Pushups and Tips for Beginners

While you may be familiar with standard pushups, there are many variations that may help you get started, progress, or increase difficulty.

Try doing a set of 10 to 15 of each exercise, rest, and then do another set of 10 to 15.

Performing fewer pushups with correct form will be better over time than completing many with poor form.

Here are five pushup variations that increase in difficulty.

Wall pushups

Doing a standing pushup against the wall is a good starting place if you’re new to this move. By standing, you put less pressure on your joints.

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand about an arm’s length away from a wall.
  2. Place your palms on the wall as you lean forward into a standing plank position. Your arms should be shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale as you bend your elbows and slowly move your upper body toward the wall while keeping your feet flat on the ground.
  4. Hold this position for a second or two.
  5. Exhale and use your arms to push your body slowly back to your starting position.

Change it up

As you get more comfortable, you can try one-handed wall pushups. Follow all the instructions above, but alternate sets by placing one arm bent behind you with the outside of your hand on the small of your back. You could also alternate keeping one arm at your side as you pushup with the other.

Read more: Wall pushup variations to strengthen chest, shoulders, and back

Seated push-ups

To work on stability in your shoulders, try pushups from a seated position.

  1. Sit on a bench with your palms down, arms at your side. Your feet should rest comfortably on the ground with your knees bent.
  2. Using your arms, push down into your palms so that your body lifts up — still in the seated position. Your hips and butt should be just a half inch or so off the bench.
  3. Lower back down to your starting position and repeat.

Kneeling pushups

Balancing on your knees instead of your feet is another good modification while you build your strength.

  1. Begin in a hands and knees position with your gaze at the floor.
  2. Place your hands on the ground on either side of your shoulders. Your knees should be at a comfortable distance apart.
  3. Inhale as you slowly lower your elbows to bring your chest toward the ground. Be sure to keep your core muscles contracted.
  4. Pause for a second in the lowered position — your chin may lightly touch the ground.
  5. Exhale as you push up from the ground to your starting position.

Another way to start this pushup is to begin by laying on your stomach. Bend your knees so your feet are up in the air, then push with your hands into position on your knees.

Standard pushups

Fully extending your legs increases the difficulty of this move by adding more body weight. One study showed that the “ground reaction force” or how much weight you push is 64 percent of your body weight with standard pushups. To compare, a kneeling pushup is 49 percent.

  1. Begin with your chest and stomach flat on the floor. Your legs should be straight out behind you and your palms should be at chest level with the arms bent out at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Exhale as you push from your hands and heels, bringing your torso, chest, and thighs off the ground.
  3. Pause for a second in the plank position — keep your core engaged.
  4. Inhale as you slowly lower back to your starting position.

Another great variation of the standard pushup is a pushup with hip abduction. Follow the same instructions as a standard pushup, but lift your left leg off the ground as you lower. Move it slightly further out than your hips and keep your foot flexed. Then repeat on the other side after switching legs from the plank position.

Incline pushups

If you want to really challenge your upper body, try incline pushups. You’ll need a stable surface on which to place your hands.

  1. Place your hands on the edge of the elevated surface. A bench, step, or other sturdy platform are good options.
  2. Step your feet back so your legs are straight and your arms are perpendicular to your body.
  3. Inhale as you slowly lower your chest to the edge of your platform.
  4. Pause for a second.
  5. Exhale as you push back to your starting position with your arms fully extended.

You can further increase difficulty by using a medicine ball, BOSU or balance ball, or suspension trainer. Doing so will make your body work harder to stabilize, taxing muscles even more.

Shop for exercise balls and accessories online here.

How To Do A Push-Up

Push-ups are a fantastic exercise! It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting out on your fitness journey or you are looking for a new challenge, it’s good to know how to do a push-up (which you might also call press ups!).

I’ve taught you how to do chin-ups, so now I’m going to explain how you can work up to a full push-up. PLUS, I’ll give you a few tips on ways you can make push-ups harder!
Jump to:

  • How to do a push-up
  • Push-ups for beginners
  • Incline push-up
  • Push-up progression
  • Why can’t you do push-ups?
  • My final push-up tip

How to do a push-up

Just like any exercise, you need to make sure it is being done the right way, otherwise you may increase the risk of an injury.

