Push Up

The push up is an upper body compound movement that targets muscles of the chest, shoulders, and arms. Additionally, this movement is excellent at developing trunk and scapular stability. The push up is a great exercise to include in rehab or generalized programming, and can be easily adapted to suit a variety of levels.  

Due to the variability in anatomical differences, mobility restrictions, and muscle flexibility, this exercise may look different from person to person. This is why it is important to use this resource as a general guide; however, a physiotherapist will be able to ensure the exercise is properly and safely executed. 



Starting Position: Begin in a 4-point position with your hands placed under your shoulders and knees touching the ground. Straighten your legs by lifting your knees from the ground, and position your feet together. Hand position will change the targeted muscle groups. The shoulder blades must stay flat against the ribcage while in this position. Your body should be aligned from the crown of your head through the shoulders, low back, and all the way to the ankles. 


Action: Lower your chest towards the ground by bending your elbows to approximately 90°. During the movement, keep your trunk and legs straight. After lowering your chest, return to starting position by pushing through your arms and straightening the elbows. 


Common Mistakes to Avoid: 

  • Dropping the hips towards the ground and extending the low back 
  • Forcing the head forwards and craning the neck throughout the movement 
  • Winging the shoulder blades during the movement 



Based on your individual goals, the parameters for exercise can vary significantly. The number of sets, repetitions and tempo are among a number of variables that can be modified in order to optimize your programming. Whether you are returning from injury, looking to get stronger, or improving your sport performance, speak to your physiotherapist to establish your training goals. 


Modifications and Progressions:  

  • Please refer to your physiotherapist if you are unsure of any aspect of the exercise or are unable to successfully perform this movement 
  • Hands may be placed in a variety of positions to target muscle groups differently 
    • Narrow placement: increased activation of pec major and triceps 
    • Wide placement: increased activation of anterior deltoid, biceps
  • Body position may be modified to increase or decrease difficulty of exercise 
    • Decreased difficulty: 
      • Push up with knees on ground 
      • Incline: hands placed on a higher surface than feet 
    • Increased difficulty: 
      • Decline: hands placed on a lower surface than feet 


Fig 1. Neutral placement


Fig 2. Narrow placement


Fig 3. Wide placement


Fig 4. Start position


Fig 5. End position

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