The Ultimate Guide To Push Ups

The Ultimate Guide To Push Ups

clock-circular-outlinePosted 20 May 2024

Push ups: They’re simple… they’re bodyweight. But trust us, there is nothing more humbling than being able to rep out 5, 10, 15 of them.

Sadly, it’s not as easy as it looks and you aren’t alone if just the mere utterance of the word ‘push ups’ gives you flashbacks to high school gym class – but it’s time to switch that thinking.

There’s more to this bodyweight classic than meets the eye: yes, they’re the ultimate pec builder (even giving the bench press a run for its money!), but mastering the push-up comes with so many health benefits too.

So what’s stopping you?

Maybe you’re a beginner who feels so far away from getting your first full push-up?

Or maybe you’ve already built up enough strength to rep out 20 unbroken, and find yourself wondering what else you could be doing to ramp up the difficulty?

Luckily, we’ve got the ultimate push-up form tips, plus the best variations to help you reach your first push-up, or challenge you if you’re looking for something more.

So before you run off and take Drake’s advice to ‘Drop and Give Me 50’, take a moment to read this guide. We’re going to give you the steps to progress your push ups like never before – and bring back this high school gym classic, with style.


Find your ideal push-day workout on The Gymshark Training App. Choose your path, and train your way with one-off workouts or full plans programmed by Gymshark athletes and industry professionals.

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What Muscles Do Push Ups Work?

This may be a bodyweight exercise but don’t underestimate the effectiveness of this compound exercise in building a strong upper body. Push-ups are one of the best chest exercises out there (especially when it comes to bodyweight training); but if you’re in the gym and looking for some more exercise to hit your pecs, try these best chest exercises that should be in every chest workout.

Push ups muscles worked include:

  • Chest (pecs)

  • Shoulders (delts)

  • Triceps

You’ll probably notice that your abs get a good workout too during push ups – especially if you consciously ‘squeeze’ them. This will help you hold a stable plank position whilst protecting your lower back and building those six pack muscles too.

Do Push Ups Work Biceps?

Whilst the biceps help to stabilize the shoulder and elbow joints during the lowering phase of a push up, they don’t directly work the biceps. If your goal is to build your biceps, you’d be better off focusing on bicep isolation exercises such as bicep curls, hammer curls, or chin ups.

For exercises that better target your pop-eye muscles, read our Best Bicep Exercises For Mass.

5 Benefits Of Push Ups

  • Effective muscle builder: You don’t need heavy weights to build muscle: Research published in The Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness proved press-ups to be just as effective as their rival, the bench press, in increasing muscle hypertrophy and strength gains when lifted at 40% 1RM over 8 weeks [1].

  • Work multiple muscles at once: Push-ups are a great upper body builder, but your core, legs, and glutes will get involved too. As a compound exercise, this makes them more ‘functional’ than isolation movements, meaning they better mimic everyday activities – making you more prepared for the challenges of everyday life!

  • Can be done from anywhere: You’ve guessed this one already: Push-ups don’t require anything other than your own body weight. You’ve got absolutely no excuses for not getting them done, wherever you are.

  • Make them easier or harder: Push-ups are suitable for all levels, meaning beginners can build strength by elevating their hand position or dropping onto their knees, whilst more experienced gym goers can increase the intensity of push-ups by adding in plyometrics or a decline. As you become stronger, you can upgrade to a more challenging variation so you can always keep progressing.

  • Health Booster: Push-ups aren’t just good for your muscles, but your overall health too, lowering blood pressure, and cholesterol, and decreasing the risk of disease. A

    study of over 1000 men found that participants who could complete at least 40 push-ups had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease [2].

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How To Do Push Ups Correctly

  1. Position both hands on the floor slightly wider than the shoulders. Extend your legs, coming onto your toes in a high plank position, feet hip-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and brace your core and glutes to keep your lower back aligned. Keep your gaze on the floor in front of you.

  2. Lower your chest towards the ground by bending your elbows, keeping them tight into your side. Keep your core tight and don’t let your hips drop. Bring your chest as close to the floor as you can, with the nose, chest, and belly button at the same level.

  3. Pause briefly, then explosively push your hands into the floor, extending your arms to come back to the high plank position. Repeat.

Note: If you find yourself struggling to do a full push-up at all, or find any of the form points listed below slipping, you may want to switch to an incline push-up.

Push Up Form Tips: Mistakes To Avoid

  • Don’t let your hips sag: This is probably the most common push up mistake which can be fixed by building core strength and initiating proper core bracing. You may need to try doing some core strengthening exercises and master doing press ups on your knees first, before taking them up to a full plank.

