5 Common Push-Up Mistakes to Avoid


Maybe the most primal and basic of all exercises. We all know what they are. We all try to do them and know they’re good for us.

But like squats and pull-ups, 95% of the people I see doing push-ups do them wrong. Ruh roh.

Right now you might be wondering whether you’re in the 95% or the 5%. You might also be wondering what the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow is.

Well, I can help you with both of those. The answer to the second question is 11 meters per second.

As for the first question, I’m going to make sure you are in the 5% by the end of this article. Here are the five most common mistakes I see when people do push-ups. If you are concerned at all about your shoulder health or longevity of your muscles and building functional strength, read on!

Build an incredibly solid foundation, and you’ll be on your way to attempting more complex bodyweight movements in no time. But like the foundation of any house, you need to start with a solid base.

That solid base means doing functionally correct squats, push-ups, and pull-ups.

Let’s put the “fun” back in “functionally correct push-ups!”

(Yes I realize that’s not a “thing” but trust me, the jokes are only going to get worse from here on out.)

Steve Ostrich

Watch the video below, read the accompanying cues, and start doing correct push-ups today!

5 Mistakes People Make with Push-ups

Click the video to play, or view here.

Mistake #1: Flaring your elbows out wide. In a correct push-up, hand position and elbow position are crucial. Your elbows should be tucked in slightly, not out like a chicken!

Solution: Imagine you were trying to give someone a light push. You wouldn’t squeeze your elbows directly into your side, and you wouldn’t lift your elbows up to your ears (hopefully). Instead, you will likely fall somewhere halfway between that.

In other words, when you drop into your standard push-up, your upper arms should be at your sides at about a 45 degree position to your body. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

Be sure to set yourself with a good starting position, with your hands about shoulder-width apart on the ground or just slightly wider. Too wide will allow those elbows to flare outwards!

push ups

Mistake #2: Not doing a full rep (and not knowing what a full rep really looks like).

Not sure if you are doing a full rep? You should be able to pick your hands up off the floor at the bottom (called a hand-release push-up in the CrossFit world). You don’t actually have to lift your hands up, but if doing so at the bottom of your push-up would require some Wingardium Levi-ohsa action (i.e. you are not all the way to the ground) then you can stand to go lower!

Solution: Touch your chest to the floor. (And check your ego at the door.) If you can’t touch your chest to the floor and do a proper repetition, see Mistake #5.

Mistake #3: Not maintaining a straight line from head to toes. Don’t do the worm! Your whole body should move up and down together. We often see this when people get tired or do too many reps… their upper body comes up before their lower body! Your body should basically be in a plank position from head to toe: core tight, butt clenched, through the entirety of the reps!

Solution: “Tight gut, tight butt.” First, simply make sure you aren’t doing the worm, and if you are, squeezing the midsection and hips is an easy to remember cue.

Mistake #4: Your head/nose touches the ground first. Your chest should be the first thing to touch the ground, not your nose – unless you’re Pinocchio and you’ve been telling lies.

Solution: Stop lying. ALSO, keep your head tucked back slightly to prevent the chicken head. If you follow the other cues to make sure you are achieving a full repetition, poor head alignment will be obvious (it will hit the ground!).

Mistake #5: Trying a variation that is too hard, with too little strength. When we load too much weight on an exercise, try a bodyweight variation that is too difficult, or attempt more reps than we have the strength for, form breaks down in all sorts of weird ways. If you try the solutions we’ve presented above and STILL can’t manage a pretty push-up, then an easier push-up variation is the best course of action.

Solution: Easier push-up variations! If you can’t do a push-up with proper form, work up to them! If you need to, start with knee push-ups. If you need to start with something a little easier, try doing push-ups with your hands on a stable elevated surface. You can also combine the two and do knee push-ups on an elevated surface. Set good form now, and you will make progress much faster. It is far better to do easier variations with proper form than to do crappy regular push-ups.

Start doing better push-ups today!

My dear Rebel friend, you now have everything you need to get started down a healthier path to crushing push-ups.

To recap:

  1. Ensure proper hand and elbow position
  2. Make sure you’re completing full reps
  3. Keep your body straight
  4. Keep your head in line
  5. When in doubt, build up your strength with easier push-up variations

Make sure you’re on our email list for an upcoming announcement about a special bodyweight-related project!

