5 Common Push-Up Mistakes to Avoid

push ups staci


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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