  • Check your hand position: Having your hands too wide will place unnecessary strain on your shoulders. Make sure they are always under your shoulders with your fingers facing forward. Just as you would when you squat, think about ‘screwing your hands into the ground’ promoting external rotation of the shoulders.

  • Don’t let your elbows flare out: Another common mistake that puts the shoulders at risk of injury: Make a conscious effort to keep your elbows pinned close to your side. This will protect your shoulders and maximize muscle activation where we want it – in the chest!

  • Slower is better: This isn’t a race: Perform your push ups in a slow and controlled manner to maximize muscle activation. Taking things slower will mean you fatigue less quickly so you can perform more reps and make greater strength gains. If you find regular push ups too easy, then try one of our push up progressions.

  • Don’t cheat yourself: Performing partial push up reps that only make it down halfway isn’t going to help you progress. If you find yourself struggling to move through the full range of motion, scale things down and perform a modified push up where you can move through the full range of motion. You’ll see a lot more progress this way, building strength to make a regular push up easier.

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The 4 Best Push Up Variations

Sure you could make regular push ups harder by slowing down the tempo, increasing the rep range, or popping a resistance band over your back, but doing the same press ups, day after day can get a little boring…

That’s where these push up variations come in: Adding some variety to change the muscle focus, ramp up the intensity, or even scale things back for beginners, building strength and training the movement pattern of a full push up.

These are our favorite push ups for different levels, abilities, and goals:

  1. Incline Push Ups: Best For Beginners

  2. Decline Push Ups: Best For Intermediate Athletes

  3. Diamond Push Ups: Best For Tricep Activation

  4. Plyo Push Ups: Best For Harnessing Explosive Power

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1. Incline Push Ups: Best For Beginners

If you find yourself struggling with push-ups, you might be tempted to drop onto your knees. Whilst this does make push-ups easier, we prefer the incline push-up, which is, in our opinion, a better push-up variation to build strength to move up to a full push-up. You’ll work with less load than a normal push-up but still train core and glute tension using the plank position, unlike a kneeling push-up. This makes it much better at training full body stabilization and positioning of a regular push-up to help you to progress that little bit easier.

If you already have push-ups ticked off, then don’t dismiss the incline push-up. It’s a great exercise to keep in your back pocket and use as a drop set finisher after standard press-ups to hone in and pump that chest as much as possible.

How To Do Incline Push-Ups:

  1. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on an elevated surface (a box or bench works best). Come into a high plank position by lifting your knees off the ground and straightening your legs. Feet should be hip-width apart, wrists directly under shoulders, arms straight but not locked out.

  2. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes. Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest down towards the edge of the box, keeping your elbows close to your side, ‘screwing’ your hands into the box. Your body should be straight throughout.

  3. Come down until your chest is almost touching the box. Pause, then push up by extending your arms and pressing into the box.

  4. Keep elbows soft at the top, pausing for a second before repeating the movement.

Incline Push Up Tips: Just as you would for a normal push up, ensure you are performing incline push ups through their full range of motion. If you find you can’t get your chest close to the box, then use a higher box to perform your push ups, or perform wall push ups, by standing arm’s distance away from the wall, placing your hands on the wall, and pressing towards the wall.

2. Decline Push Ups: Best For Intermediate Athletes

The opposite of an incline push up, the decline push up, as you’ve probably guessed, ramps up the difficulty by elevating your feet. That’s a whole lot more emphasis on the upper body muscles, and this variation specifically hits the upper chest, making it a great pairing with the incline push up if building your pecs is a priority.

How To Do Decline Push Ups:

  1. Placing a suitable-sized box or bench on the floor, come into a high plank position in front of it, exactly the same as you would for a normal push up. Then, step up onto the box with both feet.

  2. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart, fingers facing forward, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes.

  3. Lower down to the ground, getting your chest as close to the ground as possible.

  4. Pause, then press back up to the starting position. Repeat.

Decline Push Up Tips: This is typically a variation where we see the hips starting to sag and the lower back dip. You must make sure you brace your core to protect your back and keep a rigid, straight body position the whole time. If you can’t perform the movement without your hips sagging, you may need to build up more upper body and core strength before moving on this push up variation.

3. Diamond Push Ups: Best For Tricep Activation

If you’ve mastered the regular push up and want to build your triceps, then you might want to give diamond push ups a go. Studies found that narrow push ups, such as the diamond push up, led to greater muscle activity in the triceps, pectoralis minor (located in the chest), and infraspinatus (part of the rotator cuff muscles around the shoulders) muscles. Of course, toned triceps look great from behind in a tank top, but building strength in them will also improve shoulder health, elbow strength, and to boost your performance on those big lifts such as bench press.