What are some other problems you have with push-ups?

Feel more confident to give them another shot after today?

Let us know!



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  • Nice articles on these! With the option to do body weight exercises anywhere and the flexibility to make them easier or more difficult depending on current skill, I’m glad to see an increased focus on them.

  • Anne-Katrin Nix

    I am working hard on my push-ups, I cannot do one single push-up 🙁 but I see what I did wrong.

  • Ben Stark

    Great article. I would suggest that a wider hand position is perfectly acceptable as is a more narrow one. You just have realize that you are changing some of the muscles targeted. That can be part of the progression with the push up.

  • Chris Brooks

    Why y’all making Stacy do all the work?

  • Great advice! If all you do is fix mistake #4 that will correct most of the rest. Once you get the form right, doing variations (wide, narrow, X, etc) is an excellent way to make pushups a lot more fun & interesting.

  • rhian

    Thank You once again. For awhile I actually did wall push-ups, to take pressure off a very hurt knee. Wasn’t supreme but was functional.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Agreed that push ups can have many different hand positions and variations! The wider hand placement can put some stress on the AC joint for some people, so caution is needed.
    For the article, we’re pointing out inadvertently putting your hands too wide (and the rest of your push up falling apart as a result). Just looking to nail down the basic version before we spice it up!

  • Martin Crookston

    What do you mean? African or european swallow?!

  • nielmalan

    Way to go, guys! Make nerds more self-conscious in the gym by telling them what they’re doing wrong.

  • Mainer122

    Doing push-ups by leaning on a counter is how I got back into shape after a chest injury. When I wanted to add more weight, I simply put my feet on a stool.

    For a question, what should be the tempo on pushing back up? In some places I’ve read it should be 2 seconds going down and the same back up, but in videos, as here, I see people push back up quickly. Does going slower help build more muscle, or does the quick push help with a different type of muscle? This question goes for your bench press video, too.

  • erictank

    Ironically, this means that the military teaches improper pushup technique.

    When I was in boot camp, a proper pushup included most of that, but did not – MUST not! – go all the way to the floor, EVER. Our rule was, “break the plane”, go to or past 90 degrees on the elbows, while staying off the floor.

  • Ben Stark

    Breaking the plane at 90 degree elbow gives you 75-90% of the muscle contraction while reducing the risk of injury if you are doing high # of push-ups like you would in the military. It’s a trade off.

  • Nusuth

    I thought I improved a lot in the last years on going for proper form. And now I realise I never dropped down to touch the floor with chest. Got close to it. But for some amounting of previous instruction-collecting since birth, I thought going fully down … “interrupted the good flow, cadence, of a push up” – or something .. I’m sure i’ll die of pain tomorrow trying them. But one good thing of “old age”(+-40) I’m now totally OK to drop to my knees and try good form.

  • Nusuth

    ‘Why’ 🙂 The question that could attract all parties to start a Jihad-Flame War! From ‘feminists: why women have to work while male instruct’. To ‘communist: why we need to work, while owner-pig looks down and reap gain”. To capitalist: ‘why show full clip? Could have shown clip with common-errors and charge for clip with solutions’. To Nazism : ‘why Steve not carry handgun to shoot Stacy if failing showing excellent form?’
    After seeing two of these informative-clips I’m going for : They choose a business model as : we got the old-time beloved/befriended Steve who creates the ‘trust’-setting for the new ‘professor/instructor’ and the a couple of years befriended/beloved superwoman.
    To end on a positive note if any thought otherwise at this point : “they grow higher and they pull us with them” /namaste

  • Ben Stark

    That is true. In all my years wrestling 25 plus we always were taught/ coached either were fine.

  • Kyle J

    This stuff drives me nuts. I’ll go the gym and see a trainer putting their client through some ridiculous push-up variation when it’s clear they can’t even do one, standard push-up. Love the solutions too. Not just identifying the problem but showing how to correct and/or prevent it.

  • Kowshik Chandra Chanda

    I have been doing Push ups for a while and now I see what I was doing wrong. Only Push ups are real 😀

  • James Dengel

    Can you do an article on the “harder” variations of the push-up.

    I’m currently working through clap and air-borne push ups but the technique is hard to define…..

