When it comes to calisthenics, push-ups are one of the fundamental movements that needs to be mastered. In fact, the standard push-up is a basic stepping stone in any type of strength and conditioning training.

The usual push up technique involves elevating your body on your toes with your palms shoulder width apart on the ground whilst maintaining a straight back. You lower your body down until your chest get very close to touching the floor, you then use your chest and triceps to push yourself back up to the top.

The movement sounds pretty simple right?

Common Push Up Mistakes

Despite this, a lot of people’s push up form is incorrect. Some of the most common mistakes include a rounded arched back and the hips hitting the floor prior to the chest or vice-versa. Some people also get the hand placements wrong by going too wide.

This causes the elbows to flare out which can potentially be a dangerous position to be in. It also takes a lot of the pressure off the chest and shifts it to the shoulders. Alternatively, look to position your hands shoulder width apart with your elbows relatively close to your sides.

Different Types of Push-Ups

Push-ups are a great exercise, regardless of whether you’re a complete newbie or an advanced lifter. There are a few different ways you can utilize this movement to target more specific areas of the body including the shoulders, triceps and chest. (The standard push up is the best for hitting the chest).

Push ups for shoulders involve raising yourself up on your toes and pushing your hips up towards the ceiling. Place your hands slightly outside of shoulder width with your body in the shape of a V.

To target the triceps, your body is in the push up position but instead, your hands are much closer together with your fingers and thumbs forming a triangle shape beneath your body.

However, there’s another great method of doing push-ups that many people are unaware of…

Hollow-Back Push Ups

The hollow-back push up form is very unique in the sense that it’s largely based around the core. This method puts a ton of tension on your abdominals and as a result, more strain is put on to the chest, shoulder and tricep muscles.

Therefore an increased amount of stimulation occurs to these muscles which means better results. Although, it does add an element of difficulty to the exercise. If you’re struggling to complete normal push ups, you’d be better off implementing this variance once you’ve built up your strength a little more.

So, how do you perform the hollow-back push up?

Tighten your core and suck your stomach in as much as possible before getting your body into a normal push-up position. To begin with, there may be some discomfort from sucking your stomach in so much, but this is completely normal. It may take some time to get use to but once you nail it, you’ll discover it’s incredibly effective at keeping your waist tight! (Provided that your diet is intact).

You need to get your core as compact as it can possibly be throughout the entire range of motion. Brace your abs hard whilst keeping your stomach tucked in on the way down, but on the way up, once you reach the top of the movement, aim to crunch your abs even further by using your chest, triceps and shoulders to push into the ground as leverage – Tense your abs intensely at the end of every single rep.

If you’re doing it correctly, your upper body should be taxed after just a few reps!

Quality Over Quantity

In order to get the most out of hollow-back push ups, stray away from the idea of more reps equals a better workout. In this case, completing a focused 3-5 reps in a set can be more than enough to give your body a great training session.

Push ups are a fantastic way to get your core involved in your workouts without having to do as much direct ab work. Regular push ups recruit the abs in order to keep your back straight and your body stabilised, but the hollow-back technique takes things to a new level.

You’re engaging the core with exceptional intensity. This stress stays constant throughout every second of every rep you complete. This makes things a lot harder, which is the point. The more you can challenge your body, the more progress you’re going to see.

Ensure that you’re putting your maximum focus into each rep. There are multiple areas to think about including the scapula, back, chest, shoulders, triceps and abs!

If you’re having to perform 30+ reps to get a good workout from push-ups, it’s time to switch things up. Even if you’re not quite as experienced with bodyweight exercises, the hollow-back method is one of the best push ups to keep things interesting.

Give it a shot in your next workout and notice the huge difference these small changes to form can make!

Professional calisthenics athlete and coach. Adam take bits and pieces from all the different types of sports and training he’s done over the years. Check out his newest program:
Calisthenics LIVE.