The Push-Up Challenge 2021: How to do a proper push-up

Living Well | Tianna Nadalin | Photos: Matt Harvey | Posted on 26 May 2021

Join The Push-Up Challenge this June and pledge to push up for mental health.

Smashing out 3,318 push-ups in 25 days should earn you some serious arm candy. Doing it to raise funds for charity? Priceless.  

This June, The Push-Up Challenge is asking Australians to flex their biceps for a cause – to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. The initiative has seen thousands of Australians pledging to push (up) for better mental health by completing 3,318 push ups – the number of Australians who died by suicide in 2019 – over 25 days, with proceeds supporting critical mental health services, including Lifeline, which has seen a 30 per cent increased in call volumes through the pandemic. 

Man doing a push up

 “We all know the physical benefits of exercise but I don’t think we speak as openly about the mental benefits of exercise and how being active actually plays a really critical role in helping us manage our mental wellbeing,” Lifeline spokesperson Lisa Cheng says. “The money raised through The Push-Up Challenge will be invested back into those critical, crisis point suicide prevention services so we can answer every call.”  

But despite how effortlessly celebrities the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Chris Hemsworth, The Rock and Zac Efron smash them out, nailing this classic move is not as simple as it looks. So, with The Push-Up Challenge kicking off on June 1, we asked RACV Torquay Resort personal trainer and fitness centre supervisor Todd Jones for his top tips for perfect push-up form.  

How to do a proper push-up

Warm up

    When it comes to any exercise, it’s always best to warm up first. “You want to build into it,” Todd says. “Go through an elevated push up against a wall or some resistance band pull aparts. If you don’t have any equipment, try a simple shoulder activation movement, such as a cat-cow sequence, to loosen the muscles.” 

Man in cat-cow position for warm up exercise

Go narrow with your hands 

The perfect push-up begins with proper hand placement. “Usually people go too wide, too far away from the body or too far out in front,” Todd explains. “You want to bring your hands in line with your chest/pec area and have them positioned just outside the width of your shoulders, almost grazing the side of your body.” 

Ask yourself this, Todd says. “If you had one chance to push something as hard as you could, where would you put your hands and how would it look? Everything comes a bit tighter because that is your strongest position.” 

Man in starting position for doing a push up

Feet shoulder width apart 

When you’re starting out on a path to push-up perfection, Todd says it’s best to begin with your feet shoulder width apart, rather than together. “You want to have four points of contact with the ground,” he says. “This helps to spread the load, stabilise and take some of the tension from your chest and arms.” 

Man in plank with feet shoulder width apart

Straighten up

You want to keep a long, neutral spine when doing a push-up. That means you’re basically starting in a high plank position. “You want to be strong as steel from head to heel and maintain a perfect straight line as you lower your chest,” Todd says. “Often when people haven’t built up enough strength, they compensate by moving their forehead to the ground. “The aim should be to get chest to touch ground in between the hands rather than trying to headbutt the floor. If you can’t do this, the safer option is to go to your knees.”

Man in plank position to start pushup

Keep your elbows in

    One of the biggest mistakes Todd sees when it comes to poor push-up form is flared elbows. “It’s worse to flare than to graze the body,” he says. “Your hands should be flat on the ground, facing forward, with your fingers stretched out.

Man doing push up with elbows grazing side of body

Brace yourself 

Despite popular belief that push-ups are all about chest and biceps, when performed correctly, this exercise should recruit all your muscle groups. Your core should be braced, and glutes and hamstrings engaged. “There should be tension everywhere,” Todd says. “The more muscles you can recruit, the better, so give it all you’ve got.” 

Man doing proper push up

Don’t be afraid to modify if you need to 

If you don’t have the strength to do a standard push-up to start, or you have an injury, Todd says it’s always better to modify your push up than to do it with poor form. “Find the right progression or regression for you,” he says. “You could try starting on your knees or, if you have knee or wrist problems, start with an elevated position. That could mean using a wall, the kitchen bench or even the back of your couch to push-up against.”

Man doing push up on knees

Don’t forget to stretch

It’s always a good idea to stretch after any exercise. “If you’re a desk worker, your natural position is hunched over so participating in a push-up challenge is going to further feed this problem. “For every push you do, you want to counteract it with a pull to balance the muscles,” he says. “Use whatever you’ve got around the house, like soup cans or water bottles, and do some sort of row. Even shoulder stretches to make sure the shoulder blades are doing their job.” He says shoulder stretches, rolling out your wrists and rolling out your chest on a massage ball are also helpful.

Man rolling out muscles with ball

Just do it 

Whatever level of fitness you’re at, Todd says the key is to just do it. “One push-up better than no push-ups so just do whatever is achievable for you,” he says. “As long as you are consistent that is all that matters.”