Tactical Fitness with Stew Smith: How to Develop the Proper Push-up Posture

A senior airman completes one minute of traditional push-ups during a physical fitness test.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Allen Santos, of the 129th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, completes one minute of traditional push-ups during a physical fitness test at Moffett Air National Guard Base, California, Nov. 18, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Crystal Housman/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

Dear Stew:

Could you give me some tips for proper pushups? I will be leaving for AF BMT sometime in the next couple of months, and I want to achieve the Warhawk PT standard.

I can't seem to do pushups correctly; my back always has a slight curve, especially near my shoulder blades. I'm really skinny, and I don't know if that contributes to my posture or not. No matter what I do, the pushups that I do don't look correct if I look at 'correct' pushups on the web.

I put my hands directly underneath my shoulders so that my hands are nearly incline with my shoulders, slightly to the outside, and to where my arms form a slight V. I've stretched my body as straight as possible, I'm 6'1", but my back still has a curve that doesn't look right. I've done a few that look 'good,' but I can never replicate the technique.

It is a great goal to want to achieve Warhawk standards – the highest level you can achieve in Air Force physical training – and thanks for choosing to serve. Too many people set their goal as the minimum fitness standards, and that can come back to haunt them later in basic military training (BMT). But, it does sound like you are doing the correct placement of your hands for push-ups. I would venture to say it is more of a muscle imbalance in your upper or lower back. 

One program you should add to your routine 4-5 days a week is the Lower Back Plan. It works the abdominal muscles, lower and upper back in a 10- to 15-minute circuit. Some exercises that will help you the most include the plank pose, reverse push-ups and birds.

Stew Smith, plank pose
Stew Smith, revpushup
Stew Smith, bird pose

These specific exercises will strengthen your upper and lower back safely, and after a few weeks or a month, you will see a difference in your push-ups. Any time you do push-ups, you should balance your upper body with these exercises and add pull-ups for more push-to-pull balance.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

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