This is how to do it with the correct push-up form:

  1. Place both hands on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart and both feet together behind you, resting on the balls of your feet. This is your starting position.

  2. While maintaining a straight back and stabilising through your abdominals, bend your elbows and lower your torso towards the floor until your arms form two 90-degree angles.

  3. Push through your chest and extend your arms to lift your body back into starting position.


To make sure you’re on track with your form, you can also read this list of things to avoid when doing a push-up!

While push-ups are an upper body exercise, they also a great way to challenge your core! When doing this exercise, it’s important that your body forms one straight line from your head through to your heels. What I mean is that you should try to avoid ‘sagging’ through your lower back or sticking your butt up in the air while doing them.

When doing any variation of a push-up, whether on your knees or toes, it’s important that you keep your core activated. A helpful way to do this is to imagine that you are drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Ensure that your chin also remains tucked into your chest so that your neck is long and an extension of your spine.

Because push-ups are a bodyweight exercise, you can do them anywhere! That makes them perfect for squeezing in a workout on holidays, if you’re travelling for work or you love a budget-friendly workout routine!

Photo: Twenty20

Avoiding push-ups like they’re the plague? We don’t blame you — the bodyweight exercise is daunting if you’re new to fitness. But if you’re reaching for any crazy excuse to skip this bootcamp favorite, you might be cheating yourself out of a seriously effective workout.

RELATED: Hate Crunches? 6 Better Core Exercises for Beginners

The push-up is actually an ideal movement for beginners, says Michelle Hobgood, MS, Daily Burn Fitness/Nutrition coach. “It targets your chest, shoulders, triceps, core and legs,” she says. Translation: No muscle group goes untouched!

And truth is, there are plenty of ways to modify the movement to your skill level. You’re much better off completing a few sets of modified push-ups with proper technique than struggling through regular push-ups with incorrect form. By placing your hands on a wall or bench or bringing your knees to the floor, you’ll reduce the amount of bodyweight you’re pushing, making the movement the right amount of challenging. Everyone has to start somewhere, and we’ve got just the moves to help you work your way up to the standard push-up. Our motto: Stronger every day.

3 Beginner-Friendly Push-Up Modifications

If you can’t bust out perfect push-ups, one of these three modifications might be your best starting point, Hobgood says. Listed from easiest to hardest, it’s up to you which path you take!

RELATED: Taking the First Step With Fitness: Daily Burn True Beginner

1. Push-Up in Table Top

Not everyone can support their full body weight at first, and that’s OK. This variation will help lighten your load so you can effectively develop your upper body strength.

How to: Start on your hands and knees in table top position. With your arms straight, your shoulders should be over your wrists and your hips should be over your knees (a). Bend your elbows and lower your upper body slowly to the ground (b). When your nose reaches the floor, press up with your arms and return to the starting position (c). Perform three sets of 8-10 reps.

Coach says: You should start to feel the burn midway through the second set. If you are still struggling, Hobgood recommends performing the incline push-up (third option) on a wall. Breezing through your sets? Try the push-up on knees variation below.

2. Push-Up on Knees

By putting some of your weight on your knees, you’ll be able to safely and effectively perform this beginner-friendly modification.

How to: Begin on your hands and knees in a modified plank position. Your arms should be straight, with your shoulders above your wrists. Rest your knees on the ground (preferably with a towel or mat beneath them), legs together, with your feet suspended in the air (a). Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, while maintaining a straight line from the crown of your head to your knees (b). Next, press upwards, engaging your chest and core (c). Complete three sets of 8-10 reps.

Coach says: You should feel challenged midway through set number two. If you’re hardly breaking a sweat, try the incline push-ups below.

RELATED: 3 Quick HIIT Workouts for Beginners

3. Incline Push-Up

Look ma, no knees! Find a sturdy box, chair or other elevated surface to perform this modification — the taller it is, the easier the movement will be (and vice versa).

