The press-up is undoubtedly one of the most well-known bodyweight exercises and when it’s done right can help you build strength and muscle.
However, do it wrong and you’re not only short-changing your results and leaving untapped potential on the table but you’re also opening yourself up to injury too.
In this article, we’re going to break down exactly how to do the perfect press up as well as show you how you can make it easier or harder depending on your skill level.
What Muscles Does the Press Up Work?
The press-up is a closed-chain, compound movement that requires no equipment and minimal space. It can be adjusted in numerous ways to cater for both the beginner and advanced trainee.
Being a compound movement means it trains multiple muscle groups – chest, shoulders, and triceps – with movement at multiple joints – shoulder and elbow – at the same time.
This makes it a great exercise for training the upper body pushing muscles in the absence of a gym or any other equipment.
How to Do the Perfect Press Up
Ok, so let’s break down the perfect press up, to do this we will be working off the assumption you’re doing a standard press up. We can break it down into 6 steps you can follow along with:
Step 1: Assume the start position by getting into a high plank, resting on your toes and the palms of your hands
Step 2: Make sure your arms are shoulder-width or slightly wider with your arms in line with your chest
Step 3: From here engage your core, squeeze your abs and keep your back flat (you don’t want to arch it or let your hips drop)
Step 4: Now you’re ready to lower to the floor by bending at your elbows, when you do this you’re aiming to have your arms at about a 45-degree angle from your body
Step 5: Keep lowering in a controlled motion until your shoulders are in line with or slightly lower than your elbows, being mindful of keeping your core engaged and back flat
Step 6: Once you reach the bottom of your range of motion, reserve the movement and return to the start position using a controlled motion
Congrats, you’ve just done your first perfect press up (video here).
If you found that this was the right difficulty for you, but that your balance was a little off then you can widen your feet to provide a more stable base.
Alternatively, if you already had your feet at shoulder width and found it easy you could bring them closer together for a little extra challenge.
Beyond this, there are numerous other ways to either make the press up easier or harder, let’s take a look.
How to Make the Press Up Easier
- Stage 1 – Wall press-ups: Stand with your hands on the wall at about shoulder-width apart and slowly walk backwards until you’re supporting your weight on fully extended arms, this is the start position. Brace your core and squeeze your butt and then slowly lower yourself until your nose nearly touches the wall, then push back up the start position.
- Stage 2 – Hands incline press up: Like a standard press up except you’ll have your hands on a bench/box instead of the floor. Keep in mind the higher the bench/box the easier the press up.
- Stage 3 – Press up from the knees: Assuming the start position for a standard press and then lower your knees to the floor, this is your modified start position. Perform the press up from this position on your knees.
Once you’ve mastered 3 sets of 20 reps of press-ups from the knees you can move to standard press-ups.
How to Make the Press Up Harder
- Stage 1 – Feet incline press up: Like the started press up except you’ll have your feet elevated on a bench/box. Keep in mind the higher the bench/box the harder the press up will be.
- Stage 2 – Archer press-ups: Also known as side-to-side press-ups, you’ll adopt the standard press up starting position except you’ll lower down to alternating sides instead of down to the middle.
- Stage 3 – Single-arm press-ups: One of the most advanced press up variations this requires a tonne of core strength and is performed using just one arm.
Whatever your skill level, with a little practice you can use the tips in this article to master the perfect press up and then take it beyond to build serious muscle and strength.