From beginner to expert, why push-ups are the perfect exercise

Push-ups might be tough to start with but it's worth pressing ahead with them.

Push-ups might be tough to start with but it's worth pressing ahead with them. Photo: Getty

No equipment needed. No gym membership to pay for. No matter what your fitness level.

The humble push-up is quite simply the perfect exercise. In fact, new University of Sydney research shows this type of resistance training could add years to your life.

The benefits of adding push-ups to your regular exercise program are endless, says Yujin Lim, a physiologist at Optimal Health Exercise Physiology.

“You build strength and promote muscle growth in your triceps, shoulders and chest and – if performed correctly with neutral spinal alignment – push-ups also improve your core strength and endurance,” he says.

Collective Wellness Group wellness director Dan Conn says bodyweight exercises also help prevent injuries.

“All strength training has the benefit of increasing natural growth hormones in your body, which has been linked with anti-ageing benefits and can help to protect your body against injury,” he says.

Work your way through these five push-up variations, focusing on the correct technique, to build strength and endurance.


There are lots of positives to push-ups, so get started. Photo: Getty

Knee push-ups (beginner)

Your arms should be straight, with your shoulders above your wrists. Rest your knees on the ground, legs together, with your feet suspended in the air.

Slowly bend your elbows, pushing them back behind you and lower your chest to the floor, while maintaining a straight line from the crown of your head to your knees.

When you’re almost touching the floor, press upwards, engaging your chest and core. Once you have mastered this, you can progress to full-length push-ups.

Pike push-ups (intermediate)

Keeping your back and legs reasonably straight, set up in a pike or A-frame position. Lower your head either directly between your hands for a big challenge, or in front of your hands for an easier alternative.


Progress to pike push-ups after you have mastered knee push-ups.

Archer push-ups (intermediate)

Start with a wide hand position. Descend towards one side, and keep the other arm completely straight, fingers pointing away to keep your wrists comfortable.

Press back up using only your working arm. Focus on one side at a time, or alternate from side-to-side.

One-arm push-ups (advanced)

Start with a wide foot position, with your working arm centred. As you descend, slightly twist your torso towards your working arm in a corkscrew-like motion. Go down all the way, then press up hard.


Attempt tougher one-armed push-ups as you get stronger. Photo: Getty

Clap or plyometric push-ups (advanced)

Place your hands on the floor slightly wider than your shoulders. Your body weight should be on your hands and feet.

Contract your abdominals and glutes so that your torso and thighs are held in a straight line. Bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor.

Once your elbows are at about 90 degrees, explosively extend your arms so you push yourself up high enough to clap your hands. As soon as your hands land, lower into the next repetition.

Avoiding plateau

“The key to performing push-ups regularly is switching up the exercise,” Mr Conn says.

It’s about keeping your muscles guessing and increasing muscle functionality. For example, change the tempo and push down for one second, and then take three seconds to push back up. Other tips include trying different angles, hand positions, or incorporating resistance bands.

Mr Lim says you can also tailor a push-up workout to suit your fitness goals.

“For strength, use a difficult variation for lower reps and more rest between sets,” he says. “For an endurance and cardiovascular emphasis, use an easier variation for higher reps and less rest.”

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