Push-Up Form Guide: The Truth About Chest-to-Ground Contact

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If you’re performing basic push ups for fitness purposes then your chest should touch the ground. In fact, your chest should be the ONLY part of your body to touch the ground (hands and toes excluded of course).

The “Standard” Fitness Push Up

A Group of People Performing Push Ups on a Football Field

For an exercise that is so simplistic in nature there’s actually a lot of technical points to cover with the push up.

I’m sure if you’ve been performing push ups for any length of time, you’re used to just dropping to the ground and pumping out X amount of reps.

This is all well-and-good, but in order to get the best out of the movement there are various checkpoints to cover.

These include:

  • Getting into the push up position with your hands approximately shoulder-width apart and directly below your shoulders.
  • Having the hands turned out every so slightly so your index fingers are pointing straight ahead.
  • Keeping a natural head position so you’re staring directly at the floor.
  • Tightening and contracting just about every muscle in the body, paying special attention to the core and glutes.
  • When you lower yourself, do so in a slow and controlled manner, and ensure that you keep your body stiff and moving as one unit.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked in tight, close to your sides.
  • Allowing your chest to lightly brush the ground.
  • Finally exploding back up to the top of the movement.

There’s actually quite a lot to take into consideration for such a “simple” exercise.

If you adhere to everything I’ve just mentioned you’ll definitely get the best out of push ups.

Plus, I can guarantee that you won’t be pumping out as many reps as you usually do.

So, for me, YES, the chest should touch the ground during push ups.

However, even then it’s still not as simple as it sounds.

I see nothing wrong with coming to a dead-stop at the bottom of the push up before you explode back up.

But, you’re not looking to completely rest the chest against the ground, as this is basically cheating.

By doing so you break constant tension, and in effect you are breaking the push up into two different stages instead of one fluid movement.

Now don’t me wrong, if you’re performing hand-release push ups, then yes you do actually “rest” your entire body against the ground as you remove the hands from the floor.

But, when it comes to standard push ups in a fitness environment you just want to lightly brush your chest against the floor.

As I say, this ensures you keep constant tension of the muscles.

Plus, this allows you to perform push ups as one fluid movement.

You stick to all of these points and you should find that your muscle, strength, and general conditioning come on in leaps and bounds.

Should Your Nose Touch The Ground?

A Woman in a gym performing Push Ups on dumbbells with her nose almost touching the ground

Something that I’ve often heard people ask is whether their nose should touch the ground during push ups.

And I must admit that I’ve been guilty of doing this in the past.

I guess the reasoning here is that push ups should be performed while looking at the ground directly below you.

Some people have a tendency to jut the chin forward, typically as a form of protection for the face.

However, this can often lead to problems with the neck when performing push ups.

I would also say that the “requirement for protection” could be because you’re doing push ups too fast.

Once again, the need to pump out as many push ups as possible, often without adhering to strict form.

In reality, unless you’re Pinocchio, your nose shouldn’t actually come anywhere close to the ground.

And I feel I can say that (and get away with it) because I don’t exactly have the smallest nose in the world.

So, as long as you have hit all the technical areas I’ve described above, your chest will definitely reach the ground before your nose, or even your head (as I have witnessed in some cases).

Plus, if you’re performing your push ups in a slow and controlled manner, you won’t need to worry about smashing your nose or face into the ground and injuring yourself.

Not All Push Up Standards Are The Same

I’ve spoken so far about the basic push up performed for everyday fitness.

However, depending on your reason for doing push ups there could be different standards that you adhere to.

Probably the most common of these will be a military-style push up.

I have often heard an army push up described as having more focus on the triceps.

So, rather than feeling push ups in your chest you should feel them more in the arms.

Basically, your hands should be closer together than the basic push up and you really need to ensure that your elbows stay as close as possible to your sides.

With that being said, upon closer inspection, I have never found any mention of this “closer-hands” strategy when it comes to doing military push ups.

The only real difference is that you need to get your upper arms parallel to the ground during a military push up.

Therefore, this does provide some leeway in terms of the chest not having to touch the ground.

Another example where push up standards may be slightly different is when they are performed competition-style.

I know I have seen many fitness challenges and martial arts training sessions where a second person makes a fist and places the bottom of their hand against the ground.

The idea is that the person performing push ups should have their chest touch the top of the other person’s fist.

In effect, they are stopping 2-3 inches short of touching their chest to the ground.

So, this is similar to the military standard, as the bottom of the push up will see their upper arms parallel to the ground.

Final Thoughts

Your chest should touch the ground when you perform basic fitness push ups. You should avoid your nose or head coming into contact with the ground and perform your push ups in a slow and controlled manner. Military or competition-style push ups may vary, and the standard requires that your upper arms are parallel to the ground at the bottom of the movement. This will typically mean that your chest is at least a couple of inches short of touching the ground.

Next, if you’re looking to take your bodyweight training to a whole new level, discover what I have to say about JUST doing push ups, pull ups and squats.

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