The Push Up: A Super Exercise

The push up is an upper body movement that targets muscles of the chest, shoulders, and arms. This movement is excellent to develop trunk and scapular stability and ideal to include in rehab or generalized programming. It can also 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. If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to reach out to your physiotherapist to ensure the exercise is properly and safely executed. 


How to do the Exercise 

  • 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, feet together while keeping the shoulder blades flat against the ribcage
    • 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° while keeping 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 


Modifications and Progressions:  

  • Hands placement will target muscle groups differently; 
    • Narrow placement: increased activation of pec major and triceps 
    • Wide placement: increased activation of anterior deltoid, biceps
  • Body positioning may be modified to increase or decrease difficulty  
    • Level 1: push up with knees on ground
    • Level 2: hands placed on a higher surface than feet 
    • Level 3: hands placed on a lower surface than feet 



Based on your individual goals, the parameters for exercise can vary significantly by changing the sets, repetitions and tempo 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.