Push-ups are one of the most well known exercises. Ask anyone to name a few exercises off the top of their head and push-ups will probably be among them. Some people love them, and others hate them with a passion. Your feelings about push-ups probably depend on how many you can do. The benefits of push-ups are many, but they can be a challenge. If you can’t do push-ups as well as you would like, try these 6 push-ups for beginners. In time, you should find yourself able to do your first push-up, and then some!
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Injuries and Limitations
Push-ups for beginners will be manageable for most people. However, you may not be ready for them if you have had a surgery, muscle tear, or joint pain recently. Do not fight through pain or injury. Always consult your physician before attempting any exercises and make sure you are clear to workout. These exercises are designed to help beginners perform one or more proper push-ups, but progress will vary from person to person. If you have other limitations or medical conditions, you may need a program designed specifically for you.
Performing a push-up requires proper core activation. Consider it to be another form of a moving plank. It’s called a plank because your body should be straight from head to toe. Most of the movement is happening around the elbow joints. If your core is not stable enough to keep your hips and spine locked in place, you will not be able to perform push-ups effectively.
If you can’t do push-ups, you must first determine if your core is the limiting factor. Have someone watch you, or take a video while you do these push-ups for beginners. Does your pelvis tilt forward causing your lower back to arch excessively? Does your pelvis tilt backward causing your lower back to flatten or round? If either are the case, you will need to assess, and address, your core musculature.
Benefits of Push-ups for Beginners
Most exercises can be modified to be easier, or more challenging. Push-ups are no different. In fact, there are hundreds of push-up variations online. It is a total body exercise which will increase your upper body muscular endurance, heart rate and life expectancy.
If you can’t do push-ups, your health may be at risk. Individuals who can do 40 or more push-ups tend to live longer (source). The push-up can be a wonderful assessment, but who knew it could extend your life?
No doubt, there’s more to one’s health than push-ups. Studies have their drawbacks, and many other factors come into play to determine who is fit and healthy. However, 40 push-ups would be a very respectable goal because the benefits are many. These benefits cost next to nothing, and the time requirement is low.
1) High Inclined Push-ups
This should be the easiest push-up variation on our list. Changing the angle of your body in relation to the ground will change the difficulty. The high incline will be easier. Find an object which is three to four feet from the ground, but make sure it’s stable. In my demonstration I use the side handles on a back extension bench, but you can use a table, railing, wall, or the back of a chair.
High Inclined Push-up Start Position
How to Do the High Inclined Push-up
Pro Tip – Choose a stable object without cushioning. Pushing into a cushion will increase the difficulty of the exercise. If you can perform 20 push-ups in a row, progress to the low inclined push-ups.
2) Low Inclined Push-ups
Changing the angle of your body by bringing it closer to the floor makes this position more challenging than the first. This time, choose an object approximately one or two feet from the floor. I’m using a bench in the demonstration, but the cushion will make it more difficult for the average person. You may prefer a hard bench, stool, platform, or the front of a chair.
Low Inclined Push-up Start Position
How to Do the Low Inclined Push-up
Pro Tip – The closer your hands are to the floor, the harder this exercise will be. If it’s too difficult, use a taller object or try the following variations. Once you can do 20 of these push-ups, you should be ready for the traditional ones.
3) Scapular Protraction (Push-up Plus)
This exercise is useful if you have an under-active serratus anterior and your shoulder blades stick out like wings. If the muscles surrounding your scapula aren’t working together, you won’t be able to perform push-ups very well. Scapular protraction sounds big, but it simply means moving your shoulder blades toward the front of your body. Give protractions a try and see if your serratus anterior may be a limiting factor. If you have forward rounding shoulders, you should not do this exercise. In fact, you may need to perform scapular retractions instead.
Scapular Protraction Start Position
How to Do Scapular Protraction (Push-up Plus)
Pro Tip – If this position is not working for you, try the low push-up or high push-up position. If you continue to have trouble “feeling” the movement, lay on your back and push one arm away from the floor. Place your opposite hand on your ribs and feel for the working muscles underneath your armpit.
Muscle imbalances around the scapula are common because of overuse and injuries. You should not need to shrug your shoulders while pressing forward. If your upper traps feel like they are doing most of the work, you may need to work on scapular depression. Check with a local personal trainer or physical therapist who can evaluate your movement patterns.
4) Push-ups from a Platform
I love to incorporate a platform when working with someone who can’t do push-ups. It’s a simply way to evaluate progress and build confidence. I make the platform higher on one end so it mimics the angle of the body in the plank position. It reduces the range of motion involved, allowing for a partial rep with good form. Of course, you won’t ever become stronger outside of this range if you continue to use the platform. That’s why I move the platform to increase the range of motion. I also might use some of the exercises discussed later in the article.
Starting Position Over the Platform
How to Do a Push-up with a Platform
Pro Tip – As you become stronger, you should move the platform to increase the range of motion by a few inches. Over time, this progression will enable you to complete your first pushup.
5) Band Assisted Push-ups
You will need a resistance band and attachment point to complete this exercise. The resistance band will help you complete the exercise as the name implies. Normally, I like to use resistance bands to make an exercise more challenging. However, we will be using it to decrease the work you are doing during the push-up, in this case.
Bands come in different shapes and sizes. I will be using a loop band in the demonstration which is wrapped over a doorway pullup bar. If you don’t have one of those, you could ask someone to stand over you while awkwardly holding the band. Don’t have any resistance bands? You can grab a set from our Shop Page, or move along to the next exercise.
Starting Position with Band
How to Do a Push-up with a Band
6) Eccentric Push-ups with a Pause
If you can’t do push-ups yet, this variation will be a challenge. In fact, out of all six push-ups for beginners, this is the most difficult. The goal of this variation is an increase in strength during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the push-up. It should also make you stronger during the most difficult part of the push-up. I demonstrate this variation from the floor, but you may need to use one of the inclined positions.
Start in the traditional push-up position (if possible)
How to Do an Eccentric Push-up with a Pause
Pro Tip – If this position is too difficult, try pausing at the bottom of the high or low inclined push-up position. Aim for a 10 second hold as you continue breathing. If you can hold this position for one minute or longer, your strength should be sufficient for push-ups. Congratulations!
How Often Can You Do Push-ups for Beginners?
Some people can do push-ups daily, but your health and fitness level will come into play. If these push-ups for beginners are very challenging, or you get very sore from the exercise, you may need to limit push-ups to three times per week. Allow your body to rest for a day between sessions, or work opposing muscle groups. Sleep, stress levels and nutrition will also factor into how often you can do push-ups, or other exercises.
Progressing Push-ups for Beginners
There comes a time in every workout program when progressions should be made. Personal trainers normally plan for these on a short term and long term basis. You may not know how to do this, but there is a self-explanatory method. Simply try to do more push-ups each time you workout. Complete 2-3 sets of push-ups after a proper warm-up.
Progress may take a few weeks, or a few months. Each person is different. Increase your muscular endurance by doing more of these easy push-ups for beginners. Eventually, you will be able to complete your first push-up, and then some!