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Fit 4 Life | Push-up yourself further - Part 2: safety

Published:Tuesday | April 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMMarvin Gordon
Keep in mind the areas of focus for push-up safety: the spine, shoulders, and the arms.


Push-ups are a great way of building functional upper-body strength. Completing a set of push-ups requires multiple muscle groups to work together in the way that they do naturally.

Naturally does not mean simple or easy, however. There are many ways in which you can get the push-up wrong, and deviations in form can lead to serious injuries.

So how do you complete a push-up correctly?

First, review the procedure for completing the movement: get into a prone plank position, that is, with your body straight, support your weight on your hands and toes. Lower yourself by bending the elbows until your chest almost touches the floor as you inhale. Breathe out as you push your upper body back up into the starting position.

The next step is to pay attention to your body. If you feel pain or discomfort, stop immediately. Try to figure out what is wrong before attempting another rep.

TIP: Have a knowledgeable friend or a fitness coach watch your form for extra safety. Remember you will not be able to watch the form yourself.

Keep in mind the areas of focus for push-up safety: the spine, shoulders, and the arms.


Maintain a neutral spine throughout the range of motion. If your hips are sagging, your back is arched, your head reaches the ground before your chest, or you are pulling your head back, your form is wrong. Stop. Start over with proper form. These deviations put you at risk for back injuries.

TIP: Look out for slight deviations at various points through the range of motion.


The shoulders bear a lot of weight in push-ups. Shoulder stability and strength are paramount. If you feel any discomfort in your shoulders, stop and check your form.


Flared elbows are among the most common arm-related push-up mistakes. Flared elbows can cause immediate shoulder discomfort and, eventually, lead to serious injury. Elbow position is also affected by overall arm position.

Try to keep the arms at an angle of 45 degrees or lower against the torso. Hands point forward with fingers in a comfortable position, preferably spread - This might change slightly in some variations.

Push-ups are no pushovers. Beginners should temper expectations. If you have been doing push-ups with an improper form, you might have gotten the impression that you are some kind of push-up god. You should also temper your expectations. You might find that using proper form cuts the number of reps you can do in half.

- Marvin Gordon is a fitness coach; email:;