The perfect push-up: Your guide to getting there

When you're a woman, push-ups are rarely done in their purest form. Which is why, says one CrossFit trainer, you're not getting any better at them. Here’s how.


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When you’re a woman, the push-up—the most basic and effective of all exercises—is rarely done in its purest form. We do them on our knees. We go half way down. We drop our bellies before our chests. The result?

“Women, after many years of working on their push-ups, aren’t any better,” says Upper East Side CrossFit center EVF Performance owner and trainer Eric Von Frohlich. “It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s that no one is requiring you to.” He, however, will.

The makings of a perfect push-up
“The movement is historic and amazing,” Von Frohlich gushes. It’s straight-forward yet involves lots of elements that engage muscles all over your body.

What are the basics? First, your fingers should be facing forward while your arms are externally rotated, shoulder blades back.

Next, “we’re looking for midline stability from the top of the head to the tailbone.” In order to create that stability, you need to seriously contract both your abs and glutes. Ab contracting will stabilize the spine, while glute squeezing stabilizes the hip complex.

EVF Performance
“Push-ups on your knees just helps you get better at doing push-ups on your knees,” says Von Frohlich.

Proper range of motion is key, Von Frohlich says, “which means moving all of the way to the floor, so that the chest and thighs touch the floor at the same time.”

Keep your movement fluid, in other words, push right up when you reach the bottom, and go right back down at the top. Pausing or stopping makes it harder to push back up (no momentum). And ideally, your breath should be synced with these movements (inhale on the way down, exhale back up).

How to get there
Of course, many women will read about the glorious appearance of a perfect push-up with one question in mind: “How can I do it if I, um, can’t do it?”

“You can learn the progression of a proper push-up,” says Von Frohlich. And forget doing them on your knees. Instead, start by doing push-ups against a wall or on a bar. This will allow you to practice midline stability and the correct full range of motion, but it will take some of the weight off of your arms, making it easier. Want to make some progress on your push-ups? Try these three moves from Von Frohlich now.

In the end, just like with pull-ups, the key is getting as close to the actual movement as possible. “Do the thing that you want to do to get better at it,” Von Frohlich says. “If you want to be a baker, you don’t go work on cars, you bake.” —Lisa Elaine Held

Watch Von Frohlich demonstrate proper push-up form:

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