The Exercise: The push-up is arguably the single most effective exercise known to man. Not only does it work multiple muscle groups – the arms, abs, back, chest, and shoulders – but it can also be done with no equipment, and with hundreds of different variations. Mastering the push-up is key to calisthenics. The basic push-up is done by lowering your body to the floor with your arms, and then pushing back up.

Proper push-up form, courtesy of

Proper push-up form, courtesy of

Proper Form: Start in a plank position with your arms slightly further than shoulder-width apart, at a 90 degree angle to the ground. Your whole body should be straight like a plank, with your legs close together. Slowly lower yourself until your  head is near the ground. Push yourself back up with the same motion. You should breathe in on the way down, and breathe out on the way up. The slower you do each push-up, the harder it is.

Common Mistakes:

  • Putting your hands too far up – try to have your hands under your shoulders
  • Shrugging your shoulders – keep your shoulders back during the exercise
  • Lowering your head too much – keep your head straight in line with your body
  • Moving your hips up or down – make sure that your body is straight as a plank, instead of having your butt up in the air, or on the contrary, pushing your hips downwards

Muscles worked: the basic push-up primarily works the triceps and coracobrachialis muscles in your arms; pectorals and serratus anterior in your chest; abdominals in your core; and the deltoids in your shoulders.

Muscles used/targeted during push-ups

Video Demonstration:

 Push-up Variations

Pike Push-up: for this variation, you are going to put your butt up in the air. You should form an upside-down V shape with your body, with your head between your arms, and a flat back. Both your arms and legs should be at about shoulder-width. Bend your elbows and bring your head all the way near the ground – be careful not to hit yourself though! Click here for a quick video demonstration. This push-up is particularly good if you want to eventually do handstands and handstand push-ups.

Counter Push-up: This is an easier variation of the push-up, ideal for complete beginners. Simply find a counter or any other object with a high, flat top. Place your hands at about shoulder-width distance on the edge of the counter, and with your body straight as a plank, bend downwards, and then back up.

Knee Push-up: this is another easier variation of push-ups. Instead of fully straightening your legs, bend them at the knees. The further you put your knees back, the more difficult the exercise.

Clap Push-up: this is a very popular variation that improves your muscle explosiveness and also greatly increases the cardiovascular component of push-ups. Clap your hands between every push-up, like this.

Wide Push-up: put your hands out wider than your shoulders. The further apart your hands, the more work done by your chest.

Diamond Push-up: this is another popular difficult variation of push-ups. This is basically the opposite of the wide push-up – instead of putting your hands out far, you put them really close together, ideally forming a triangle or diamond shape between your hands. This targets the triceps muscles.