Tip: Fix Your Push-Up

Most people can do a lot of push-ups... with terrible form. Here's how to fix that and build upper-body strength.

Even though the push-up is a popular exercise, that doesn't mean it's always done properly. The problem? Since it's a popular movement, most people think it's not a skilled exercise.

That's flat-out wrong. The push-up requires both absolute strength and kinesthetic awareness. When people aren't strong enough to do a push-up properly, they practice bad habits and never identify with what a good push-up "feels" like.

Instead, many try to bang out high-rep, sloppy push-ups with flared elbows, leaving the shoulders vulnerable and the hips sagging like a wet bag. The push-up needs to be learned, and in some cases re-learned. To do that, try the banded rack push-up:

For those who lack the strength and/or the kinesthetic awareness of a solid push-up, there are few alternatives better than this variation.

First, it's easily scalable. Meaning, the amount of assistance can be turned up or down simply by adding or subtracting the tension of the band(s).

Second, it reinforces good position in the push-up which builds good habits with repetition. The bottom position starts with a tight midline and elbows tucked to the side with a neutral spine. Then, on initiation, you can feel everything (midline, hips, and glutes) rise from the floor. At the top, you get more familiar with finishing the movement by firing the triceps while keeping the abs and glutes engaged.

Third, it objectifies the goal. The desired end is obviously to do a solid push-up with no bands and this is easily identified. By setting a goal with no bands, each time less tension is provided (or fewer bands are needed) you get closer and closer to a good, solid push-up.

For my client shown in the video, I'll have her work on the supporting muscles that augment the push-up. We'll hit some repetition work on the shoulders (front-delt focused), triceps, and abs to increase absolute strength. By pairing the two elements of a good push-up – skill practice with the banded rack variation and strength work – she'll progressively get better and stronger and one day do push-ups unassisted.

Here's what the accessory work might look like:

  • A1: Dumbbell Press, 3 x 5
  • A2: Band Pull-Apart , 3 x 15
  • B: Rope Push-Down, 3 x 12
  • C: Roman Chair Sit-Up, 2 x 20

If the push-up is a weak point for you, you're now equipped to make it a strength.