Perfect Practice for Perfect Push-ups

Marine pumps out push-ups.
A Marine does push-ups during Headquarters and Support Battalion's monthly physical training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Aug. 3, 2012. (Pfc. Joshua Grant/Marine Corps Installations East)

I received an e-mail from a young woman who aspires to join the military in the next year. Knowing she has a lot of physical fitness tests in her future, she wants some advice on improving her performance of push-ups. She says she never has practiced push-ups the "traditional way," which is what I call the regular push-up as opposed to the knee push-up.

First of all, there is no reason why women cannot do the regular push-up. All it takes is practice. I have several male and female clients who started out doing push-ups on their knees but now can do 40 to 50 regular push-ups without stopping to rest. Here are some simple tips and workouts to help you get above-average scores on the PFT.

Related Video:

    Proper full-body warmup

    Get the heart pumping and the arms warmed up by doing the following warmup (repeat 3-5 times; it only takes 2-3 minutes):

    -- Jumping jacks: 10

    -- Push-ups: 10

    After warming up, stretch the triceps, chest and shoulders:

    Triceps/shoulders stretch: Place both arms over and behind your head. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and pull your elbow toward your opposite shoulder. Lean into the pull to stretch your back/oblique muscles. Switch arms and repeat.

    Chest/shoulders stretch: Grab on to a bar or wall with one hand, then turn and twist so you feel a stretch of the chest and shoulder connection. Pull your shoulders back and stick your chest out. Hold for 15 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.

    Techniques and workouts

    Go fast: For maximum points on the PFT, do the push-ups as quickly as you can. The slower you go, the more gravity will affect your strength. Adhere to proper form, however.

    Proper stance: Your hands should be about shoulder width apart. Lie on the floor with your hands even with your shoulders. Too many people place their hands too high or too low, which will weaken your push-ups tremendously.

    Stay on your toes: Once you burn out, it is OK to go to your knees in order to finish the workout.

    The following workouts are taken from the eBooks found at the Fitness eBook Store. Not only is the super set one of the best ways to increase your push-ups, but while you "rest" your push-up muscles, you also can increase your sit-ups.

    Push-up/crunch super set

    Do five to 10 cycles of:

    Regular push-ups, 10

    Regular crunches, 10

    Wide push-ups, 10

    Reverse crunches, 10

    Triceps push-ups, 10

    Left/right crunches, 10 each side

    The timed workout is another way to increase your push-ups and sit-ups that also helps prepare you for training with the clock -- good practice for the PFT. Being timed is what leads to most people's PFT anxiety.

    Timed workout

    Repeat twice:

    -- 1 minute of push-ups

    -- 1 minute of sit-ups

    Repeat three times:

    -- 30 seconds of push-ups

    -- 30 seconds of sit-ups

    Repeat four times:

    -- 15 seconds of push-ups

    -- 15 seconds of sit-ups

    Try these workouts only resting while you do your crunches or sit-ups. These workouts are challenging and only take a few minutes to do. Try to incorporate push-ups and crunches into your workout three times a week and every other day if you are not following a detailed program.

    Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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