Many female athletes struggle doing push ups. Truth to be told, we don’t naturally have the strength in our core and upper body to perform push ups in an effective and safe way so we need to put in a little extra work and effort. To improve your push up technique, work has to be done outside the gym classes and it has to be specifically for push ups. We will show you how to get your first push up with impeccable form and how to avoid common mistakes that could eventually hurt you.
STEPS on how How to Do a Push-Up
The push up is possibly one of the best exercises athletes can do. To get the most of the push up we need to focus on correct technique first and foremost. When it comes to push ups, one important aspect is to keep the body straight, like in a plank, and move the entire body as one solid piece up and down to the floor. We want a straight line from the ankles to the shoulders, this line should run directly through the hips. To do this, we need to start working on our core strength alongside our pressing strength. For that, coach Vicky from the Barbell Beauties has developed the following scaled options:
Push Up Variations / Scaling
Elevated push up
You need a bench, a box, or a barbell placed on a rack and find a height that allows you to do 8 to 10 push ups with your chest fully touching the bench/bar. Start by leaning on the surface of the bench or gripping the barbell, arms extended, put your hands shoulder width apart, stand on your toes and keep your body straight.
Lean forward by bending your elbows until your chest is touching the surface. Work on that for 3 to 4 sets of 8 reps, every time you do it, try to add one extra rep to your set until you reach 12 to 15 reps. Then you are ready to move the barbell lower or use a shorter bench or box.
Elevated Push Up On The Floor
Once you have mastered the elevated push up by standing on your toes and leaning on a lower surface holding a plank solid position it’s time to take your practice to the floor.
Place yourself in a plank position with arms fully extended and supporting yourself with your tip toes. Your hands are shoulder distance apart, your gaze is down so your neck is in line with your spine. Grab a couple of ab mats or cushions and place them on the floor in between your hands. Keeping your body straight, bend your elbows, take a big inhale and lower your whole body down until your chest is touching the ab mats. Then exhale as you push yourself back up. Repeat this movement until you master 8 to 12 reps.
After that, add more intensity by making the distance between your chest and the surface greater. So take out one mat, position yourself in a solid plank and go ahead get another 8 to 12 reps. You can do this by EMOMs (every minute on the minute you perform 8 to 12 reps) or rest 90 seconds in between sets. You can start with a 5 minute EMOM and build to a 10 minute EMOM by adding volume to your push ups.
Eccentric push up
Again, focus on the full body lowering down. Eccentric is a way of training in which you control the lowering part of an exercise to increase your strength. Basically, you work against gravity or resistance. Place yourself into a push up position on the floor with your palms facing down, fingers spread and pointing forward, hands are shoulders distance apart, legs fully extended and you are supporting your body with your tiptoes.
From there, bend your elbows and try to come down as slow as you can until your chest and thighs are touching the floor. Release your body, and place yourself again in a plank position, you can bend your knees to get you there or you can do a downward facing dog, no need to push you up yet.
Variation: If you can’t control keeping your body firm the whole way down, go back to using a couple of ab mats as in step 2. Once you are comfortable, take out one ab mat and repeat the exercise going down as slowly as possible.
Bottoms up push up
Bottoms up push up: Now we will focus on the bottom position, this is the most challenging part where most people lose their plank form. Start by laying down on the ground on your belly, bring your hands by the sides right under the shoulders, your elbows are bent and you are on your tiptoes with both legs extended. From there create full tension in your body by squishing your quads and glutes, take a deep breath in and push yourself up keeping all your body engaged. Once you have reached the top of the push up, just let yourself go down into your belly and rest.
Variation: Same as for step 2 and 3, place a couple of ab mats under your chest to reduce the distance between your body and the height of your push up and build from there. Don’t forget to create full tension with your body!
Band Assisted Push Up
If you are able to do push ups to the ground (step 3) or you can do one perfect push up but it takes all your energy, this step is for you! For this movement you need a couple of resistance bands (the thinner ones work well), loop one end of the bands around the pull-up bar, and the other end around your chest (the same spot you were targeting on the elevated push up). Come down to the floor in a plank position and start working on your push ups full motion (up and down) keeping your core fully engaged.
