How to Do CPR

Step by Step with Tips for Success

There is no substitute for learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but emergencies don't wait for training. These instructions are for conventional adult CPR. If you've never been trained in CPR and the victim collapsed in front of you, use hands-only CPR.

For kids, use the following guidelines:

  • Infant CPR for kids under 1 year.
  • Child CPR for kids 1-8 years old.

1. Shake and Shout

Group of people watching CPR demonstration
vm/Getty Images

What to Do:

Grasp by the shoulders and shake briskly to wake the patient. If the patient doesn't wake up with a good, loud "shake and shout," move on to step 2.

Don't spend a lot of time trying to wake the patient. If it doesn't work with five seconds of trying, move on to the next step. You can't hurt the patient with CPR, but if he needs CPR and you don't give it to him, he'll die.

What You're Doing:

The idea is to try the least invasive treatment for the patient before moving on to something more aggressive. This is old school and it went out of favor for a while dueo to the possibility of neck injuries. The reality is that neck injuries are both very uncommon and very unlikely to be aggravated by this maneuver.

Try a quick shake and shout, but don't let this step get in the way of the more important steps coming up next. If the patient isn't responding, call for help.

2. Call 911

woman calling 911
Call for help before beginning CPR. Bicek Photography

What to Do:

Call 911 if the patient doesn't wake up after shaking and shouting. Follow the instructions given by the dispatcher on the other end of the phone (if they do give you instructions). If they don't provide instructions, continue to the next step.

What You're Doing:

Whenever you have an unconscious adult patient, the ambulance is the first thing you want on the way. Even before starting CPR, you need to call 911 and get help started your way. Without an ambulance to get the patient and transport him to the right hospital, None of the stuff on this list will help much.

3. Push on the Chest

CPR Hand Placement
Place hands on breastbone between the nipples. (c) Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What to Do:

Imagine a line between the nipples and put your hands on the center of the chest right below that line. Push hard and fast—about twice per second.

If you have not had CPR training, keep pushing on the chest until help arrives or the patient wakes up and tells you to stop.

If you have had CPR training, push on the chest 30 times then give two rescue breaths--see this reminder on how to do mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. Repeat cycles of 30 chest compressions and two breaths until help arrives or the patient wakes up.

What You're Doing:

Compressing the chest moves blood through the brain, keeping it alive until the heart can get started again. It's really important to keep the blood flowing without interruption. Any delay in pushing on the chest (or any pause of more than a few seconds) also significantly affects how well blood flows.

Almost as important as how deep and how fast you compress the chest, releasing the chest after each push is also critical. Your hands shouldn't bounce, but you should lift your entire body weight off the patient in between each compression.

Tips for Performing Good CPR

woman doing CPR on man
Press hard and fast in the middle of the chest. Bicek Photography
  1. Chest compressions are extremely important. If you are not comfortable giving rescue breaths, still perform chest compressions! It's called Hands Only CPR.

    Watch the Hands Only CPR Video.

  2. If the victim is breathing, briskly rub your knuckles against the victim's sternum. If the victim does not wake, call 911.

    If the victim wakes up, but is confused or not able to speak, call 911.

  3. This is not a substitute for actual CPR training. Find a CPR class and get proper training.

    Not every CPR class is the same. There are CPR classes for healthcare professionals as well as CPR classes for the layperson. Before you take a CPR class, make sure the class is right for you.

  4. For more information on these steps go to the Emergency Cardiac Care (ECC) Guidelines from the American Heart Association.


Kleinman, M., Brennan, E., Goldberger, Z., Swor, R., Terry, M., & Bobrow, B. et al. (2015). Part 5: Adult Basic Life Support and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Quality. Circulation132(18 suppl 2), S414-S435. doi:10.1161/cir.0000000000000259