How to: Start by placing your hands roughly shoulder-width apart on the box or elevated surface. Engage your core so your body forms a straight line from head to toe, and keep your legs together. Your arms should be straight but not locked (a). Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the box (b). Next, press upwards and engage your chest and core (c). Complete three sets of 8-10 reps.

Coach says: Not feeling the burn midway through the second set? If you’re breezing through but still can’t perform standard push-ups, increase to 15 reps per set or find a lower, more challenging surface for your incline push-ups.

Push-Ups: Assessing Your Progress

Standard Push-Up

Mastered the exercises above? It’s time to try the real deal.

How to: Begin in a plank position with your arms straight. Your shoulders should be over your wrists and your body should form a straight line from head to toe. Keep your core engaged and don’t let your hips sag (a). Next, slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest towards the floor (b). Then, press upwards back to plank position (c). Complete three sets of 8-10 push-ups.

Coach says: If you’re struggling before the end of your second set, make note of how many push-ups you completed with solid form (so you have a number to beat next time!). Then, drop to your knees or do another modification above to finish off your reps.

Want more beginner-friendly workouts? To try True Beginner free for 30 days, head to DailyBurn.com/truebeginner.

Note to reader: The content in this article relates to the core service offered by Daily Burn. In the interest of editorial disclosure and integrity, the reader should know that this site is owned and operated by Daily Burn.

Originally published August 2015. Updated October 2016.

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Don’t be that girl who cheats on the push-ups while everyone else in your fitness class pounds out a set. It won’t help you learn the proper move, which, when done right, can tone your core, arms, chest, and back all at once.

Use these modifications to perfect your form and build the strength you need to do a real push-up. The series is designed and demonstrated by Lyzabeth Lopez, Toronto-based fitness trainer and creator of the Hourglass Workout, who can do a real push-up just fine:

Kathleen Kamphausen

Start with the beginner’s move, and complete 8 to 10 reps two to three times a week until you feel strong enough to progress to the next level. Continue to practice and move on to to higher levels until you can complete a regular push-up.

For Beginners: Baby Box
Get onto your hands and knees with your palms on the floor, your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, and your fingers facing forward. Keeping your spine straight and shoulders away from your ears, bend your elbows and hinge at the hip to lower your chest toward the ground until your forehead nearly touches the floor. Press into your palms to extend your elbows and bring your upper body back to starting position.

Kathleen Kamphausen

For Intermediate-Beginners: Modified Push-Up
Get into plank position with your palms on the floor, your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, and your fingers facing forward. Gently drop both knees to the ground. Keeping your spine straight and shoulders away from your ears, bend your elbows to lower your body in a straight line toward the ground until your forehead nearly touches the floor. Press into your palms to extend your elbows and bring your body back to starting position.

Kathleen Kamphausen

For Intermediates: Half Push-Up
Get into plank position with your palms on the floor, your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, and your fingers facing forward. Your feet should be hips-width apart, and your body should form a straight line between the top of your head and your heels. Keeping your shoulders away from your ears, bend your elbows to lower your body in a straight line toward the ground until your forehead nearly touches the floor. Gently drop your knees to the ground. Then press into your palms to extend your elbows and bring your body back to starting position.

Kathleen Kamphausen

For Masters: The Push-Up
Get into plank position with your palms on the floor, your wrists directly beneath your shoulders, and your fingers facing forward. Your feet should be hips-width apart, and your body should form a straight line between the top of your head and your heels. Keeping your shoulders away from your ears, bend your elbows to lower your body in a straight line toward the ground until your forehead nearly touches the floor. Then press into your palms to extend your elbows and bring your body back to starting position.

Kathleen Kamphausen

Lyzabeth is wearing a Patterned Tank, H&M, $15; Grey Shorts, REEBOK, $35; Light Blue Shoes, NEW BALANCE, $110; with makeup by Shawnte Alexander and hair by Stephanie Cannone, both for Glamsquad.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter.

Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t want big pecs and even bigger arms? With so many push up variations to choose from, sometimes it’s hard to tell which muscles are worked with push ups. We are here to help the lift the cloud of confusion.

One of the most basic – yet most effective – calisthenics exercise is push up. Much like the bench press, everyone thinks they can do it well but in reality, not many people perform them correctly, therefore people see results much later than they should.

Read on to find out how to perform push ups with the correct form and see which version is actually the hardest to perform.

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Warm up and useful accessories

You’d think you don’t need to warm up for bodyweight exercises but this mentality couldn’t be further from the truth. Bodyweight exercises provide ample amount of resistance; just think about the amount of people you know who can do even just one set of eight reps of pull ups. There aren’t many, are there?

The main reason to warm up is to bring your heart rate up a bit. This will A) make you less likely to experience fatigue early on the workout and B) will help you burn fat more efficiently. Keeping your heart rate in the right zone and paying attention to its movement can help you survive workouts much easier.

Probably the best way to keep track of your heart rate is to wear a running watch (or exercise watch or multi-sport watch – same difference). These wearable devices can track a variety of exercises (the Polar Ignite can tracks salsa dancing and the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is particularly good for golfing) and by paying attention to your HR during exercising, you can avoid the common pitfall of getting tired two minutes in the workout.

Since we all get bored during exercising, it’s also a good idea to get a pair of decent headphones for running (or workout – same difference). Listening to music can further motivate you during workouts and help you push through tough periods which will inevitably come at some point.

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Keep your elbows tucked in and your core engaged

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to do a push up

Starting position is arms extended and shoulder-width apart whilst you are facing the floor. Make sure your palms are directly under your shoulders on the floor. Core and glutes engaged, back straight. It is very important to keep the core engaged all the way through the full motion. Don’t let your hip drop and ‘sag in the middle’ or push your bum out as you bend your elbows.

Another very important aspect is the position of the elbows as you bend them. Don’t let them stick out, keep them tucked in close to your body. That will work your triceps more and give you big pecs as well as big arms.

At the lowest position, your nose should almost touch the floor and again, your body should be straight. In this position, if someone would place a bowl of water on your back and the liquid in it should be level. That is unless you are aren’t doing decline push ups because then you’d get your head wet. Why would anyone want to do that?

Concentrate on the correct form all the way through and the slower you perform the press up, the more efficiently you work your muscles. Within reason, of course, there is no need to play statues here.

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The medicine ball incline press up is particularly fun to do

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Push up variations and alternatives

We’ll get around analysing these, too.

  • Incline push up: this variety works the back and lower chest muscles more. With incline push ups, your upper body is elevated compared to your legs. You can use anything to elevate your body, like a chair, a box or a bar.
  • Decline push up: in this variation, your legs are elevated, putting more pressure on the shoulders. the higher the elevation, the more it works your shoulders (and less the pecs).
  • Pike push up: do this version if you would like to work out your shoulders. The starting pose is a downward-facing dog yoga position, when you stick your bum up in the air. This is a great exercise if you want to work on your shoulders but haven’t got a dumbbell or barbell.
  • Diamond push up: a real triceps killer, this variation is considered one of the hardest to perform correctly. Your hands are kept close to each other, in fact, your index fingers and thumbs touch, forming a diamond shape. Keep your elbows tucked and really concentrate on your triceps muscles as your perform push ups.
  • Stability ball incline/decline push up: this version will engage your core more since you have to keep yourself steady on a huge ball. Your legs are rested on a stability ball, and although there are different sizes, your feet will most likely be in a higher position compared to your shoulders. If you find it difficult, you can rest your knees on the balls as opposed to your feet.
  • Medicine ball incline push up: diamond push up has nothing on this version. You not only have to work your triceps more to push yourself up (hands being closer together), you also have to balance on a medicine ball while you do so.
  • Clapping push up: an explosive variation, great for HIIT workouts. As you push yourself up, you do it with such force that your hands leave the ground so you can clap in the air before placing your hands back on the floor. Easier said than done.
  • Single arm push up: the ultimate swagger! Place the weight-bearing hand on the floor so it’s under the mid-line of your chest. Place your legs further apart to give yourself some extra room to stabilise your body.

