The push-up is one of the most overlooked exercises in the metaphorical exercise book. Sure, it looks pretty easy and most of us know the basics: heels together, wrists underneath shoulders, bend and press your elbows, and voila, a move that works your entire body pretty much.
But there are certain tweaks you can make to take your push-up technique to the next level. Here are 6 key ways to perfect this exercise—and get the most out of it. All you have to do is follow these tips.
Press Your Hands Into The Floor
When performing a push-up, you want to press the palms of your hands firmly into the floor as if to push away from your wrists. Simultaneously, rotate the arms externally so that the elbows and biceps face forward. This pressure provides a natural tension in your arms, shoulders, and upper back, which will help you maintain stability in the upper body throughout the exercise, which helps keep you working hard in proper form.
Squeeze your lats
Another way to stabilize the upper body is to engage your lats. These muscles are found underneath your armpits and run along the sides of your body. By pressing your palms firmly into the floor you can start to activate them. Then, in addition, think of squeezing your armpits as tightly as possible, like you are holding something in between them. This will keep your upper body completely stable.
Draw your shoulder blades down and back
Keeping your shoulders shrugged up to your ears puts excess strain on the neck, and makes it harder to work the muscles you’re trying to tone: your arms, shoulders, and core. The body needs to move as one solid unit. Before you bend your elbows, check to make sure your shoulder blades are pulled down and back away from the ears, engaging your back muscles. To do this, act as if you are trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Keep your neck in line with your spine
Dropping your head too far down or tilting it too far upward can put too much pressure on the spine and put you at greater risk for injury—the opposite of getting stronger. Find a neutral spine: Instead of tucking your chin completely or looking straight out in front, gaze about 6 inches or so in front of your fingertips and keep your eyes focused there as you push up.
Keep your core engaged
The core is made up of more than just your abdominal muscles. It’s the entire midsection of your body, basically everything but your extremities. Activating all of your core muscles, including your obliques, abs, and glutes, takes stress off the lower back in addition to stabilizing your hips so your body stays in one long line, even as you lower down. By actively squeezing your navel towards your spine, the push up becomes just as much of an abdominal workout as performing a plank.
Master the breath
If we were listing these in level of importance, this would probably be number one. As with any exercise, breath is always going to help improve your form. It is what drives the movement. Remember to always exhale on the effort of the movement. In this case, that means inhale when you go down and exhale when you press up. As you exhale, you are essentially trying to empty the lungs of as much air as possible to help contract the core and give more power to your movement.
Now that you know how to do the perfect push-up, you can try different variations with 7 Ways to Do a Push-Up
This article originally appeared on Health.com
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