Can’t Do Pushups? Here’s How To Get There

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Ah, the good old push-up. Love it or hate it, it’s the esteemed barometer of fitness. Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises out there, but that doesn’t make them any less intimidating, especially for beginners.

As wonderful — and awful — as they are, many people simply can’t do push-ups, and that’s because it’s common to be upper-body weak. Society’s focus on cardio exercise, things like jogging, biking, and hiking, neglects any upper body work. And since we all know the body works on the use-it-or-lose-it principle, well, lots of people lose it. That’s why push-ups are so hard.

If you’re one of the people who can’t do a push-up, I strongly urge you to change that; and here’s why. Push-ups are an especially important exercise to master for aging well. If you were to trip and fall forward, your reflexive reaction is to break your fall by reaching out with your hands. In order to keep your head from hitting the ground, you need enough strength to be able to absorb the impact in your arms and wrists. Doing push-ups regularly helps you build the strength you need to break a fall safely. That strength you build will also be what helps you get yourself back up to standing if you do have a fall. So, don’t be okay with being unable to do push-ups! They’re more important than you may think.

In the video below, I go over what you need to do to build the strength required for traditional floor push-ups. Even though push-ups are predominantly upper body—engaging the muscles in your arms, chest, core, and back—they challenge your legs and hips, too, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with this one move.

The trick to push-ups training is playing with these 3 things:

1. Levels

Start by doing push-ups with your hands placed on a higher surface; so that could be a wall, counter, bench, etc. The higher you place your hands, the easier it is. As you practice, over time, perform your push-ups with your hands placed on lower and lower surfaces until you eventually are down on the floor.

2. Tempo

This variable is especially important! As you perform your push-ups, play with the speed of your sets. Do some sets super fast, and some sets painfully slow. And then mix those up: slow down and fast up (and vice versa). Don’t keep the same rhythm, and do keep your body from adapting to the same tempo. Advanced exercisers, take note of this advice as well! People who do push-ups regularly are great at rocking through their sets without any consideration for switching up their tempo, a missed opportunity for even better push-ups fitness.

3. Holds

Isometric holds are another great way to boost your push-ups strength. Hold your position anywhere from 5 seconds on up to many minutes. Perform holds with your arms straight, slightly bent, and mostly bent.

The Push-Ups Training Plan:

Shoot for 1 minute 3 times a day; so perhaps do your minute before each meal. In that minute, play with the levels, tempo, and holds as discussed above (and in video below). Do this at least 5 times a week. If you’re overly sore, take a rest day. The key is staying consistent and really committing to it! If you can do that, you’ll be rocking traditional floor push-ups in no time.

Hope this helps. Rooting for you!



After 15 years as an educator in both the public K-12 setting and the University level in Special Physical Education, Stef made the leap to her true passion… the fitness world. She’s currently a personal trainer and wellness coach specializing in seniors, medical conditions, and injuries. Stef loves running, cycling, and being “Mugga” to her two favorite mini-humans — Punky and Marshmallow. ❤️

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