Tried and tested tips, tricks and changes to help you nail a full press-up, approved by the Strong Women team.
You can almost guarantee that at least one form of press-ups will appear in any workout class, yoga flow or fitness programme you sign up to. There’s just no escaping the exercise. They’re a classic for a reason though: they work multiple muscle groups and help with full body strengthening while requiring no equipment.
But there is no denying that they are hard, and can sometimes take years to perfect. It’s no wonder that the ‘Drop and give me 20’ cliché fills us all with fear.
If you haven’t nailed them yet, don’t worry, we’ve got you. Sometimes, it just takes one small tweak to give us a fresh perspective on exercises, whether that’s through mastering our breathwork, posture or tempo. Ahead we’ve got some suggestions - as tried and tested by the Strong Women team and even some of our readers, of course - that will help you out along the way. You might find advice to help you nail a full press-up, or a tip that adds some extra reps to your sets. The only way to get better (and make it a bit easier) is to give it a go…
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1. Use different angles
Before jumping straight into floor press-ups, try them on an incline, suggests fitness trainer and member of the Strong Women Collective Emma Obayuvana. This changes the angle of the exercise, taking away some of the depth and core focus, to make things a little easier while still helping you perfect the pressing motion that will come into play for a full press-up.
2. Squeeze your glutes
It might just feel like another thing to think about, but this is one of the best piece of advice I’ve been given. By engaging our glutes we help to keep the back flat and the core tight so that you press-up with perfect form.
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3. Think up
“Thinking about how I move on the way up and not the way down has helped me no end,” says executive digital editor Fliss Thisthlewaite. “I was always so scared of falling on my face, but my PT taught me that it’s ok to touch the floor with my forehead if need be and then focus on pushing myself up and out of the move.”
I know I say it for every exercise, but focus on the breath and you’ll see the difference. Breathing out as you press up helps with abdominal pressure so our form stays on point, while also making the move easier.
5. Pelvic stability
“The thing that often gets people is an inability to control the core, so we need to learn to control the pelvis,” says strength and conditioning coach Pennie Varvarides. “Concentrate on keeping your pelvis tucked and keeping your ribcage down so that you’re trying to keep the space between your ribs and your pelvis closed the whole time. If you can hold that as you push up you’ll push up your whole body as one, but if your rib cage flares then you like to do a little snake, or you drop your pelvis and you leave your butt in the air.”
6. Use the floor
Rather than thinking about how much of your bodyweight you’re moving upwards, reframe the exercise, says one Strong Women reader. “I think of it as pressing the floor away from your body,” she says.
7. Spread your fingers
This one changed the game for me: rather than lazily dumping all of my body weight into my wrists, I focus on spreading my fingers wide and pressing up through my entire hand – it feels so much easier.
8. Strap up
Speaking of wrists… “Mine are really weak (I broke one of them years ago and it’s still flimsy) so wearing straps does help,” says Stylist’s sub-editor Meena Alexander. She uses these wrist straps to give more stability and support to her joints.
9. Play with pace
Moving slowly is a great way to build strength, says fitness editor Meriam Ahari. “Start in a high plank position (this works whether you’re on your toes or knees). Bend your arms to lower your body down very slowly, taking 8-10 counts to lower yourself down completely, chest to the floor. Rather than pushing yourself back up from the press-up, start back into our high plank position, repeating slowly lowering yourself to the floor each time. This is a great way to strengthen muscles and build yourself up to being able to hold the lowered press-up and push back to up.”
10. Full body strengthening
Of course, strengthening the muscles utilised in press-ups is a sure fire way to get stronger at the move. Upping my bench press has really helped me to see the difference, so make sure to work on building the muscles in your chest, shoulders and core for a strong body that can get you off the ground.
11. Stop counting
“Knowing that good form is more important than reps has helped me with my press-ups,” says Strong Women reader @victoriadmoore.
We couldn’t agree more – press-ups will feel tiresome and horrible if you aren’t working through them properly, so remember that there’s nothing wrong with taking your time. The added bonus is that it will actually be easier to add more reps in over time when doing them properly. Quantity over quality, always.
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Images: Getty / Unsplash
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).