Bodyweight Basics Part 2: The Push-Up

Photo by the blowup on Unsplash

The push-up is the gold standard of bodyweight exercises. They primarily work the triceps (muscles in the back of the arm), pecs (chest muscles), and the anterior deltoids (front of the shoulder). A good push-up also requires you to engage your midsection and squeeze your butt to ensure you maintain a flat back and ensure proper form. They can be used as a measure of upper body strength and endurance, and also a predictor of longevity. A 2019 study (1) revealed that middle-aged men who could complete 40 or more push-ups in one set had a significantly lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men of the same age who could only do 10 or less. Basically, the more push-ups you can do indicates a greater level of strength and endurance, which is true for men and women alike.

The video above reviews the standard push-up as well as three variations that make it more challenging.

Standard Push-Up

Begin in a high plank position, with fingers pointed out elbows drawn into your side so they’re scraping your ribs as you lower down. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes to keep your back flat and prevent the hips from sagging. Slowly lower down until your nose grazes the floor, then press straight down into the floor while squeezing your chest to propel yourself up.

Hand Release Push-Up

The main difference with this variation is that when you lower down, you will let your body completely rest on the floor, then press up from that position. When you completely relax on the floor, you lose the tension from your contraction and have to restart the process which makes it harder. Also, you’re at a mechanical disadvantage in this bottom position, which means that your muscles will have to exert more force to lift you up. Remember to squeeze your chest as you initiate the press from the floor and keep the tension in your core and butt to keep good form.

One And A Half Push-Up

Similar to the one and a half squat, this variant increases the time under tension the muscles experience, leading to more work being done. Lower all the way down, press up to halfway, lower back down, then press all the way to the top. The slower you go the more challenging it will be.

Hand Release One And A Half

This option is the hardest of the versions shown, combining the hand release and one and a half into one movement. You’ll do the one and a half as instructed, but simply rest your body weight on the floor each time you lower down. Again, the slower you do the exercise the more difficult it will become.

Mastering the push-up is a great way to set yourself up for more difficult upper body exercises that train the same muscle groups such as dips and any chest press variation. The fun certainly doesn’t stop with these iterations, as there is almost an endless variety of methods to make your push-ups harder. Check here or here if you need more of a challenge.

The next article in the series will focus on pulling movements, where I’ll review the pull-up and inverted row.


  1. Yang J, Christophi CA, Farioli A, et al. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(2):e188341. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341



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