Doing push ups is an excellent way to build upper body strength, but doing them incorrectly can cause pain and injury. Throughout my training career I’ve seen a lot of push up mistakes (and believe me, there’s more than five), but there’s five common mistakes that are a common theme.

In today’s video I cover the five mistakes and what those look like as well as what correct push ups look  like. I also give some advice on how to build up strength without sabotaging form if you have trouble doing a push up due to strength reasons.

Mistake #1: Internally Rotated Hand Position

Placing your hands on the ground incorrectly by internally (or too far externally) rotating them causes undue strain on the wrists and puts the elbow in an unstable position.

Solution: Hands should be kept straight, fingers pointing straight ahead. As an added bonus, apply torque through the arms to create further stability. Not applying torque is mistake 1.5.

Mistake #2: Flared Elbows

Internally rotating your hands causes the elbows to flare out. But many times — even when people put their hands straight — they still flare their elbows out. This position bleeds power and makes it impossible to apply torque through the chain.

Solution: Create torque through the chain and keep the elbows pulled closer to the body.

Mistake #3: Poor Head Position

Looking up and out or too far down (as if you’re looking at your waist or feet) places stress on the neck and puts the shoulder out of position.

Solution: Keep the head in a neutral position for proper alignment.

Mistake #4: Unstable Pelvis and Core

Most trainers will tell you to tighten your abs when you’re doing pushups and that’s a good tip. But, they often forget to teach how to stabilize the pelvis, which is also a key factor in stability. 

Part of the job of the glutes is to keep the pelvis and hips in proper alignment and stable. But you have to “activate” that stability by putting the glutes to work (squeezing).

Solution: Tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes hard to create active tension in the chain. 

Mistake #5: Doing Push Ups On Your Knees

When people can’t do a full push up due to lack of strength, the popular suggestion is to do them on your knees as is takes weight off the arms. The problem is that when you drop to your knees, it becomes impossible to activate your glutes enough to properly set your pelvis and create a stable chain.

Other issues can occur as well in this situation: rounded back, hands at an improper distance, etc.

Solution: If you can’t do a full push up, do incline pushups. Use a chair, table, etc. and place your hands on that instead. Try to get your body to a 45 degree angle and do pushups keeping all of the above tips in mind. As your strength progresses, you can find shorter objects to use, creating a more acute angle and placing more weight on the arms.


  • Jay Sylvia Kathleen Mackay says:

    Was totally unaware of point 5 as I have been using ‘girly’ pushups for years! You live n learn and inclines it is from now on 🙂

    • Kevin Geary says:

      🙂 Glad to help.

      • Kari says:

        I’m 54 year old woman. I also have gotten by with girl pushups and I am trying to correct it now. Very tough work ahead. Thanks for the demonstration. I often collapse/failure at the point when my upper-arms are parallel to the ground. I have been training hard for army physical fitness test, but the pushups are a problem.
        Anything I can do to build strength otherwise to keep from collapsing/failure when the arm is in a parallel position? Thanks so much!

      • Kevin Geary says:

        Do pushups against a park bench table or table in your home so you’re at an incline. Focus on perfect form. Then move down to the bench-height (knee height). And then finally move to the floor as you gain strength.

      • Kari says:

        Thanks Kevin! Appreciate your help!

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