Skip to content

Ugly Mistakes You Shouldn't Make When Doing Pushups, Says Top Trainer

It's one of the simplest exercises you can do. But that doesn't mean you're necessarily doing it right.
Young fit sporty active woman wear sportswear standing in plank pose doing yoga fitness training workout stretching core push up exercise on racetrack in modern space outdoors, pushups

The good old-fashioned pushup is more than just a go-to exercise. It builds upper-body strength, boosts endurance, and, at least for men, it's even a predictor of heart health. According to a 2019 study of firefighters that was published in the journal JAMA Network Open, those are able to successfully perform 40 pushups within half-a-minute had a much lower risk of cardiovascular issues, as well as a significantly lower risk of a heart attack.

But if you're not someone who tames fires for a living—or someone who is extra fit, for that matter—the basic movement of performing a pushup isn't as easy as many of us are led to believe. In fact, they require a good amount of strength in your core, triceps, and chest to do them properly. If you're not quite there, it's all too easy to make one of these two major errors when it comes to performing the move.

Read on to see the worst mistakes you shouldn't make while attempting a pushup—followed by some of the correct ways. And remember: When it comes to doing pushups, quality always trumps quantity. Start with proper form (and worry later about hitting those 40 pushups in 30 seconds). And for more cutting-edge exercise advice, make sure you're aware of The Popular Workout That Can Cause Lasting Damage to Your Body, According to a New Study.

Mistake One: Your Neck Is Sticking Forward and Your Lower Back Is Sagging

tim liu doing a pushup - poor form

I see this mistake all the time at my gym. When you continuously perform the pushup with your neck forward and lower back drooped, it places a lot of unnecessary stress across the whole of your body. Also bad? The simple fact that you're robbing yourself of all of the key core work involved with actually doing a pushup. After all, you need that core clenched.

The Fix: In order to rectify the neck-forward posture, imagine reaching the floor with your chest before your chin. With the lower back sag, keep your stomach tight and slightly tuck in your tailbone with your glutes squeezed, and your body will be aligned for a proper pushup. And for more great fitness advice, know that This Is What Walking on a Treadmill Does to Your Body, According to Experts.

Mistake Two: Your Elbows Are Flared Out Too Wide

tim liu doing a bad pushup part two, bad elbows

Friend, this is hard on your shoulder joints, and when done long term, it can put unnecessary stress on that area. Performing the pushup with your elbows flared out too wide will actually lead to injury down the road.

The Fix: Instead, have a slight elbow tuck, about 45 degrees, or the shape of an arrow when lowering yourself.

Now, the Single Best Way to Do a Pushup

proper pushup form

Have your body in a complete straight line going down and up. Start the movement with your feet together and shoulders in line with your wrists. Keeping your core tight and glutes squeezed, lower yourself (under control) until your chest touches the floor before pushing yourself back up.

The Single Best Way to Do a Harder Pushup

proper pushup form for a harder elevated pushup

If regular pushups are too easy for you, you can increase the difficulty by elevating your feet, which will allow you to work your upper pectoral muscles and your front shoulders. (If regular pushups are too difficult, simply drop to you knees while adhering to all of the proper form.) And for more great exercise tips, see Why Drinking This 30 Minutes Before Exercising Helps You Torch Fat!

Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
Tim Liu is a fitness and nutrition coach based in Los Angeles. Read more
Filed Under