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The exercise known as a pushup (also called press-up) is one of the most common and popular upper body exercises, and is performed by a variety of people, from schoolchildren in physical education classes to athletes training for the Olympics. There are a large number of pushup variations you can use to strengthen, build and tone your upper body muscles, making the pushup one of the most versatile body weight exercises around.

Multiple Muscles

If you’re looking to exercise multiple muscles at once, then the pushup is the one for you. A pushup is a closed chain compound exercise, which means that your body is in contact with the floor and more than one joint is involved at the same time. Pushups involve horizontal flexion of the shoulder joint and extension of the elbow, which utilizes the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid and triceps respectively. When you perform pushups, your abdominal muscles keep your spine rigid, while the hip flexor muscles — the iliopsoas — and the quadriceps of the thighs hold your legs in place.

Your Choice

You won’t know which to choose first. There are many pushup variations for you to try. While all of the variations involve the muscles of the chest, shoulders and arms, different variations stress these muscles to greater or lesser degrees.

In diamond pushups, placing your hands together while performing the exercise puts an emphasis on the triceps at the back of your arm. In foot-elevated pushups, placing your feet on a raised platform (for example, a chair or exercise bench) will put more weight on your hands and make the exercise more challenging. In wide pushups, the wider your hands are, the greater the range of movement at the shoulders and the more work will be required from your chest and shoulder muscles. Try placing your hands 1.5 shoulder widths apart. In stability ball pushups, placing your hands or feet on a stability ball increases the balance demand and can help improve shoulder and core stability by making your limbs wobble.

Handstand pushups are demanding exercises performed in a vertical handstand position, either balanced against a wall or unsupported. These pushups emphasize your shoulders and are a very advanced variation.

The Wow Factor

Variety is the spice of life, so make pushups more demanding by performing them using other training equipment. Wearing a weighted vest adds more resistance to your pushups, as does holding a rubber exercise band behind your back. Pushups can also be performed using special pushup handles, which can increase the depth of your pushup and make the exercise more demanding.

The Glory

The “Guinness Book of World Records” has published the names of the most notable pushup artists in the world. For the most pushups in five minutes: 441, to be exact, was won by Giuseppe Cusano in 2003. Charles Servizio holds the record for most pushups in 24 hours: 46,001. The non-stop pushup title went to Minoru Yoshida in 1980 for 10,507. And in 1989, Paddy Doyle was recognized for the most pushups completed in a year: 1,500,230.

Pushup Standards

Pushups are used to assess fitness and strength in branches of the military, the police and the fire service. Performance is graded according to age and gender, but participants are expected to be able to exceed the age-group averages. Pushups are also often included in health screenings and physicals to assess muscular endurance.

Standard Pushups

Perform a standard pushup by lying horizontally on the floor with your hands palms down and out to your side slightly wider than your shoulders. The American Council on Exercise recommends keeping your abdominal muscles engaged to brace your torso. Put all your weight on your hands and toes, and push yourself up while keeping your back straight and using your arms to support your body’s weight. Add a weighted vest or change the distance of your hands from your shoulders to increase or decrease the difficulty of the exercise. Use a mirror to evaluate your form, including if you are in a straight horizontal position.

Muscle Groups

Pushups typically focus on the pectorals, triceps and shoulders. A standard pushup works all three muscle groups equally. Adjust the distance of your hands from each other to focus on a specific area, such as widening them to work your chest. Decrease the distance between your hands or raise your midsection in the air in a pike to add increased tension to your arms and shoulders. You can increase or reduce resistance respectively, by placing your hands on an elevated bar or bending your knees. The variations work different muscle groups and add to your workout routine.

How to Do 1,000 Pushups

General Difficulty

Pushups have become more difficult for people to do than in years past, notes “The New York Times.” A general increase in obesity among the population means fewer people have the upper body strength to match the weight of their bodies. Children in school districts with shrinking budgets may also miss out on regular physical education classes where this exercise is emphasized. Natural aging is also a factor, causing people to lose up to 30 percent of their strength between 20 and 70 years old if they don’t regularly work out.
Pushups, like any exercise, can address this decline by enlarging muscle fibers and adding to your core body strength. Healthfinder.gov suggests pushups as one way people with a disability can stay in shape.

