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At some point in the past few workouts, you’ve probably done a pushup, and there’s a good chance you’ve done it wrong. “People often do pushups incorrectly. They’ll place their hands in the wrong position, let the midsection sag, or flare the elbows out,” says Julia Ladewski, C.S.C.S., a strength and conditioning coach based in Highland, IN. “These mistakes don’t allow the right muscles to be targeted.”
That’s no reason to give up on this most classic of training moves. “Pushups are a true measure of relative strength—plus there are so many variations, and they can be done anywhere,” says Ladewski. Here, she breaks down the perfect pushup.
SEE ALSO: Watch the Perfect Pushup Demonstration
Lie facedown on floor, hands in line with the center of your chest and just wider than shoulder width, fingers forward and gripping the ground. “Keeping your fingers in line with your chest is key,” says Ladewski. “It’s the biggest mistake most people make.”
Push up off the floor until your hips are in line with the rest of your body, with your back straight (not sagging); squeeze your glutes.
As you lower toward the floor, bring your elbows back 45 degrees from your torso. “Your lower arm should remain perpendicular to the floor,” adds Ladewski. As you push up, keep your core tight, squeeze your glutes, and don’t allow your midsection to sag.
In addition to pushups, keep bench presses (barbell or dumbbell) and triceps dips in your routine. “Bench presses are a similar movement to pushups to work the chest, while dips build the shoulders and triceps and are a great complement to push-ups,” says Ladewski.
Still can’t quite master the form? Forget those modified “girl” pushups done on the knees, says Ladewski. “If you only practice half range, you’ll never be able to get your chest all the way to the floor.” Modify by elevating your hands on a barbell in a rack or Smith machine (or use a bench). As you progress, lower the bar one notch at a time, using full range of motion.
SEE ALSO: Get Toned Triceps
Once you’ve gotten the basic pushup down pat, try these variations, which emphasize more of the triceps and shoulders.
Lie facedown on floor with hands narrower than shoulders. Lower chest toward floor, pointing elbows straight back, keeping them close to sides. Press back up to start and repeat.
Begin in basic pushup position, hands on floor in line with chest. Lower chest to floor; when torso is parallel to floor, lower your forearms and roll your body back. Then roll forward and push back up to the full pushup position.
Begin in an “A-frame,” shoulders over hands and legs extended behind you, hips lifted. Drop head and chest to floor, bringing elbows straight back and keeping hips high. Then scoop chest up and forward; squeeze triceps at the top. Return to start, lifting hips.
Check out Ladewski’s video demos on muscleandfitness.com/videos.