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A woman doing a pushup

Pushups are a fitness staple, a part of most workout programs, and a tried-and-true test of upper-body strength and endurance. They also have a reputation as an especially punishing movement that can cause wrist, elbow, shoulder, and lower-back pain.

Learning proper form will help prevent pain and injury, and mastering a variety of variations can aid in pregressing your move.

Doing a pushup requires as much skill as strength. It’s a full-body exercise that calls for core stability as well as back, arm, and chest power. Your form will enable you to move painlessly through the full range of motion.

And, thanks to a nearly endless number of modifications to make them easier and more comfortable, they’re also within reach for most exercisers.


1. Assume a high-plank position, with hands slightly wider than shoulder width, arms extended (but not locked), and body straight from heels to the top of your head.

  • Tip: Distribute weight evenly across your entire hands; imagine there is a grape under each palm that you don’t want to crush
  • Tip: Stay neutral: Don’t crane your neck up, drop your head toward the floor, or hunch your shoulders toward your ears.

2. Keeping your body straight and your head in a neutral position, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Bend your arms and retract your shoulder blades to lower yourself until your arms form 90-degree angles.

  • Tip: Keep your body in a straight line from start to finish; engage your glutes and core to avoid sagging.
  • Tip: Aim elbows out about 45 degrees from your body, as if you’re pointing them to the back corners of the room.

3. Reverse the movement, pushing yourself back to the starting position without breaking the straight line from head to heels.

4 Ways to Vary Your Pushups

Learn four variations for making the standard pushup easier — or harder.

Knee Pushup (Make It Easier!)


  • Make the pushup easier by lowering yourself to your knees.
  • Only perform this variation if you can maintain straight body-positioning from head to knees.
  • Do not stick out your butt.

Hands-Elevated Pushup (Make It Easier!)


  • Keep feet planted and elevate the hands onto a box, bench, or wall.
  • Again, take care not to stick your butt out and maintain a straight line with your body.

Triceps Pushup (Make It Harder!)


  • Instead of aiming elbows away from your body, tuck them in close beside your rib cage.
  • Take care to move slightly forward as you lower yourself so that your elbows stack directly above, not behind, your wrists and your triceps are parallel to the floor.

Plyo Pushup (Make It Harder!)


  • Perform a standard pushup.
  • As you return to your starting position, press powerfully through your hands to lift them slightly off the floor. (If you have enough clearance, you can clap your hands.)
Photography by: Chad Holder; Styling by: Pam Brand; Fitness Model: Melissa Story

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