Training and Workouts

5 Progressions to Your First Push Up

5-progressions-to-your-first-push-up

A while ago I started a series of blog posts dedicated to compound movements. So far I’ve covered the squat and the deadlift and seems like it’s about time we move on to the next one, namely the push-up and the progressions that will help you master it.

We all know it – push-ups are a great way to test and improve your strength. To some extent, I feel like it is somehow assumed that it’s natural for men to practice them but that they’re not necessarily a part of a woman’s training plan or it’s just not a skill a woman must/should master. Is that just my feeling about it?

Anyway, I am happy to see more and more women at the gym incorporating push-ups in their programs, despite that quite often their form is far from perfect (no judgment there – I know that for the longest time my own push up sucked).

Although the prime focus of this article isn’t about mastering the perfect push up technique, here are the main guidelines to follow:

  • Position your hands in a way that when looked from above, your arms look like an arrow, rather than the letter T. It’s safer for your shoulders and produces greater muscle activation.
  • Contract your core and don’t let your hips sag, causing you to go into anterior pelvic tilt.
  • Don’t do half reps – use the full range of motion. Bring Sally all the way up and all the way down!

If you are struggling to do a proper push-up or any push up at all for that matter – don’t ya worry my friend! Check out these 5 progressions to assist you with getting your first push up! Remember – move on to the next one only once you can perform the previous one with a good form for at least a couple of sets.

1. Planks

Ugh. Despite that for me personally the plank is probably the least enjoyable exercise ever, its benefits are undeniable. For a good push up you need to have a strong midline. Building up the strength for holding a plank position for at least a minute will help you avoid that push-up mistake I mentioned before – the sagging hips and lumbar hyperextension.Girl in sports outfit performing elbow plank and high plank exercise. Mix things up – do both high planks and elbow planks, hold them for as long as you can and repeat 3-5 times. Once you feel comfortable enough with planks, progress to shoulder taps. Aim for 3-4 sets of 30 reps.A sporty, young girl in sports outfit performing shoulder tap exercise.

2. Incline push-up

Incline push-ups are great! The best thing about them is that by reducing the height, you can increase the level of difficulty and vice versa. Just find a stable and hard elevated surface and go wild. With the push-ups, that is. Like I said before – get comfortable with the movement before progressing to the next exercise.

incline push-up exercise demonstration

3. Knee push up

The set up for a knee push up is very much like the set up for any other push up – hands are placed slightly wider than shoulder-width, the core is engaged and tight, you bend the elbows and lower your upper body until your chest touches the ground. The only obvious difference is that you are on your knees and thus moving less weight. It doesn’t really matter if you keep your legs like mine or just rest them on the ground – just go with whatever is more comfortable for you.

knee push-ups exercise demonstration

4. Negative push up

Negative push up simply means that your starting position is high plank and you slowly lower yourself down, practicing the eccentric phase of the push-up. Once your chest touches the ground (or you reach the lowest point at which you can still control the movement), comfortably readjust and start from the top again.  

negative push-up exercise demonstration

5. Single push up

The last step from the progressions is the single push up. You already know the setup – just start from the ground and push yourself up to an ending position. When these get easy, progress to stringing 2 and more push-ups together in a set.

single push up exercise

And there you go!* (*Read with the voice of the old guy from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.) Just remember that as always form comes first!

So, let’s chat:

  • Do you find push-ups challenging?
  • Do you include them in your training program?
  • Have you tried any of these progressions?
5 Comments
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5 Comments

  1. Bexa
    June 30, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    I find push ups so hard, although I do planks in yoga and I feel myself getting stronger over time. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do it 😄. Great post, thank you for sharing your tips 😘🌷xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

  2. Lily
    July 2, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    I’m sure you will! Just keep practicing! 🙂

  3. Ann Marie Ruby
    September 12, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    Just yesterday, my friend had an interesting conversation with her boss as she was asked if she knew how to do push ups. All of her colleagues were asked what exercise they do and push ups came to the conversation. After a long conversation, it was settled, she had absolutely no clue how to do push ups. She was asked if she knew how to do girl push ups, she said no. She told all that she learned to walk before she could crawl, I guess she was scared of push ups even then. I will definitely send this post to her as this will help a lot of us whom have no clue how to do a real push up, and I am one of them! I walk 3 to 5 miles each day, meditate, and do yoga, but no push ups. Enjoyed reading this, and will share!

    Blessings from Seattle,
    Ann Marie Ruby | https://annmarieruby.com/

    • Lily
      September 14, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Thank you, Ann Marie! Push ups are definitely one of the hardest bodyweight exercises, especially for women, but don’t be discouraged! It only takes consistency 🙂 I’m glad the article helped you! Good luck to you and your friend! 🙂

  4. Clarissa Cabbage
    May 11, 2020 at 5:23 am

    Nice list! I usually recommend the elevated hands or negative methods.

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