean Push-Ups

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The perfect push-up is always a hot topic (and challenge!) for anyone who exercises. We’re guilty of that too, but you can’t blame us. Push-ups primarily strengthen your arms, shoulders and chest, but can also improve your coordination and body awareness. There are countless variations to make the exercise easier or harder, and you’re guaranteed not to get bored. Push-ups are also a good test for your overall health – the more push-ups you can do, the less likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

But let’s get back to perfect technique. The movement is complex and our body will always look for ways to make it easier for us – and sometimes it will cheat. Your hips will sag or push up too far, you won’t use your full range of motion, or you’ll place your hands too far apart. These mistakes aren’t usually a big deal, but they will prevent you from benefiting from the full effect of the exercise.

There’s all sorts of guidance out there for learning clean push-ups and the Internet is full of tips about how to do them correctly, key preparation, and mistakes to avoid. Although there’s no question that this is all useful, whether you’re just starting out or want to perfect your technique, you can and should challenge and strengthen the muscles used in push-ups with other strength exercises. These include your chest muscles, triceps, and core specifically. You can work on these well before you can power through a whole set of perfect push-ups. 

#1 Floor Press

This exercise is similar to a bench press, but requires less coordination so it’s easier for you to get started as a beginner. This allows you to focus on getting a feel for lifting weights and controlling your chest and arm muscles.

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees pointing upward. Tuck your elbows in against your body so they form a 90-degree angle to the ground. Exhale and push the weights up until your elbows are extended. Your palms will be facing away you. Lower your elbows to the floor and repeat the movement.
Incorporate the exercise into your training plan for three rounds of 8 repetitions. Choose weights that make the last few repetitions feel heavy but doable. Increase session to session, until you can complete 12 reps. Then start over at 8 with the next heavier weight.

Muscles: Pectorals, triceps
Remember: Keep your elbows close to your body so you have more control over execution and can target your muscles better. Press your lower back into the floor during the exercise.

#2 Military Plank

During a push-up, you want your body to form a straight line, but this looks more like a suspension bridge for many people when they work out. To prevent this from happening, the Military Plank helps you build and maintain core tension. Start in the High Plank position, engage your upper body, buttocks, and legs, then lower your right forearm first, then your left. First place your right hand, then your left hand and push yourself back up like this. On your next rep, start with your left arm. If the exercise is still too difficult, hold a forearm plank position.

You can incorporate this exercise into your core workout or circuit. Try to compete three rounds of 30-45 seconds.

Muscles: Torso, shoulder, and arm muscles
Remember: Don’t let your pelvis rock back and forward while changing positions. Your body should form a straight line and be rigid.

#3 Triceps Extension

Your triceps need to work hard for you to execute clean push-ups. This exercise will make sure they’re up to the job. Grasp a light to medium dumbbell or weight plate with both hands and hold it overhead in a hip-width stance with your arms extended. Bend your arms 90 degrees, bringing the weight behind your head. Only move your forearms. As you exhale, extend your arms again and repeat the movement for the next repetition. Perform three rounds of 8 – 12 reps and increase the weight when you can complete 3 sets of 12 reps with the proper technique. 

Muscles: Triceps
Remember: Keep your elbows tucked in and your upper arms still.

#Extra Tip: Bent-Over Rows

When you’re working towards push-ups, you’re primarily training push movements. Make sure you balance your workout and incorporate pull movements too. Rowing with dumbbells is an effective classic for the upper body. Learn more about Push & Pull as the Basics of Strength Training here.

Muscles: Back muscles, biceps, back shoulder
Remember: Lengthen your back and tilt your pelvis slightly backward for more core stability.

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