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The Perfect Push-up: Mastering the Basics continued...

Ross agrees: "Body weight should be lifted by your arms, and don't use your butt or stomach or the lower half of your body to pull you up," he says.

The correct movement for the perfect push-up, he says, is smooth, "with no swaying of the hips as you go up and down."

Bottesch adds that it's also important to keep a straight line from your head down to your ankles when you're in the lifted position.

Another tip to get the most out of your push-ups: Don't let your chest actually touch the floor when you come down.

"Your chest should come within 2 to 3 inches of the floor. Put a textbook, a sneaker, a rolled-up sock underneath you, and when you touch it, it's time to go back up," says Ross, who was named ACE's 2008 personal trainer of the year.

Now if all this sounds a bit daunting for your out-of-shape body, fear not. There are ways to make push-ups easier while still gaining the benefits.

"If you're having trouble ... lifting the whole body in the proper alignment, you can do the same exercise, but do it on your knees," says Schlifstein. While you still need to keep a straight line from neck to torso, by engaging the knees you'll reduce your lifting load by about half.

For those looking to minimize tension on the wrist, Ross says a variation called the "knuckle push-up" can help. For this type of push-up, you close your hands and put your weight on your knuckles instead of your palms, avoiding the wrist extension motion. But be sure to do this type of push-up on a padded mat or carpet.

"Because there is clearly less fat on this part of the hand, you really do need to add some type of padding if you are going to try this," says Ross.

The Perfect Push-up: How-to's for Beginners

If you haven't done any kind of push-up -- let alone a perfect one -- since your high school gym teacher stood over you with a whistle and a scowl, don't worry. There are several ways to ease into doing push-ups.

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