The push-up…an “easy” exercise because you don’t need any equipment. It was part of the fitness tests we had to do in gym class as kids, members of the military seem to be able to do an absurd amount of them…so then why for so many of us are they so difficult? All over Instagram you’ll see videos of how to progress and regress pushups (we even posted a reel on this back in April!)
I admit that for a variety of reasons I am lacking in the pushup department, but am actively working on being able to do more than 1 full pushup with good form - I’m using many of the same exercises and tips we talk about here! Keep reading for some inside information and tips on what else you can check out to work on your pushup…because it’s not ONLY about arm strength!
Yes, we do need to consider upper body strength, especially for the pecs and triceps as the arms are really powering us through this movement! Some classic exercises that can help on this front:
Triceps skull crushers or rope pushdowns
But aside from that….
Core strength! By being able to keep the core braced and keep our body in a straight line, we create tension that stabilizes the trunk. This allows our upper body to focus on the pushing movement.
Wrist range of motion! Limitation in wrist extension limits a lot of people from doing solid pushups from the floor. When at the top of a pushup, we want the elbow over the wrist, and the shoulder slightly in front of those joints. At the bottom of the pushup, we still want the elbow aligned over the wrist, and the shoulder in front of your wrist/elbow. If you’re stiff into wrist extension, your elbow can’t get into that position! This can make pushups especially tough or even painful as your body tries to compensate from other parts of the arms!
wrist extension stretching
This is something I am definitely limited with (don’t mind my crazy elbows in this video)
Get into a kneeling position, planting your palms on the ground with your fingers facing back toward your knees. Rock your weight back toward your heels to get a deep stretch through your forearm
Take it up a notch and use a band the way I am in the video to glide the joint for even deeper benefit
DB Push Ups
Based on my own limitations I’m working on controlled pushups from my knees, but also pushup “negatives” - lowering down from a full pushup on my toes, then pushing up from my knees
… but, this variation also demands more stability from the core and arms, which brings me to….
Shoulder stability! Other muscles need to be working optimally to keep the shoulder blades and upper arm from “chicken winging” all over the place while you try to push!
Try placing a band around your elbows. Similar to when we place a band at the knees during squat motions to really cue the glutes, now we’re using it at the elbows to cue the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers!
Push ups - Banded
I’m again showing some variations of doing this from the knees or with pushup negatives
If you have access to kettlebells, bottom-up presses are another great way to work the entire arm and fire up the smaller stabilizing muscles. We definitely need those when lowering toward/pressing our entire body away from the floor. Choose a lighter weight than what you would normally use for a dumbbell press - you’ll feel why I say that!
Bottoms Up KB Floor Press
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of ways to improve your pushups, and there are always tons of different things we can cue with movement pattern/exercise. Give some of these tips a try and see what is easy vs. what is more difficult. You may be surprised!