How to Do a Perfect Push-Up

By Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, NLC

With years of experience as a fitness professional, I’ve learned the most from my mistakes (and injuries), and I cannot stress this enough: Proper form is imperative to meet goals and prevent injury while working out! You can read more about my story and approach, here. 

Now, I hope you can learn from me, as I bring you video tutorials over the next few weeks teaching you how to execute proper form for the common exercises, like push-ups and squats. You can use your new skills to work out on your own at home or at the gym, or walk into a group workout class with body knowledge that will put you so far ahead.

When done correctly, a push-up not only works the chest, shoulders, and triceps; it also works your abdominal (core) and glute muscles. It’s basically like being in an active plank position that truly works the entire body.  If you feel your core shaking, then you are doing it right!

When you engage your shoulder and back muscles (creating a flat, versus a rounded, back), you are working the back of your body and strengthening your posture as well.

RELATED: 5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Posture

Here is my recommended set up.

How to Do a Perfect Push-Up

  1. Come down on your hands and knees.
  2. Place your hands just outside of your shoulders with your fingers spread apart.
  3. Set your shoulders by thinking about screwing hands into the ground.
  4. Activate your glutes as you straighten up one leg at a time.
  5. Engage your core, and keep it tight.
  6. Create a straight line from your head to upper back to your glutes.
  7. Pull your body toward the ground slowly (inhale).
  8. Push your body away from the ground (exhale).

If you cannot keep your form correct while performing a push-up on the floor, you can modify this exercise. Unlike some trainers, I do not recommend dropping to your knees.  Doing so takes out the bottom part of your body, and you will only work on upper body strength. By keeping the torso long by placing it on an incline, you can make the exercise easier while still focusing on core strength.

You can use a wall, (ballet) bar, workout bench, park bench, or a barbell to perform a modified push up.  Remember: It’s better for your body to do fewer push-ups with proper form than more with incorrect form.

Robin Barrie Kaiden, MS, RD, CDN, CSSD, Nutritious Life Certified, is renowned for helping people of all ages embrace a healthier lifestyle through nutrition and fitness counseling. As a licensed registered dietitian and personal trainer, her smart and sensible approach to pediatrics, weight loss, sports nutrition, allergies, cardiovascular health, pre/post natal, and other areas of clinical and lifestyle nutrition has resonated with hundreds of people across the United States. In addition to her private Manhattan and Westport, CT-based practice for adults, children, and families, she maintains a national presence as a blogger, columnist, guest speaker, and consultant. A recognized expert on healthy eating, Robin is a trusted resource for print, television, and online media. She appears regularly in various news, lifestyle, and entertainment stories for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, Parenting, Golf Fitness, Vogue,,, and other media outlets. Robin received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Cornell and Columbia Universities. For more information, visit

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