What is the best position for your arms and hands when doing push-ups?

I'm wondering the angle of your arms, both forward (towards your head) and sideways (how wide to open arms). Also, should the hands be pointing straight forward? Fingers stretched open or close together?

I've noticed these all factor in terms of how many push-ups I can accomplish and the movement of shoulders and elbows.

3 Answers 3


Good question - and the answer is that there is NO perfect position for your hands/arms, varying positions work/focus on various muscles. Here's a link to an article on some of them: http://www.baseops.net/basictraining/pushups.html

The idea is not how many you can do, it's how many you can do that focus on the muscles you want to focus on. Very basic push is starting chest on the floor, hands on either side of your chest with fingers close and pointing forward (replicates a barbell press). enter image description here

  • This is all good except the comparison to the barbell press in relation to the picture. When you have heavy weight, it is important to keep your elbows in to protect your shoulder girdle. Elbows out can increase the chance of damaging your rotator cuff.
    – michael
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 13:25
  • @michael Good point. It would make sense if Meade meant a bench press. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 14:50
  • 1
    I did mean a bench press - sorry for not being clearer (as opposed to military/overhead press). The bench press elbow position 'should' be between 90 degrees out down to about 45 degrees, depending on what muscles you're focusing on (and who you listen to) Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 16:09
  • I see that there are varying opinions on different websites, but I have been taught (and experienced first hand) that >45 endangers your shoulders during bench press. I can't find a definitive source unfortunately.
    – michael
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:06

There are a lot of push up variations you can do and they all stress different muscle systems. Doing pushups with the elbows flared out isn't a good idea since it will put a lot of stress on your rotator cuffs. You also won't activate your chest fully that way.

Elbows too flared

enter image description here

Instead you want your elbows to at more of a neutral angle, not too flared but also not too tucked in. If your elbows are really tucked in you will shift the focus more on your triceps. The fingers aren't that important, what's more important is your wrist. You want that to be as straight as possible.


Long Explanation on overall push up form.

Quick push up form demonstration.


There are several different pushup variations out there and most of them provide a unique advantage. Different forms of the pushup can affect different areas of the body, so the proper technique all depends on what results you are looking for. If you are working on your chest which is why most people start doing pushups in the first place then the standard pushup is fine for that. But for a more intense chest workout elevate your feet on a stable surface, and do the pushups as slowly as possible. For different pushups variations check out http://www.propushups.com/different-types-of-pushups

  • Good advice but broken link. Commented May 18, 2012 at 19:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.