Wiser words were never written. There is — literally — no value in trying to do fast what you cannot do slowly. This is vital when learning new movements, especially actions that are as complex and technical as kettlebells, body weight training, and martial arts. In our dojo, less than a quarter of the athletes can do perfect push-ups, and almost no one uses their breathing. This article from StrongFirst Coach Karen Smith is an excellent walk through the particulars of doing a perfect push-up. The principles apply to any movement you try to learn.
Pay close attention to her explanation of hand placement, the sensations and visualizations you should use, and the importance of keeping your elbows close to your body. (Here is another excellent review of why elbow placement and why it matters to both shoulder and elbow health.) I find that kids, in particular, do push-ups incorrectly, mostly at the behest of coaches and parents who themselves don’t do them correctly.
Like many complex activities, this is a walk-before-you-run progression. First master lowering yourself to the floor under control and with tension (called negative work); then working on the push up from the floor. If you cannot push yourself off the floor correctly, concentrate on negative reps (or elevate your upper body until you get to a height that allows you to do the movement right), because that will build strength more quickly than poorly done positive reps that do little more than heighten the risk of injury. You should be able to get to at least 5 sets of 10 perfect push-ups (instead of thinking of a set of 10, think of a set as having 10 perfect 1-rep movements), with power breathing a la Coach Smith, before you think about altering foot position (elevating your feet causes you to push more of your body weight from the floor), changing hand placement, adding a weight vest, or my favorite horribly taught movement…the explosive push-up. Most of these are coaching malpractice.
At the T-nation piece says, push-ups are not for rank beginners. They are one of the best and most productive whole body/body weight exercises you can do. You can do them anywhere and with enough variety that you’ll never get bored or fall into the chasm of being unproductive.
There’s no value in how heavy or how quickly you can do something, if you’re doing it all with poor technique.Any trainer or instructor can beat you into the ground using crazy moves and loads of volume with minimal rest, but will that actually get you stronger while keeping you safe and injury free? No! While you might initially make strength gains, the risk of injury is greater than the potential rewards—especially since you might get injured before you even reap those rewards.