Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Fitness health centre

Doing the perfect press-up

Could the press-up be the ’perfect exercise’? Here's what it can do for you and how to get it right.
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

While fitness fads come and go, some types of exercise transcend trends. Among them is the press-up - sometimes known as the push-up - which uses your own body weight along with gravity to tone and condition muscles. With good reason, fitness experts have called the press-up the closest thing there is to a perfect exercise.

Fitness trainers say that one of the reasons the press-up has endured for so long is it's cheap, it's easy and it doesn't require any equipment. “The press-up is excellent for building upper body strength and endurance and it’s also fantastic for core stability,” according to Simon Richman, fitness manager at British Military Fitness.

Richman is not alone. Other experts are convinced that, when it comes to upper body exercise, the press-up is tough to beat. “The press-up is a ‘must-do’ move”, says London-based personal trainer and fitness writer, Laura Williams. “It's a highly effective compound move which means that it uses more than one joint and therefore multiple muscle groups. This makes it a time-efficient exercise too.”

The press-up exercises the major muscle groups, the chest and triceps. But every muscle between the shoulders and the toes is also engaged, including the all important core muscles in the abdomen, the legs and the hips.

Press-ups can really benefit women. They “tone the pectoral muscles which lie underneath the breasts. Strong pecs provide a good strong surface for breast tissue to sit on”, says Williams. “They also work the triceps, the muscles at the backs of the arms, which is an area a lot of women struggle with”, she adds.

The perfect push-up: mastering the basics

Although there are many variations on the push-up, the basic principle remains the same: engage your upper back, shoulders and arms to lift your body weight off the floor, then slowly lower it back down. While that sounds simple, experts say there's plenty of room for mistakes.

There are a number of errors that people commonly make when doing a press-up, according to Richman, whose organisation runs fitness courses staffed by serving or former members of the armed forces throughout the UK. Failing to go all the way down and all the way up is one. The other common mistake Richman sees is poor body alignment. This means they “don’t get the full benefits of the exercise, and in some cases this could cause injury to the lower back”.

Fitness trainer, Laura Williams, admits she can’t commit to five hours in the gym every week and says she doesn’t see why her clients should either. So, for her, the press-up is a useful tool. She has these golden rules for her clients:

  • Maintain a straight back - don’t allow the back to arch
  • Keep the abdominals tight throughout the move
  • Take care of your joints - don’t lock the elbows, keep the hands and fingers facing forward and position the wrists underneath the shoulders

Diet and weight loss newsletter

Weight loss tips delivered to your inbox
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
Treating your child's cold or fever
fifth disease
Illnesses every parent should know
spoonfull of sugar
Surprising things that harm your liver
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
What your nails say about your health