Top 3 Female Push-Up Mistakes

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Having a novice female perform a push-up for the first time is like watching someone drive a stick shift for the first time. It looks super simple however, in order to succeed at it you must have both quality, technique and practice.

The push-up is a fantastic exercise with a list of numerous benefits from activating your core and glutes to molding your shoulders and triceps.

I find myself programming multiple push-up variations for almost every female I coach, regardless of their current level of strength or experience. Over time it transforms them into a hard core bad ass who’s able to crank out multiple repetitions in any number push-up variations.

The media today is saturated with an array of techniques that females specifically “should follow” in order to perform a push-up. For example, several magazines will tell women to resort to performing push-ups from their knees because women are not strong enough to do one from the floor.

Wake up call! If you do push- ups from the floor on your knees, you will only get better at doing push-ups on the floor from you knees!

Here are the top three female push-up mistakes I encounter along with three push up variations to get you on the road to successfully completing your first push-up.

#1 Hand Positioning:

I first started performing push-ups in middle school during gym class. My teacher included them in the warm-up every day. However, I was never formally taught that my elbows should not be flaring out at 90 degrees or that it was bad to have my elbows hugging my body.

Thankfully these technical issues can be quickly fixed by placing your elbows at a happy medium (45degrees) and aligning our hands slightly outside of our shoulders.

Do This…

Nancy Pushup #1

Nancy Pushup #2

Good Elbow Position: Hands slightly outside of shoulders, elbows are at 45-degrees at end position.

Do NOT Do This…

Nancy Pushup #3

Nancy Pushup #4

Bad Elbow Position: Hands directly under shoulders, elbows are touching your side

The latter isn’t ideal because it often leads to what’s called humeral anterior glide, which is a fancy pants way of saying “excuse me, your shoulders are rounding forward,” which can lead to bicep tendon issues and general shoulder discomfort.

In short you can think of hand/elbow position as the porridge from the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Hands/elbows out too far (too hot) isn’t ideal because of lack of shoulder stability. Hands/elbows in too close (too cold) isn’t ideal either because of too much crowding strain placed on the shoulder.

45 degrees is juuuuuust right.

#2 Forward Head Posture:

Lowering to the floor during the push-up can result in the head jutting forward hastily. This is problematic because it places a lot of strain on the neck and often feeds into the same faulty postural issues seen with individuals who sit in front of a computer all day (forward head posture).

I find that this problem is easily fixed by actively “pulling” yourself to the floor instead of “falling” while pretending to hold an egg between your chin and your neck.

Do This…

Nancy Pushup head back

Packed Neck: Hold an egg between your chin and neck. Look slightly out in front of you. For real, though. I dare you: hold an egg…;o)

Do NOT Do This…

Nancy push up head forward

Forward Head Posture: head and neck lower first. Think: “keep head BEHIND chest.”

# 3 Booty and Core Position

When you set up with your lower back arching, odds are your back will remain arched and possibly become more arched during your push-up.

One easy fix is to get a stronger core position is to set your hips underneath of your body by squeezing your glutes. The rest of the torso is set by creating the same feeling/tension you get when performing a dead-bug or a plank.

Do This…

Nancy Push-up glute squeeze

Solid Torso Position: Posterior pelvic tilt (sad dog), moving plank.

Do NOT Do This…

Nancy Push-up arched lower back

Poor Torso Position: Lower back arching, anterior pelvic tilt (porn star). Thanks to the folks at Mark Fisher Fitness for the porn star analogy.

Solid Technique Set Up


*If you really want to get down and nerdy you can check out Eric Cressey’s video below


Some of My Favorite Variations for Beginners

Push-Up Off Pins


Band Assisted Push-Up


Eccentric Only Push-Up w/Mats



Key Take-A-Ways

*Do not perform push-ups from your knees

*Technique is the key to success

*Find the right push-up variation for you

*Quality over quantity

*Be consistent

*Establish a base of strength

[NOTE: for ideas of some great resources for strength-based programs geared towards women check out THIS and THIS.]

Sample Push-Up Program for Beginners

Step 1. Select the right push-up variation for yourself. If you don’t know feel free to email me and ask. I would be happy to help

Step 2. Follow this three day a week program below.

Example: Monday Day 1, Wednesday Day 2, Friday Day 3,

Nancy PU Progam #1

Nancy PU Program #2

Nancy PU Program #3

About the Author

Nancy Newell is a strength coach at Cressey Sports Performance (Hudson, MA). She earned her bachelors degree from the State University of New York at Cortland and completed internships at Game Changer Strength and Performance in New Jersey and SUNY Cortland’s Strength and Conditioning program. She is a softball enthusiast and enjoys lifting heavy things.
Twitter: HERE.
Instagram: HERE.
Nancy Newell

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