The push up is the most basic, well-known exercise in the books. It’s a great movement for building both strength and endurance, and it can be modified for any difficulty level.
But despite it’s popularity and usefulness, most people cannot perform a proper push up.
Like not even close.
Some of this is due to a lack of strength or conditioning, and if you struggle with that, you can check out this article on push up modifications that will help you work up to the real thing. But the reality is that even people who are strong enough to perform a full push up often times perform it incorrectly.
Without the help of a professional, even the basic push up can be a complex movement. And simply being told to “keep your core tight and squeeze with your chest” isn’t very helpful to everyone. HOW am I supposed to do that exactly?
That’s where visuals cues come in.
As a trainer, there are some go to tips that I use with the push up to help clients visualize the movement. For many people (and you might be one of them), if you have a better visual understanding of what you should be doing, it translates directly over to the ability to actually do it.
So let’s take a look at a few visual cues for the push up that will help you nail your next set both in your mind and in reality.
Screw Your Hands into the Ground
One of the most important parts of your push up set up is hand positioning. To start, your hands should be placed directly below your shoulders so your arms create a vertical line when fully extended.
But there’s more to hand placement than just their spot on the floor, so give this tip a shot next time you’re cranking out a set.
With your hands firmly in place, try screwing them outward and into the ground as if you’re really trying to dig in. Right hand screws to the right, left hand screws to the left. Your hands shouldn’t actually rotate or move anywhere, but you’ll act as if you’re trying to get them to. This accomplishes two things.
First, it puts you in the most stable position possible by making sure every muscle from your forearms to your shoulders are tight and ready to go.
Second, performing this outward screwing motion automatically leads to a “tucking” of the elbows so that they move slightly inward toward your body.
Flaring the elbows outward is one of the top mistakes I see people making when performing a push up, and this visual cue helps to fix that. Tucked elbows put your body in a much more powerful position and take some of the stress off of your shoulder joints. Ideally your arms and your back will make somewhere around a 45 degree angle.
So dig in, everyone. Remember, hands screw out, elbows tuck in.
“Tucked elbows put your body in a much more powerful position and take some of the stress off of your shoulder joints.”
Push Your Belly Button to the Ceiling
Keeping your core tight throughout your push up is key to performing the movement properly.
I always describe the push up as a moving plank. During a plank, your goal is to keep your entire body flat and tight from head to toe, right? The same goes for the push up. Nothing should be moving except for the hinging of your elbows and shoulders.
How do you do this? It’s easy for me to yell to clients “KEEP YOUR CORE TIGHT!”, but I’ve found that often times that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re so focused on the pushing movement itself.
So visual cues really help here. One of them is to attempt to push your belly button up to the ceiling. I mean really get it up there. Imagine there is a string with a hook hanging from the ceiling and it comes down into your back, through your body, and attaches to your belly button.
But in order for this cue to actually accomplish what we want it to, you have to understand where that movement towards the ceiling comes from.
It does not come from your lungs (breathing inward to suck your stomach in), and it does not come from your joints (unlocking your hips to push your butt and torso into the air).
The movement needs to come from your core muscles themselves. Try it out right now. Even if you’re sitting, try contracting your stomach muscles to push your belly button back into your body. I use the word PUSH instead of PULL because remember, I don’t want you to simply suck your stomach in. You should feel your core getting tighter as your naval moves backwards.
That it exactly what I want you to do next time you do some push ups. You may be surprised by how much your core is working during a proper set.
Press the Ground Away From You
Think about the push up movement for a second. It’s simple, right? We’re lowering our body down towards the ground and then using our arms, chest, and shoulders to press our body back up to the starting position.
This is all correct, but when teaching or learning how to do a proper push up, it sometimes helps to flip your way of thinking. FLIP IT RIGHT ON ITS HEAD.
After you reach that bottom position of the push up, instead of focusing on pressing your body up into the air, try imagining that your body is remaining stationary and you are actually pressing the ground AWAY from you.
You are in control of this movement. Your environment does not determine how you move, you do.
Why does this work? Who knows exactly, it’s a visualization thing. But I’ve found that using this cue helps with the squeezing contraction of your chest muscles to get the job done.
Many people focus too much on using their arms during the pushing portion of the push up. Just as important is utilizing your chest, which is assisted by imagining that your body is staying put and the ground is doing the moving.
So if you’re struggling with your push up form, strength, or endurance, try using your imagination a little. These three visual cues for the push up should help get you where you want to go. Now the other part of the equation is actually practicing them.
Remember that one of the best things about push ups is that they can be performed ANYWHERE. You don’t need a gym, you don’t need to be wearing your workout outfit. Day or night, indoors or out, you can do ’em. In fact I bet you could try a set right now. Ready?…
Learn something useful from this article? Share it with your friends by using the social media buttons below! Or DON’T share your secrets and then challenge them to a push up contest. Either way.