Benefits and Application

Pushups use your own weight and resistance, eliminating the need for bulky equipment or expensive gym memberships. You can perform this exercise almost anywhere at any time, which is one reason the military and FBI use pushups as a cornerstone of their fitness programs. Pushups allow your heart to pump blood faster both during and after the exercise. This increases your metabolism long after your routine, helping you to lose weight, tone your body and strengthen your upper body. Regular performance of this exercise will help you gain cardiovascular endurance.

What happens if you do pushups every day?

As with most exercises, pushups may increase the risk of certain injuries.

Many injuries result from using an improper technique. People should talk to a fitness instructor if they are unsure about how to perform the different variations of pushups.

Overall, the benefits of exercise tend to outweigh the risks. However, some potential risks of practicing daily pushups include:

Reaching a fitness plateau

People who repeat the same exercise daily will notice that it becomes less and less challenging over time. People refer to this as a fitness plateau. It indicates that the muscles are no longer developing.

To avoid reaching a fitness plateau, people should incorporate a wide range of exercises into their fitness routine. Doing so will activate many different sets of muscles.

People who are keen to maintain muscle may benefit from introducing aerobic exercise. A 2013 study found that people who do aerobic exercise tend to maintain greater muscle strength across their lifespan.

Ideally, a thorough workout routine should also incorporate the following types of exercise:

  • core development
  • balance training
  • stretching

Back pain

Certain pushup variants, such as the BP and the FP, increase activation of the lower back muscles. This may lead to lower back pain and discomfort.

Pushups also cause temporary compression of the intervertebral joints in the spine. An intervertebral joint is the point at which two sections of backbone come together.

A cushion of tissue called an intervertebral disc separates each section of the backbone. Excessive weight bearing exercises may contribute to wear and tear of these discs, resulting in pain and stiffness.

People with existing back conditions should talk to a doctor before incorporating pushups into their fitness routine.

Wrist pain

Some people experience pain in the wrists when performing weight bearing exercises such as pushups. Most pain occurs along the back part of the wrist when a person bends the hand backward.

A 2017 study found that 84% of people experiencing pain along the back of the wrist in response to weight bearing had a physical abnormality within the wrist. Around 76% of these cases were due to a small ganglion cyst. The second most common cause of pain was a partial ligament tear.

It is not clear if these abnormalities were the result of repeated weight bearing exercises.

Nonetheless, people who experience wrist pain during pushups should see a doctor. They can offer advice on how to support the wrist during exercise. Alternatively, a doctor may recommend a different exercise technique.

Elbow injury

Share on PinterestFast pushups may cause elbow strain.

A 2011 study investigated the effect of pushup speed on elbow joints. The researchers tested three different pushup speeds: fast, medium, and slow.

The study found that faster pushup speeds resulted in greater forces on the elbow joints, ligaments, and other surrounding tissues. They concluded that faster pushups could increase the risk of injury to these structures.

The study also showed that slower pushup speeds resulted in greater muscle activation.

Overall, these findings suggest that slower pushups are safer and more likely to result in improved muscle development.

Yes, your legs are the main muscles you use when you ride, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your upper body. Despite what you may think, the upper body plays an important role in your overall cycling performance.

“Your upper body, especially your core, works in tandem with your legs to drive you forward,” explains Gerren Liles, certified personal trainer, master instructor at Equinox and founding trainer of The Mirror. “And because your upper body is in constant motion, it must be strong enough to not fatigue to the point where it compromises your overall form.”

To strengthen your upper body, core and increase your muscular endurance (without bulking up), look no further than the push-up. This basic bodyweight exercise, when executed properly, can challenge your entire body, says Liles, “but its primary focus is the chest, arms, and shoulders.” In order to get the most from this move, the key is proper form.