If you haven’t quite built up strength for a regular push up yet but don’t want to miss out on tricep development, you can perform a diamond push up on an incline, as above.

How To Do Diamond Push Ups:

The key difference between diamond push ups and regular push ups is the hand placement:

  1. Set up in a high plank position, hand shoulder-width apart, directly below shoulders, as if you were about to perform a normal push up.

  2. Walk your hands together, making a diamond shape by placing your index fingers and thumbs together. Your hands should now be directly under your chest. This is your starting position.

  3. Bracing your core and keeping your arms close to your sides, lower your chest down towards your hands. Stop when your chest is just above your hands.

  4. Pause, then ascend by pressing your hands into the ground and straightening your arms. Repeat.

Diamond Push Up Tips: Remember that for building strength, this shouldn’t be a race! Go slow on your diamond press ups, particularly on the downward phase. To make these even harder, try to control the lowering phase as much as possible, then take a pause when your chest is hovering just above your hands, before pushing explosively out of the press up.

4. Plyo Push Ups: Best For Harnessing Explosive Power

Ever had that feeling where you’re at the bottom of your bench press, and you just can’t seem to push the bar up from your chest? Plyometric push ups develop the fast twitch muscle fibers to help the body move force more explosively – even under heavy loads.

It’s all very well working on exercises that develop strength, but if you really want to stand out from the rest on the gym floor, you should be adding some plyo press ups in too, to boost your pressing power.

A word of caution: These aren’t an easy exercise. Make sure you’ve mastered the regular push up and have a good level of upper body strength before attempting these. Try them from an incline position first, placing your hands on a bench as shown above, before progressing to doing these on the floor.

How To Do Plyo Push Ups:

  1. Come into your regular push up high plank starting position, placing your hands on a bench or box if performing the incline variation. Hand should be shoulder-width apart, with wrists stacked directly under shoulders, core braced.

  2. Lower your chest towards the bench, stopping just before it touches.

  3. As you push up, power yourself off the bench, pushing away and jumping your hands off the bench to propel your body upwards, straightening your arms as you come up. (Level up: Try adding clap in at the top!)

  4. As gravity brings you back towards the bench, land with soft elbows and bring your chest back down to the bench to repeat the movement.

Plyo Push Up Tips: These are an advanced exercise requiring lots of power and explosiveness. Your body will likely fatigue quite quickly, so keep the rep range low and perform these nearer the start, rather than at the end of your chest day workout.

If you want more plyometric exercises to pair with your plyo push ups, try our Six Best Plyometric Exercises For Speed And Power.

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Time To Level Up Your Push Ups

If you want to pump up your pecs so your muscle fit tshirt hugs in all the right places, or you’re hoping to impress your gym crush by repping out 10+ push ups next to them, then these push up variations will help you get there.

Push ups may be one of the first exercises you ever did – and they’re not going anywhere. Pair them with any rowing exercise that targets the back, and you’ll be seeing some pretty strong gains in terms in your top half. Got a pair of kettlebells? Give Gorilla Rows a try – they might just be one of the most underrated exercises (in our opinion, anyway!).

Push Up FAQs

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WRITTEN BY: Alex Kirkup-Lee

Alex is an inhouse Content Writer for Gymshark’s Health & Conditioning categories. A qualified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 and Functional Fitness Coach, Alex is experienced in training clients from a range of sporting backgrounds. With a passion for functional training, her favorite workout is anything that includes deadlifts, rowing, or wallballs.

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  1. Kikuchi, N. and Nakazato, K. (2017). Low-load Bench Press and push-up Induce Similar Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Gain. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 15(1), pp.37–42. doi:

  2. Yang, J., Christophi, C.A., Farioli, A., Baur, D.M., Moffatt, S., Zollinger, T.W. and Kales, S.N. (2019). Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Network Open, [online] 2(2), p.e188341. doi:

  3. Alizadeh, S., Rayner, M., Mahmoud, M.M.I. and Behm, D.G. (2020). Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, [online] 19(2), pp.289–297. Available at:

  4. Adams, M.M., Hatch, S.A., Winsor, E.G. and Parmelee, C. (2022). Development of a Standard Push-up Scale for College-Aged Females. International journal of exercise science, [online] 15(4), pp.820–833. Available at:

  5. Hammond, K., Schilling, B.K., Weber, A.A., Bloomer, R.J., Weiss, L.W. and Ferreira, L.C. (2010). Power And Muscular Endurance Repeatability With 48 Hours Rest. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24, p.1. doi:

Alex Kirkup-LeeBy Alex Kirkup-Lee

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