Push-ups can be an intimidating exercise but they can also be a very effective and efficient addition to your program. They work to strengthen both the chest and the biceps, and since a push-up is essentially a moving plank you also get some core work in there too. If push-ups are such an excellent multi-tasking exercise, why do my clients look at me with a mix of apprehension and dread when I add them to their programs? Because they are hard. We don’t tend to spend a lot of time supporting a large portion of our body weight with our arms. At the outset, knocking out a set of full push-ups from your toes may seem like mission impossible. You may feel like you are more likely to do a face plant on your mat. One of the keys to conquering the push-up is patience. It takes time to build up the muscular strength and endurance to execute a full push-up. I am going to show you how to progress your push-ups gradually so they are a more manageable and far less intimidating exercise.
Push-ups require not only upper-body strength but also core strength to maintain the integrity of your spine throughout the exercise. Ensure you are able to keep your hips elevated and your low back flat throughout your push-up. We often have some muscle groups that are stronger than others. Your upper body may feel ready to progress the exercise but your core may not be there yet. Your body works as one unit and it is only as strong as its weakest muscle group. If you level up and find your hips sinking forward and your back arching, drop back to a previous modification that you could complete with good technique until your body is strong enough as a whole to move on.
1. The Incline Push-up
Using a sturdy piece of furniture—or even a wall—to do a standing version of a push-up is a great way to ease in. You support far less of your body weight on your arms from an incline position. It is easier on the wrists and shoulders, and also requires less core strength. The lower the piece of furniture is to the floor, the more parallel to the floor you become and the more challenging the exercise.
2. The Kneeling Push-up
Coming down to the mat for a kneeling push-up will require a bit more upper-body and core strength than the incline version, however, some of your body weight will be distributed to your legs. Ensure to slide your knees down the mat so that they are behind, and not directly under, your hips. Stacking your knees under your hips eliminates the core work and distributes very little weight into your upper body, making it an ineffective variation.
3. Split Push-up: One Knee, One Toes
The jump from a kneeling push-up right to a full push-up from the toes is often too much. A better progression is to keep one leg in a kneeling position. Remember to either do two sets, switch the kneeling leg for the second set, or to swap out the leg position halfway through a single set.
4. Full Push-ups
Full push-ups from the toes. Even after a series of progression, it may be hard to complete a full set from the toes. You can always start in a full push-up and adjust when you can’t maintain good form any longer. Do as many as you can from your toes and then drop down to a split push-up to finish out the set. Over time, you will be able to do more and more from your toes, and eventually, you won’t need to drop down to that modified variation at all.
5. Side-plank Push-up Combo
Once that full push-up isn’t enough of a challenge anymore you want to add on and keep challenging your body. Here is my favorite push up combo and another great way to multi-task. Starting in a side plank, gently lower into a front plank, and then into a push-up. Press back into a side plank and repeat. It will challenge your balance as well as targeting the obliques and chest.
Choose a variation that works for your body and current strength level. With a little patience and perseverance, you will be knocking out those push-ups and feeling like a badass!