How To Do a Proper Push-Up

Start in a high plank position, hands flat on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width, wrists in line with shoulders, legs extended so body forms a straight line from head to toe. Gaze slightly in front of hands so neck is neutral, not strained. Engage your core and glutes, then bend elbows, allowing them to flare out at a 45-degree angle from shoulders, as you lower chest to the floor. Press through hands to push back up to high plank position. Repeat.

Push-Up Modifications

If you’re not quite ready for the move above, there are some easy ways you can adjust the exercise to master the form and build strength. A few different options include:

  • Dropping to your knees
  • Placing hands on an elevated surface (like a box, bench, or bar)

“The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to modifications is that you make sure you are able to get your elbows to bend 90-degrees,” Liles says. You also want to make sure your core is engaged throughout, not bending at the hips to lower chest to floor or box.

Start with a modified push-up, adding more reps as you get stronger and focusing on form until you can crank out 10 to 15 reps of a regular push-up. From there, continue to add reps and sets or add in variations (below).

To progress a push-up and make it harder, elevate your feet by placing them on a box, bench, or in suspension trainer. “This forces you to support more of your weight, and the position can emphasize different parts of your chest,” says Liles.

Push-Up Variations

One of the best things about the push-up exercise is that there are many variations of it, and each variation slightly shifts the muscles being targeted. Here are just some of the different push-up types, and how they work different muscles.

1. Diamond Push-Up

These push-ups are done with your hands directly under your chest, with the pointer fingers and thumbs touching respectively, so that hands create a diamond shape. “These are good for focusing on the triceps and challenging your core stability, since the narrow hand position gives you less of a base for support,” Liles explains.

2. Staggered Push-Up

Here we have a unilateral push-up variation, where one side of the body is doing most of the work. “One hand is placed close to the body, and is the arm doing most of the work executing the push-up, while the other is forward at about a 45-degree angle—think one or two o’clock—and is there for balance rather than exertion,” explains Liles. “You can alternate hands after each rep, or do a set amount of reps on one side, and then switch.”

3. Narrow or Triceps Push-Up

Similar to the diamond push-up above, hand placement and arm movement force you to focus on the triceps muscles, explains Liles. Your hands will be narrower than a standard push-up, placed on the floor directly under your shoulders. When you lower down, focus on keeping your arms tight to the sides of your body, as opposed to letting them flare out like a standard push-up.

4. Plyo Push-Up

A plyo, short for plyometric, push-up is one in which your body, whether it be your hands or both your hands and feet, will come off the floor. Think: a clap between push-ups, or exploding during the up motion of a push-up and using the momentum to lift feet and hands and extend arms forward, before landing back in start position. “Plyo push-ups are a way to work the chest in a more dynamic and explosive way,” explains Liles. But these are very advanced so you won’t progress to them until you build explosive strength.

5. Push-Up to Downward Facing Dog

This combination exercise warms up the shoulder joints and increases mobility and range of motion with dynamic movement. From a high plank position, perform a push-up. At the top of the movement, press through hands and shift hips up and back into downward facing dog pose. Focus on lifting your hips up and pointing chest toward toes. Shift back to high plank position and repeat.

6. Chaturanga Dandasana

“Though this isn’t necessarily a push-up, it is a static hold where you’re hovering over the floor, as if you’re in the bottom of a push-up,” explains Liles. Your arms will be tucked close to the body, elbows with a 90-degree bend, while your chest and hips remain over but close to the floor, and you’ll hold this position for 30 seconds to start, then progress.

Improving Your Push-Up

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Like most things in life, practice makes perfect when it comes to push-ups. “If the push-up is something you struggle with, start with the modified versions and do them consistently until you noticed improved strength with good form,” suggests Liles. “If you can incorporate strength training as well, lifting weights that target your chest, arms, and shoulders, that will also help you with bodyweight exercises like push-ups.”

Trainer: Roman Siromakha, certified personal trainer and cyclist in New York City
Images: Julia Hembree Smith

Amy Schlinger Amy Schlinger is a skilled health and fitness writer and editor based in New York City.

How to push up?

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