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Step-by-Step Guide to Perfecting Your First Push-Up

Looking for tips on how to learn to do a push-up? You’ve come to the right place. Push-ups are a great way to strengthen your body, and they’re much simpler to start than you might think. You don’t need to be incredibly strong from the get-go. Anyone can pick up push-ups with a bit of guidance.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through simple, effective steps on how to learn to do a push-up. From getting into the right starting position to gradually increasing your strength for a full push-up, we’ve got you covered.

Understanding Push-Up Basics

Push-ups are a full-body workout, mainly targeting your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. But their benefits extend beyond muscle building. Regularly doing push-ups can help improve your posture, enhance your functional strength (making daily tasks easier), and contribute to a more stable and supportive core.

how to learn to do a push up

Step 1: Mastering the Plank

Before tackling push-ups, getting comfortable with the plank position is essential. A strong plank sets the foundation for a successful push-up by:

  • Aligning Your Body: Start in a face-down position on the floor. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs back, balancing on the balls of your feet.

  • Engaging Your Core: Tighten your abdominal muscles as if you're bracing for a punch. This engagement is crucial for stability.

  • Maintaining Straight Alignment: Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels. Avoid lifting your butt or sagging your hips.

This plank position primes your muscles for the movement and strength required in push-ups.

how to learn to do a push up

Step 2: Push-Up Progressions

Gradually building up to a full push-up ensures you develop the necessary strength and form.

  • Wall Push-Ups: Face a wall, standing a little farther than arm's length away. Place your palms on the wall at shoulder height. Bend your elbows to bring your chest toward the wall, then push back. This introduces the push-up motion with minimal resistance.

  • Incline Push-Ups: Place your hands on a bench or sturdy surface higher than the ground. Step your feet back so your body forms a straight line. Lower your chest to the edge, then push back up. This variation adds more weight than wall push-ups but is still manageable.

  • Kneeling Push-Ups: Come down to your knees, crossing your legs at the ankles and raising them slightly off the ground. Place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and perform a push-up. This version involves lifting a significant portion of your body weight.

  • Negative (Eccentric) Push-Ups: Start in a regular push-up position. Slowly lower your body to the floor, taking about 3 to 5 seconds. Don't worry about pushing back up; reset by coming back to the starting position through your knees. This focuses on the lowering phase, building strength and muscle control.

Step 3: Performing Your First Standard Push-Up

Once you're comfortable with the progressions, you're ready for a standard push-up:

  • Starting Position: Begin in a high plank, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • Lowering Down: Engage your core, then bend your elbows to lower your body. Keep your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your body to decrease shoulder strain.

  • Proper Depth: Go down until your chest is just above the ground. Keep your body in a straight line—no sagging or piking.

  • Pushing Up: Exhale as you push back to the starting position, focusing on using your chest and arm muscles.

Remember, maintaining proper form is key. Keep your head in a neutral position, looking slightly ahead, and ensure your body remains straight throughout the movement. Practice consistently, and don't rush the process. 

Step 3: Performing Your First Standard Push-Up

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

During exercise, for many reasons, incorrect posture or muscle overload can lead to injury. Here are some common mistakes and how to fix them:

Sagging Hips

  • What Goes Wrong: Your hips drop because your core isn’t engaged, putting pressure on your lower back.

  • How to Fix It: Actively think about pulling your belly button up towards your spine. Imagine you’re holding a coin between your butt cheeks – this helps keep your hips in line.

Flaring Elbows

  • What Goes Wrong: Your elbows point out to the sides, making the push-up harder on your shoulders and less effective for your chest.

  • How to Fix It: Keep your elbows closer to your body, aiming for a 45-degree angle. This reduces shoulder strain and increases chest activation.

Lack of Depth

  •  What Goes Wrong: Stopping short and not going low enough means you’re not fully working your muscles.

  • How to Fix It: Aim to lower yourself until your chest is about a fist’s height from the ground. If you can’t go that low yet, go as far as you can and work on gradually increasing your depth.

Training Plan for Push-Up Success

Creating a plan greatly affects the process of doing push-ups. It not only helps us have a convenient and effective exercise schedule, but also helps us balance the time between exercise and daily activities. This plan builds on the push-up progressions, designed to increase your push-up capacity over time. Adjust the plan based on your current level and progress.

Training Plan for Push-Up Success

Weeks 1-2: Wall Push-Ups

  • Goal: Learn the movement pattern with minimal resistance.

  • Plan: 3 days a week, do 3 sets of 8-10 reps. If this feels easy by the end of week 2, increase to 15 reps.

Weeks 3-4: Incline Push-Ups

  • Goal: Increase the challenge by introducing more body weight into the exercise.

  • Plan: 3 days a week, perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps. Aim to reach 10 reps per set by the end of week 4.

Weeks 5-6: Kneeling Push-Ups

  • Goal: Transition closer to the standard push-up by lifting more of your body weight.

  • Plan: 3 days a week, complete 3 sets of 5-7 reps. Work towards 8-10 reps as your strength improves.

Weeks 7-8: Negative Push-Ups

  • Goal: Focus on the lowering phase to build strength and muscle control.

  • Plan: 3 days a week, do 3 sets of 4-6 reps, emphasizing a slow, controlled descent. Try to slow down even more if it becomes easier.

Week 9 Onwards: Standard Push-Ups

  • Goal: Perform full standard push-ups with proper form.

  • Plan: Continue 3 days a week. Start with as many full push-ups as you can do in one go, even if it’s just one or two. Each session, try to add one more push-up to your total.

how to learn to do a push up

Progress is not always linear. It’s okay to spend more time on one stage if you’re not ready to move on. The key is consistent practice and focusing on improving your form with each session. Remember, rest days are important for muscle recovery and growth.


Getting good at push-ups takes time and effort. Remember, it's okay if you don't get it right away. Keep practicing, and you'll see progress. Push-ups aren't just about getting stronger arms; they help your whole body get stronger and healthier.

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