  • Tintin Bautista

    Great articles, I also had mistakes before when I started push ups and pull ups. It’s hard for me from the start but I really need this routine to start my weightloss. I exercise push ups, pull ups, etc. together with the “30~7 Best Detox Plan” of TeamiBlends. I even saved $21 using the code BLOG15. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • rob

    I think it is because stacy has the tightest mid section.

  • Valerie Robin

    Your insertion of pop-culture throughout these emails makes them even MORE exciting to read. Particularly the Arrested Development chicken clip.

    You guys are awesome. Keep up the good work.

  • Hey Anne, a great way to start doing push-ups is by doing it leaning over a sink, a railing, or a washing machine. Do about 20 of those pushups everyday and once you know it you’ll be doing your first 5 real push-ups! They’re really easy ?

  • KCS

    Crazy how much people fail at body weight exercises! Having perfect form is essential for every form of fitness.

  • I wanted to do this on my own but I don’t know if I’m doing it on in a right way. I wanted to be fit is it better if I hire a personal trainer or just do it on my own? Thanks!!!

  • Lori McAdams

    Thank you for this, and for making it humorous at the same time! I’ve been working on my push up form and up to 20 push ups now, but I haven’t been monitoring where my hands actually are on the floor. I’ve been focused on being in a straight line, which that is good, but I’m going to pay extra close attention to my hands being underneath my shoulders. Thanks again, Nerd Fitness team!!

  • Hi there! I’m Evan Skinner and I just wanna thank you for a good video guide, clear instructions and demonstration 🙂 Keep going that way!

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  • Sarah

    My problem is that I can’t seem to make the transition from a knee-pushup to a full pushup. I am trying to lower down in a full pushup and then use my knees on the way up, but I tend to plummet on the way down instead of being controlled. At tge same time, knee pushups are definitely too easy for me now, and I am ready to move on.

  • Lars

    I simply have one issue when doing pushuls and that issue is that I feel it burning in my shoulders. (Instead of i.e. my chest) does this mean I do not have enough strength yet or am I doing something wrong?

  • TAO

    I’d side with the military. Some folks won’t hurt going down to the floor, but for narrow-chested, long-armed, or previously injured people, you put a whole lot of pressure on the shoulder capsule past 90 degrees. Took myself out of pushups for a good long time, hurting myself while trying to go down to the floor- now I’m smarter.

  • My inner protractor says her upper arms are at a 45-degree angle during the “incorrect” example. That said, I’d read in a lot of places that elbows should be tucked in close to the body, which is awful hard, so I’ll usually split my sets where they’re tucked in as far as I can go, and then angled out a little. I also knew you had to go low (elbows bent 90 degree or less), but not that low! I’ll try that out tonight. I might only get as far as the push and not the up, though.

    My problem is my knees hurt when I do pushups without putting my knees on the ground. I think this is an orthopedic problem, though, so I have to do knee pushups until it’s resolved.

  • Amba

    I can’t believe I’m finally going to ask this, but the only push up “training” i got was in high school…I’m a very busty woman, do I go until my chest (breasts) just touch the floor or should I use a mat or something to get more range of motion by raising my arms and legs? Chest first for me leaves my arms no where near parallel with my back…

  • Amba

    Change to incline push ups using a box, counter, or bar. Find a height that lets you use your whole body but keep form. You might find you only need a small amount (6″-12″) for your hands or that you need to start fairly high, like your kitchen counter. As these get easier, move to lower and lower surfaces. You’ll be on the floor before know it!

  • ColdCandor

    There’s actually three pretty straightforward, if controversial, reasons. Obviously various people will disagree and many outfits are actually being objectifying and misogynous, but consider this:

    1) Generally speaking, both genders appreciate looking at the female form, whereas males tend to dislike looking at the male form. This naturally makes women the logically preferable demonstrators.
    2) Female workout clothes typically show off the exact shape of the body beneath them. Say what you will about the social constructs of that, but it means that viewers can much more clearly see body position and muscle movements.
    3) In the case of NF specifically, Staci is one of the greatest success stories, so I’m sure there’s some level of “see, if she can do this then you can too!”

  • Anna Lilliman

    I’m with Amba. Far too many activities don’t account for bigger breasts

  • Kris

    Great article! I struggled with mistake #3 the most. Honestly, I have always lifted my chest up first before the rest of the body. After trying it I find it super difficult to do push-ups 🙁 hopefully I can build up strength to doing them correctly! The tips are super helpful.