The best way to do push ups, according to most exercise experts, is to use a technique that will help you strengthen your shoulder and triceps muscles but will not hurt your body. You can do push ups in various ways, based on your fitness level. A standard push up is done by lying face-down on the ground, then pushing up with the hands until the arms are fully extended and only the hands and toes are touching the ground. Modified push ups include those done with the knees staying on the ground, those done at an incline and those done while standing.
Standard Push Ups
A standard push up is performed in the following manner:
- Lie face-down on the ground. You can lie on an exercise mat, thin pad or towel, if necessary.
- Flex your feet so that the undersides of your toes are on the ground.
- Place your palms on the ground at chest level, with your fingertips at shoulder level.
- Keep your hands somewhat close to your body but not under it. Placing your hands about one hand's width away from your sides should be about right.
- Your elbows should be slightly away from your body, at roughly a 45° angle from your shoulders.
- Slowly push your upper body away from the floor. Keep your body straight, from your heels to the back of your head. Avoid dropping your hips, arching your back or letting your head sag toward the ground.
- When your arms are fully extended, briefly hold this position with your body straight.
- Slowly lower yourself to the ground. For multiple repetitions, your chest should lightly touch the ground or very nearly touch the ground each time.
Although this exercise is called a push up, the motion of lowering yourself down also is an important component. Do not simply collapse to the ground. Working your way slowly down to the ground enhances the workout and prevents bruising. Doing this exercise without reaching a full range of motion — such as going only part of the way up or only part of the way down — will limit its effectiveness, and you will not achieve the same results as you would by using proper technique.
Easier Push Ups
There are various techniques than can be used to make this exercise easier. The most common modification is the knee push up, sometimes called a "girl push up" — a term that some people consider to be sexist, especially considering that men can use the technique, too. This type is done the same way as a standard push up, except your knees remain on the ground. Keeping the knees down reduces the amount of weight that you must push upward from the ground, making them easier.
Another modification that makes push ups easier is to do them on an upward incline, with your hands higher than your toes. For example, you could place your hands on a bench, chair or other sturdy object. As with other push up techniques, your body should be kept as straight as possible.
If an upward incline push up is still too difficult, a standing push up can be done after positioning your feet 12 inches (30.5 cm) or a little farther from a wall. Place your hands on the wall, lean forward until your face is almost touching it, then push your upper body away, just as you would push away from the ground in a standard push up. This technique also might be helpful for people who have lower back problems.
More Challenging Push Ups
There also are various techniques that can be used to make push ups more difficult. One technique is the downward incline push up, with your feet raised higher than your hands by placing your toes on a box, bench, chair or other object. The steeper the incline, the more difficult the exercise will be. A handstand push up is done with your body in a vertical, upside-down position, usually with your back to a wall and your heels touching it. This difficult technique is done by doing a handstand, lowering yourself until the top of your head touches the ground, then pushing upward until your arms are fully extended.
Another challenging modification is the ring push up. This technique uses a pair of gymnastics rings that hang from the ceiling or some type of support beam. The rings are lowered until they are close to the ground, and instead of placing your hands on the ground, you place each hand on a ring while doing the push up. The instability of the rings forces you to steady yourself as you lower yourself and push yourself upward, working your arms and core muscles to an even greater extent.
This exercise can be done in many other ways, all with the same basic premise of fully raising and lowering yourself while keeping your body rigid. Some variations include the one-handed push up, clapping push up and hand-release push up. In a clapping push up, you push your upper body upward forcefully enough to be able to clap your hands together before putting them back on the ground to catch your fall. A similar variation is done by lifting your hands slightly off the ground at the top of each push up but not clapping each time. In a hand-release push up, you must briefly lift your hands off the ground at the bottom of each push up, while your chest is on the ground.
Adjusting your hand position will cause you to work different muscles. For example, you could place your hands closer together, under your body, or farther away from your body. A common variation involves creating a diamond shape between your hands by having your the tips of your thumbs and index fingers touching. Caution should be used when trying any variation or modification of the standard push up, because improper technique or trying something that is too difficult can lead to injury. A certified athletic trainer can help you choose the best way to do this exercise based on your levels of strength and fitness.