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How To Master The Press-Up

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In This Series

The press-up is probably the most popular bodyweight move in the world. That’s partly because it can be performed anywhere, without the need for much space or any kit. But above all it’s effective, working your chest, core, triceps and shoulders, if you do it right. What’s more, this classic move has a huge number of variations that will work the muscles of your upper body in new and challenging ways to promote new muscle mass growth, improve shoulder stability and mobility, and burn body fat to reveal a more defined torso.

So if you haven’t done a press-up since it was your punishment at school for forgetting your PE kit, it might be time for you to reconsider your opinion on it and factor it back into your training programme. Read on to discover how to perform the perfect press-up and find out how you can use the move more effectively to build your best ever body.

Press-up Form Tips

“The ability to crank out countless press-ups might seem impressive, but if you’re serious about adding upper-body size and strength then quality is far more important than quantity,” says trainer James Stark (opens in new tab). “If you get your press-up form absolutely right, every single rep will help you add size and strength.” Follow these form tips to master the movement and add muscle faster.

Hand width

How Place your hands shoulder-width apart with arms straight and so your shoulders, elbows and wrists line up.

Why This position, with all the joints of your arms aligned, works your muscles without placing excess stress on the joints.

Hand position

How Your fingers should be slightly splayed and pointing forward, with your hands forming right angles with your forearms.

Why Maintaining a strong wrist position keeps your arm joints aligned to minimise joint stress and form the most stable set-up.

Elbow movement

How Initiate the move by bending your elbows to lower your chest towards the ground.

Why If you flare your elbows, you’re putting unnecessary stress on your joints. Perform press-ups correctly by keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides as you lower your chest towards the floor.

Ideal hip height

How Your hips should remain in line with your shoulders for the entirety of the set.

Why Holding your hips up keeps your body stable, which allows your muscles to focus on performing high-quality reps rather than on stabilising your torso.

Foot width

How Keep your feet hip-width apart. Placing them farther apart makes it easier and bringing them together makes it harder.

Why The closer together your feet the less stable your body, which means your muscles must work harder each rep.

Depth of reps

How The closer you can get your chest to the floor the better because this makes the working muscles move through a full range of motion.

Why The deeper you can go the more muscle fibres you activate. Keep reps slow to work them harder.

Power up your press-ups

Increase your press-up personal best with these expert endurance tips

0-10: “Start by mastering the movement pattern then doing one rep at a time, pausing at the top, to gradually build upper-body strength,” says trainer James Stark.

11-30: “Once you get into double figures try slowing down the eccentric, or lowering, portion of each press-up to increase the workload on the target muscles,” says Stark. “Then press back up powerfully to hit your fast-twitch muscle fibres.”

31-50: “You’re now into serious press-up territory so you need to keep the working muscles out of their comfort zone to keep getting stronger,” says Stark. “Try one- or two-second pauses at the bottom to expose them to even more tension.”

50+: “If upper-body size and strength is your goal then you need to make the move harder to keep progressing,” says Stark. “Raise your feet above your hands to up the resistance, or try clap press-ups, which require explosive power.”

NEXT: The Best Press-Up Variations

Joe Warner
Joe Warner

Joe Warner worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach, from 2008 to 2013, then returned as editor of Men’s Fitness UK from 2016 to 2019.