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How to Do Pushups: A Guide for Beginners

arms and legs of a person doing a push up, viewed from the floor
Like any exercise, proper form is critical to maximizing benefits and preventing injuries.

by Steven Auger

Working up a sweat has never been easier with fitness machines like treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes at your disposal. But when it comes to working out, nothing beats simple, no-equipment-required exercises — like pushups!

Pushups are a valuable, functional movement. Your body weight supplies the resistance and you can complete multiple sets in a matter of minutes. If you want to add them to your workout routine, it's important to know how to do pushups correctly. This will help you make the most of this simple (yet effective) movement.

Proper Form

Like any exercise, proper form is critical to maximizing benefits and preventing injuries. According to Harvard Health, the perfect form starts with a full plank position. The palms of your hands should be flat on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. Your feet can either be together or situated a foot apart. The balls of your feet should be in contact with the floor. Distribute your weight evenly over your body while keeping your back straight and your core muscles flexed throughout the entire repetition. Your core — the stomach, back, and butt muscles that support the pelvis and spine — help you to work other muscle groups more effectively and efficiently, Shape magazine notes.

Looking toward the floor, lower your body until your elbows form a 90-degree angle. Then push into the floor, fire up your glutes and stomach muscles, and lift your body back up to complete one repetition. You should take a little longer going down than you do coming back up.

Pushup Modifications

Of course, it's not easy for many people to just jump into doing a series of pushups. It takes time to build the strength needed to complete a few repetitions. This is why there are plenty of modifications to choose from when working your way up to completing a standard pushup.

Wall pushups are a good initial modifier, as noted by SELF magazine. To perform this exercise, stand a few feet away from a wall. Lean toward the wall and place your palms against it, keeping them a little wider than shoulder-width. Bending and straightening your arms, mimic the up-and-down movement of a standard pushup. Once you're comfortable with wall pushups, move on to incline pushups.

To do an incline pushup, rest your hands on a flat bench (or another elevated object) and assume a plank position. Support yourself on the balls of your feet with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep your body straight and your elbows close. Lower and raise yourself to complete a repetition. If the incline is too much at first, start with a higher sturdy object before dropping to a lower one as you gain strength.

Another good modifier to try is knee pushups. Assume the same position as a standard pushup, but drop your knees to the floor. From there, simply lower and raise yourself like you would for a normal pushup.

Challenge Yourself

Once you've progressed and feel like you've got a solid understanding of how to do pushups, try knocking out multiple sets. If you're feeling motivated and ready, you may even have a workout buddy place a (light) weight plate on the middle of your back for an extra challenge.

Engaging your core helps strengthen the obliques, explains MD-Health, which can relieve pressure in your lower back. Many gym-goers prefer pushups because they can build upper-body strength without the need to lift weights. Not only can you work out your arms, chest, legs, and abdominals all at once, but pushups can be performed anytime, anywhere.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.