Push-ups are deceptively difficult, and not just from a strength perspective; they’re also technically hard to master, which means that many of us just aren’t doing them right. Not only can this lead to injury but it’s also kind of a waste of a hustle. Why suffer through a tough-but-effective exercise if your poor form is going to render it relatively useless?
But such mistakes are so common that trainer Charlee Atkins, CSCS, devoted an entire episode of the Well+Good YouTube series The Right Way to correcting push-up form. “Let’s face it—push-ups are not easy,” she says. “So let’s talk about the wrong way to do a push-up, and then we’ll move on to the right way to do a push-up.”
Atkins sees the same form errors time and time again. “It might feel like you’re doing an easier pushup, but in reality, all you’re doing is you’re setting yourself up for an awesome injury,” she says.
Common mistakes with proper push-up form
1. Butt up in the air
No cheating! Your hindquarters should be level with the rest of your body. (Unless, that is, you’re doing the *only* push-up where downward dog placement is allowed).
2. Out-of-whack alignment
“Start with a plank position,” Atkins says. “Shoulders are right over my wrist, my middle finger is pointing forward, and my hands are about mat width apart. I have a straight line from my head to my heels,” she says.
3. Incorrectly angled elbows
While Atkins says there’s no exact degree to which your elbows should be angled, generally they should land at the midpoint of full range. This placement is for a traditional push-up, but elbow position may differ depending on the type of push-up you’re trying to accomplish. “Elbows might be tucked in if you’re doing more of a tricep pushup or a yoga pushup,” she says. “Or if you take your hands a little bit wider for a wide stance push-up your elbows, of course, are going to be at a different angle.”
Sadly, proper form does not make push-ups any easier and in fact, it usually has quite the opposite effect. Watch the full video to get Atkins’ modifications (never on your knees!) for those looking for more of a starter push-up or who just can’t, er, get it up on a given day, or use the Atkins’ demo as an everyday primer before your daily set of the full-on variety (you beast!).