If you need more intensity take out one of the bands or go for a thinner one. The most important thing is to create tension in the body and move it as one unit. Focus on the form, when using assistance bands like in this case, it’s easy to lose focus and disengage your glutes. You can do sets of 12 to 15 and take a 90 seconds break, or practice doing EMOMs.
Benefits of Push Ups for Females
Push ups are incredibly beneficial for your health, this exercise engages all major muscles in the body focusing on your chest, core, triceps and anterior deltoids. For women, this movement brings special benefits such as core stability resulting in improved posture and balance (lowering the chances of back problems and sudden falls), strengths the forearms, the biceps and those hard-to-tone triceps on the back of the arms; the pectoral muscles are also strengthened for a more firm breast area. The legs and glutes (areas where women tend to accumulate fat) will also grow stronger and leaner since the legs help support the weight of the body.
Overall, push ups help strengthen the upper body muscles. And the stronger your muscles get, the stronger your bones become, helping prevent fractures and reducing chances of getting osteoporosis. All things considered, having a strong toned upper body improves self-esteem, so getting strong empowers both your mind and your body!
Other Variations of a Push-Up
Wall Push Up
This is probably the best place to start if you have real struggles doing push ups or simply you haven’t done them before. Wall push ups are a simpler version of elevated push ups (step 1) that takes away most of the gravity factor making them easier to perform. Start by placing yourself arm’s length away from a wall, bring your hands against the wall so they are at the same level as your shoulders and place your feet hip distance apart. From there lean forward by bending your elbows until your face is almost touching the wall, hold there for a couple of seconds and push your body away to the starting position. Bring your breathing to the movement by taking a deep inhale when you bend your elbows and lean down and exhale when you push yourself up.
Elevated push up on bench/barbell with single leg raise:
Elevated push up on bench/barbell with single leg raise: This movement can be taken as a progression between step 1 and 2. So before heading to the floor, lean on a raised surface (bench or barbell) with both arms extended towards it, put your hands should distance apart, keep your body straight and lean forward while raising one leg from the floor until your chest touches the surface. Switch between legs and don’t forget to inhale as you lean down and exhale as you push yourself back up.
Common Push Up Mistakes
In general, there are three common mistakes to pay attention to when performing push ups. First is placing your hands too far forward. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders when starting and finishing your push ups. This mistake can cause stress in your shoulder muscles and joints, plus you are not using your abs or core as you are supposed to.
Second, your hips are too low. Keeping a straight body from heels to hips to shoulders through the entire movement is crucial. If you drop your hips lower than your shoulders you will produce an extension in your low back and most likely you will end up with pain in that area.
Third, your elbows are pointing out. Keep your elbows pointing back and close to your body. Letting your elbows point to the side can put too much pressure on your shoulders causing pain and poor core control while you go up and down in the push up movement.
Another common problem is a forward head posture. Make sure to keep the head in line with the back. The first thing to touch the floor should always be the chest and then your tights. Keep in mind that not touching the floor with your chest in CrossFit is often an absolute no rep!
Coach Vicky points out that when you are working on the elevated push up variation, don’t lead with the chest, your full body should move together like one solid piece. Aim for the barbell to make contact with your lower chest and not the collar bone.
Coach Vicky advises that If you want to get significantly better at something in a short period of time you have to work hard and be consistent, especially for bodyweight movements. For push up improvement, add all the 5 steps developed in this article into your weekly routine.
On Monday, start with an EMOM of elevated push ups, and try to go through the steps until you hit Saturday in the best way with band assisted push ups. You can start with EMOM 3, EMOM 5 and build up from there. It’s really up to you and your commitment to improve your performance. And remember, core-focused pushing movements are essential to create a strong frame needed in every sport, from lifting weights to yoga. So work your way through these pushing movement progressions to build a strong and stable upper body.
March is the founder and owner of The Barbell Beauties which she started in 2015. She is from the Philippines and currently lives in beautiful Thailand with her American husband and daughter. She is an avid Crossfitter and has just started her journey into Muay Thai (kickboxing).