Push-Ups – 6 Common Mistakes (And How To Get Stronger)

Written By Charleh Dickinson  |  Conditioning 

Want to fix your push-ups once and for all?

If you’re stuck doing knee push-ups, then you’re not getting the full benefit of the push-up. You’re also not working the right muscles, which means you’ll struggle to transition from your knees to the full movement. 

To do a proper push-up, you need to be able to push your entire body up from the ground - so if you can’t get low enough or just can’t seem to push yourself up, then this is the article for you. 

But before I get into the nitty-gritty of push-up progression, let’s check out some of the most common mistakes that beginners make.

6 common push-up mistakes

Mistake 1: The Dog

Mistake number one for the push-up is the dog. 

If you’ve ever done yoga, a downward-facing dog, or you’ve seen a puppy stick its butt up in the air and get really low to play, that is what happens with a lot of people when they do push-ups.

the dog push up crossfit


Instead, you want to make sure that you maintain a solid plank position. This means you should firm your heels all the way to the top of your head so that your body maintains a straight line without much bend in it.

Mistake 2: The Cobra

Mistake number two is what I’ll call the Cobra. 

This is where the hips sag really low while the chest is high, so it’s the opposite of the dog. Rather than doing push-ups where the hips and shoulders rise at the same time, your hips stay down low. The bottom line? It’s not a proper push-up and is technically a no-rep.

the cobra push up crossfit

The correct form is all about keeping your midline stable and making sure that your hips and shoulders are rising and sinking at the same time. If you're struggling with shoulder and hip mobility, check out our courses. Start loosening them off!

Mistake 3: The T

Push up mistake number three is the T.

When you do push-ups, if your hands and arms are in alignment with your shoulders so that your elbows are out at the side (so that your body’s in a T shape), then you’re doing the T push-up. 

the t push up

For the correct form, make sure that your arms are coming down by your side and check your hands - they should be creating a triangle in relation to your shoulders. 

Here’s how the two compare:

Getting your arm position right is a must if you want to see results faster and nail the right form to eventually progress to more advanced techniques like handstand push-ups or benchpress.

Mistake 4: The teenager

For mistake number four, we have the most inappropriately named push-up: the teenager. 

This is where you’ll get your butt off from the ground after your shoulders have already come up. Rather than having the plank go down and up at the same time, it kind of turns into this really awkward floor humping movement where your shoulders and hips move at different times.

the teanager push up

What you should be doing instead is moving your shoulders, torso, hips, and legs at the same time as you’re going up and down into the push-up. So, if you don’t want to look like you’re humping the ground like a teenager, you shouldn’t have any hinging going on - especially not at the hip. 

Mistake 5: The lazy last rep

Mistake number five is what I’ve called the lazy last rep.

I see this a lot in workouts like the Murph hero workout. Murph is a workout I’m very passionate about, but one of the hardest parts of it is the push-ups - especially with that weight vest. I can’t tell you how many people I see making this mistake in their final rep - they’ll get halfway up, and they’ll just let their knees hit the ground and then finish the lockout. That’s a no rep. 

the lazy last rep push up

Dropping the knees early is like doing a bunch of overhead squats, and, as you’re standing up for the last rep, you drop the bar early, which is obviously a complete no-no. So to avoid the lazy last rep, make sure you’re finishing the last rep of your push-up properly by maintaining form and locking that sucker all the way out. 

Top tip: if you’re heading for complete max out fatigue, take a small break so that you can come back with the correct form where you’re maintaining that solid plank throughout. 

Mistake 6: The basketball push-up

The final mistake I’m going to talk about is the basketball push-up. 

The reason I’m calling it this is because I played basketball for a lot of years, and if we did something wrong, the coach would tell us to “drop and give me 20”, but people would drop down, and they would do 20 of the most ridiculous push-ups I’ve ever seen in my life.

The main thing that really bugged me was they would never lockout their arms fully. So my teammates would get halfway up and then go back down, they wouldn’t be touching their chest to the ground fully, and they wouldn’t lock out their elbows fully.

Basketball rep push up

To avoid this double fault, you have to make sure that you’re getting your chest to the deck and fully extending the arms each time. Yes, it might take a little bit longer, but I guarantee you’ll feel better about yourself and get way more out of it.  

Progressions

So how can you learn to do proper push-ups without defaulting to these mistakes or relying on knee push-ups? The answer is to do it through progression. 

It all starts with elevating the platform that your hands are on while a solid perfect plank position, so if you draw a line from your head all the way to your heels, it’s a straight line. 

push up scale progression

From there, you take the platform of your hands and adjust it to gradually get closer to the floor. The reason this works so well is that it’s infinitely scalable. You can use a solid box or even a wall if you want to begin practising your push-ups at a very high elevation. 

Most gyms have three-sided boxes with 30-inch, 24-inch and 20-inch sides - so start by doing push-ups with your hands placed on the 30-inch height side. This is going to be an easy starting point for most people. 

Once you know you can do eight to ten unbroken reps with perfect form, then it’s time to drop that height down, so you can move it to the 24-inch height side and repeat. Then move on to the 20-inch side. 

Once you can complete eight to ten push-ups from a 20-inch height, you can drop even lower by stacking 45-pound plates on top of each other. As you progress and begin to perfect your ground-level push-ups, you can challenge yourself even more by using plate stacks to do deficit push-ups.

hard push up progression scale

From there, you can start working your way up to doing handstand push-ups - but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

If you’re starting out at home, you can use platforms like kitchen counters, tables and chairs. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a barbell and a squat rack, you can use that and gradually reduce the height of the barbell.

And just remember, no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey, if you follow this technique and keep practising, you’ll be ready for Murph in no time.

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