Finally master the mechanics of this notoriously challenging full-body burner. Then take things up a notch.
Build Your Foundation
Nailing perfect push-up form is deceptively tough. “I always see people doing pushups incorrectly, which can make the exercise feel harder and lead to injury,” says Joel Seedman, PhD, owner of Advanced Human Performance in Atlanta. So before attempting the move full out, use these beginner exercises to practice proper positioning and strengthen the main muscles involved in push-ups. Do three sets of eight reps of each exercise (if you can) three or four times a week, and you’ll be doing a perfect push-up from your toes in no time.
Start On Your Back
Single-arm dumbbell presses (with your back on the floor and knees bent, or on a bench with feet on the floor) challenge the core and chest and test your stability in the same ways push-ups do, says Seedman.
Find An Incline
Place your hands at bellybutton height on a barbell on a Smith machine at the gym or put them on a countertop at home. “The higher up the hands are relative to the feet, the easier the push-up motion will be,” Seedman says. (As that angle becomes easier, move the bar on the Smith machine to a lower notch, or find a lower surface in your home.)
Lower Your Knees
This obvious modification is surprisingly challenging when done correctly. “It’s only about 20 percent easier than a full push-up,” Seedman points out. Elevate your feet off the floor, as opposed to leaving them resting on the ground, Seedman says. This forces you to work harder to engage your core, and it pushes the torso forward into the correct position for a full push-up.
Increase Your Repetitions
If you can do five to 10 full push-ups with proper form, “you’re at the intermediate stage,” says Tony Gentilcore, a Boston-based certified strength and conditioning specialist. Now you’re ready for quality and quantity.
Work Around The Clock
Tally 20 push-ups over the course of the day, every day, to build the endurance to do 20 all at once. Break them into sets of five, spread out however you want.
Switch The Rhythm
“Lower yourself down for three seconds, then push back up for one,” suggests Gentilcore. “This variation is tougher, so you may only be able to do a few reps.”
Fire Up Your Core
The top of a push-up is essentially an isometric plank. Add planks to your routine to build the ab strength needed for push-ups.
You can already bang out 20 amazing push-ups? Boost the intensity with these variations that manipulate your own body weight or introduce resistance tools.
Carry Extra Weight
Loop a resistance band around your upper back and hold in each hand to increase tension as you lift the body up, Gentilcore suggests.
Try a Body Saw
Place one hand on a sliding disk, and slide your arm out as you do the push-up, pulling it back in as you return to the starting position. “This forces some of your body weight farther away from your center of gravity, making the move harder,” Gentilcore says.
Lift Your Legs
Elevate your feet on a box or bench. “This increases the range of motion,” says Seedman, “and targets the upper chest a bit more, so even at the top of the exercise, you never feel like you’re resting.”