Me doing a push-up

How To Do Push-ups When You Think You Can’t

Push-ups, along with pull-ups, squats, and the hollow body hold, are one of the Foundation Strength exercises I believe every able-bodied person should be able to do.

Foundation Strength means having control, stability, and strength with your own body’s movements before you think about adding anything else on. Everybody should be able to do push-ups on their toes. Everybody should be able to do pull-ups on a bar. Everybody should be able to squat and get their butt to their heels. And, everybody should be able to fully extend their legs on a hollow body hold.

If you can’t do those things right now – don’t worry. We’ll get there. All we need to do is find out how strong you currently are, and get stronger from that point.

Is someone asks: “Can you do push-ups?”, you probably imagine the kind of push-up you do on your hands and toes. Then, you reply: “No, I can’t.”.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do push-ups. It just means you can’t do a Full Push-up. But you can definitely do a Wall Push-up, or an Angled Push-up, or a Kneeling Push-up. We’re going to go through all of these easier push-ups versions to find the one you can do right now. Once you find that one you can – work on that one until you can do the next one.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing Full Push-ups no problem. And next time someone asks: “Can you do push-ups?”, you’ll answer with “Damn right! Watch this.”

Wall Push-up

The Wall Push-up is the easiest version of a push-up you can possibly do. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Place your hands on a wall so your fingertips are at the height of your shoulders.
  • Bend your arms and lower your shoulders towards the wall.
  • Your elbows should move backwards, not outwards.
  • Push yourself back away from the wall until your arms are straight.

If you can do 30 of these no problem; you’re ready for the Angled Push-up. Those 30 reps is what’s called a Progressions Standard.

Angled Push-up

You can think of an Angled Push-up as literally what it says. It’s a push-up – on an angle. It’s a decent step up in terms of difficulty from the Wall Push-up, but it’s much easier than a Kneeling Push-ups.

I call this one a Platform Push-up with clients because we use the adjustable platform on the rig in our gym. But you can use your kitchen counter, your dining table, the back of your couch or anything else you can find that’s around hip height. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Find something you can place your hand on that’s approximately hip height.
  • Place your hands on that something at around shoulder width.
  • Pin your shoulders down away from your ears and lower your chest down towards the “platform”. (Let’s call the thing you’re using a platform for simplicity.)
  • If you’re not wearing one, imagine you’re wearing a bra. The strap under your boobs should be the part of your torso that touches the platform. This makes sure your shoulders and elbows and hands are all in the right positions for future progressions.
  • As in the Wall Push-up, your elbows should move backwards, not outwards.
  • Push yourself back up, making sure to keep your elbows in.
  • Squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your core in the Hollow Body position. You should have a straight line through your body the whole time. Not turn into a banana halfway through or do the worm to push back up.

If you start to look like a banana, do the worm, or are unable to keep your elbows in: you’ve reached the limit of your strength.

The Progression Standard for Angled Push-ups is 2-3 sets of 40 good reps. If you can do that, you might be ready for Kneeling Push-ups.

Kneeling Push-up

The Kneeling Push-up is the only regression most people think of if they can’t do Full Push-ups. And if you can’t do those either, you’re fucked.

But now you know there are two more regressions you can do! And if you’ve done them, and reached that Progression Standard, you should be able to do a good few Kneeling Push-ups.

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Place your hands below your shoulders at shoulder width.
  • Lift your feet up off the ground so you’re on your knees with a straight line between your knees, hips, and shoulders with the Hollow Body position at the hips.
  • Keep that straight line as you bend your elbows and lower yourself to the ground.
  • Your chest, hips, and nose should all reach the ground at the same time. And, your chest should be between your hands just like in the Angled Push-up.
  • Keeping your elbows in, push yourself back to the starting position.

Again, hold your core tight to make sure you’re now doing the worm.

If you struggle making the jump from Angled to Kneeling Push-ups, place your hands on a step to make the Kneeling Push-up a little easier. Treat it like an Angled Push-up: your bra strap should tough the edge of the step.

The Progression Standard for Kneeling Push-ups is 2-3 sets of 30 good reps. If you can do that… it’s time for the big one.

Full Push-up

In terms of technique, you should have that nailed by this point. It looks just like an Angled Push-up, but on the floor.

This is the one most of us think of when someone asks: “Can you do push-ups?”

And if you’ve reached this point, your answer will very soon be: “Hell yes I can.”

Here’s how it’s done:

  • Place your hands below your shoulders at shoulder width.
  • You should be on your toes so that you have a straight line between your heels, knees, hips, and shoulders.
  • Hold your core in the Hollow Body position.
  • Keep that straight line as you bend your elbows and lower yourself to the ground.
  • Your chest, hips, and nose should all reach the ground at the same time. And, your chest should be between your hands just like in the Angled and Kneeling Push-ups.
  • Keeping your elbows in, push yourself back to the starting position.

Et voila! Your first Full Push-up! Give yourself a pat on the back, a round of applause, and tell all your friends.

You’ve reached the final stage of the Push-up Edition of Foundation Strength. Once you’ve reached the Progression Standard of 30 reps of these bad boys, that means you’ve got a strong, study, stable foundation in pushing movements. And, you’re ready for more advanced ones.

The Archer Push-up, the One-Arm Push-up, and the elusive Handstand Push-up are now within your sights. If that’s where you want to go with it: awesome. Keep an eye out for the blogs and videos that will teach you how to go further.

Or, if you’re happy with the strength level you’ve reached: that’s awesome too! Keep on consistently doing push-ups throughout the rest of the weeks of your life. If you do, you’ll grow old in style. You’ll say “fuck that” to the expectation of “slowing down”. And you’ll be able to play with your kids and grandkids for years and years to come.

Plus, you’ve got a great new party trick.

Started From The Bottom

Find your starting point, and go from there. If you’re currently doing Full Push-ups and they look all wrong: don’t be afraid to drop the ego and step back to Kneeling Push-ups. You’ll be much better off for it.

One of the common complaints in the gym is the issue of “shoulder impingement”. I was actually just talking with a member struggling with this today. Most of the time, shoulder impingement just means you’ve got bad posture. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever do a pushing exercise again or that you need surgery (please definitely run away from a doctor who wants you to resort to this). Learn how to correct your (most likely) rounded shoulder posture, and try the Angled Push-up.

Almost every person who tells me push-ups hurt their shoulders can do the Angled Push-up with the correct technique (keeping your elbows in and finishing with your chest between your hands) with no problems at all.

Also, if you have wrist problems, grab a couple of dumbbells and put your hands on them like in the image below.

Push-up on dumbbells.

Or alternatively, do them on your fists/knuckles.

This takes the wrist mobility required out of the equation.

And that’s basically everything you need to know on how to do push-ups!

Take another look through, experiment to find your starting point, and let me know your progress by tagging me on Instagram @shaunherr.

Oh, and if you think it’ll help a friend – share this with them using the buttons below.

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