Free Push-Up Tips

Push-ups primarily work your pectoral (chest), anterior deltoid (front of shoulder) and triceps (back of arm) muscles. Although this body-weight exercise is simple to execute–you don’t need any equipment beyond a flat, level surface–you can mget the most out of your push-ups, plus modify them to suit your needs and abilities, with the help of a few quick tips.

Keep Breathing

Always breathe continuously through the range of motion; if you hold your breath or bear down and strain in an effort to squeeze out the last repetition, you’re performing something known as the Valsalva maneuver, which actually impedes blood flow to your heart.

Get Rhythm

Moving in a regular, rhythmic cadence is important, too. Bouncing quickly back and forth between the “up” and “down” positions lets you complete more push-ups but actually gives you less of a workout, since momentum is making you move instead of muscle. Pace yourself so each part of the motion takes a slow count of 2; pause briefly in both the “up” and “down” positions to ensure that you’re not using momentum to bounce back up.

Work Up to It

If doing standard, full-body push-ups with good form is beyond you, work up to it by making the exercise easier until you build enough strength to try full-body push-ups again. Drop to your knees instead of supporting yourself on your toes; knee push-ups still work your pectoral, deltoid and triceps muscles. Or, instead of dropping to your knees, maintain the full-body position, but support your hands on an elevated bench instead on of the floor; this effectively decreases the amount of weight your pecs and triceps have to lift with every repetition.

Go to the Core

Emphasize the core-strengthening aspect of push-ups by lifting one leg straight behind you and holding it in the air throughout the push-up motion. Lift the other leg for your second set so you work both sides equally.

Add Instability

Introducing the element of instability to your push-ups makes for an extra challenge and helps build functional strength. Brace one hand on a small medicine ball as you do your push-ups (make sure you monitor the range of motion in the shoulder that is supported on the medicine ball; your shoulder should never drop past the level of your elbow). Your torso should stay flat and level throughout the exercise. You also can add instability by bracing both hands on one large medicine ball or even on a large stability ball, and you can do push-ups with either your hands, your feet or hands and feet combined on the flat platform of a Bosu trainer.

About this Author

Ms. Marie is an outdoors writer who’s dabbled in or obsessed about many outdoor pursuits from hiking, paddling and mountaineering to extreme snow-tubing.