Push-Up – Fundamental Human Movement

The Push-Up – Fundamental Human Movement


The push-up is one of the first bodyweight movements many people seek to master. If you are lucky enough to be strong enough to master your push up, read on, you might find a few tips to clean up your technique. If you are working towards completing your first push up this is the article for you. I will discuss the ins and outs of a push up (or rather ups and downs). Talk about common scaling methods used and their pros and cons and finally prescribe a training program to build the strength needed to achieve your first pull up.

There are many slightly different movements collectively called push-ups. In an effort to communicate clearly to you, my reader, I’ll begin by defining a push up:


For the purpose of my blog, a push-up begins in a straight arm plank position with posterior pelvic tilt and protracted shoulders. The push up then moves through the chest lightly touching the ground while maintaining posterior pelvic tilt and core engagement and finishes pushing up with elbows close to your ribs into a straight arm plank. The movements are to be completed with no bouncing of the chest, snaking of the spine or any torso flexion or extension otherwise used to generate momentum.

A push up can be looked at as 2 basic movements or postures.

  1. A bent arm pushing movement, maintaining external shoulder rotation, keeping the elbows close the rib cage
  2. Full body tension – keeping posterior pelvic tilt and the core completely engaged at all times during the movement

How to learn your first push-up

Many people are not strong enough to complete a pushup on the floor with good form. Popular fitness culture often addresses this problem by shortening the body by dropping the knees to the ground. This is not the best way to scale push-ups.

The problem with the knees down approach is that it is no longer possible to maintain full body tension through posterior pelvic tilt and core engagement. There is a better way!

By placing your hands on a box or elevated surface you can reduce the weight of the exercise while preserving the requirements to maintain full body tension and posterior pelvic tilt.

As you get stronger lower the elevated surface gradually until you are completing reps on the ground.

Common mistakes in completing a push-up

People tend to rush the development of the push-up and find ways to make it an easier movement. Commonly I see people internally rotating their shoulder and winging their elbows out wide and/or collapsing through the core and arching through the lower back.

It is important to note, these movements are not inherently wrong. Any movement is correct and good for you if the joint(s) are prepared for the movement and the form is deliberate.

However, if you seek to use the push up to get strong and progress to more advanced pushing movements (like dips). These mistakes will slow your progress and increase the risk of injury. If your push ups look anything like this, clean them up, build strength patiently and your gains will continue.

Beyond the push-up

The push up is step 1 in a long list of increasingly heavy and difficult body weight pushing movements. The requirement for full body tension throughout a push up is hard to appreciate until you see what comes next. The planche push-ups is a much heavier and more difficult relative of the push-up and comes many steps down the line. In the planche push up the feet don’t touch the ground and are suspended behind the body using the full body tension developed in earlier progressions. Here is Coach Jase showing a tuck planche to straddle bent arm planche push up

Sample training program

Complete the following every 48 hours for best effect. If you find your arms, shoulders or chest muscles do not recover between efforts, rest more.

Complete 10 of the hardest pushups you can do, then reduce the weight but placing your hands on the elevated surface and complete a further set of 10 reps.

Rest for no more than 2 mins and repeat for 3 – 5 sets

Keep this up and you’ll be well on your way to your first push-up!

See you in class


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