If you’re still on a journey to mastering push ups, you’re not alone. This full body movement is something that requires practice in order to gain strength and eventually see progress over time. While push ups may be a challenge for you, know that there are ways to improve your ability to master them no matter what fitness level you’re at. To break down how to get there, we talked with Peloton instructors Jess Sims, Andy Speer and Emma Lovewell about how to conquer this move.
How to Start Out
The first step in advancing on your push up journey is knowing that you are capable of getting to where you want to be. “You can improve at anything, you just need to put in the time and work,” says Andy. Next, choose the right modification for you. If you realize that you struggle to hold a high plank position, the starting position of a push up, that will be the first thing you need to work on. “A push up is not the best progression at first if you need to work on staying strong in a high plank,” says Jess. “I always recommend working on your plank before you start to introduce movement in the plank position.”
As you’re working on your plank, Emma suggests practicing your push ups against a secure wall. “Start with your feet about 2 feet away and place your hands against it,” says Emma. “Keep your body straight in a plank while you practice your reps.” If that starts to feel too easy, modify to make your setup more challenging. “As you get stronger, you can step your feet further away from the wall and repeat until eventually you feel strong enough to move your hands onto a sturdy bench.” Lowering to a counter or bench level will introduce a new challenge but will still allow you to work on your push ups with good form while you’re gaining strength. “This will still modify the strength demand of the upper body and allow you to practice push ups with good technique,” says Andy.
When you eventually take your push ups to the ground, Jess reminds us that performing them with your knees down if you have to is still always an option. “Scaling push ups to the knees once horizontal is great--make sure to anchor your feet into the ground so you get used to the same position off the knees and so that you're forced to activate your core,” says Jess.
Finally, make sure you’re working to gain strength in your upper body outside of just practicing your push ups--this means targeting your chest, shoulders, triceps and forearms with other movements. “It took me a while to get the hang of push ups--I practiced them a lot. I also lifted weights to build up my overall upper body strength,” says Jess. Specifically, working on these areas with with dumbbell chest presses, tricep extensions and shoulder presses will fast track your push up progress says Andy. Additionally, he suggests adding in some isometric and eccentric elements. “Going slowly on the way down (3-5 long seconds) and holding for 5-10 seconds at the bottom, middle and top of the push up will also increase your strength dramatically,” says Andy.
Practice Makes Progress
Now that you’re equipped with modification options, Jess suggests regular practice. “You could do them daily if you really want to get better at them,” she says. ”I would recommend 2-3 sets of 10 push ups, with any modifications, 2-3 times per week.” If you’ve been working hard and need a day off, take a rest day but then get right back to it. “If you are very sore, take a day or two off,” says Andy. “Other than that you can practice as much as you can. Mix up your training though--one day focus on holds (isometrics) and then the next on actual reps.” Most importantly, Jess reminds us to be patient with ourselves. “Try not to judge where you are in your process of learning push ups. It takes time, hard work and consistency to really see a difference--trust the process!”
Feel The Full Body Effects
While push ups do require a lot of upper-body strength, recruiting strength from other areas of your body will allow you to get stronger throughout different muscle groups and maintain good form. “Push ups are really a full body workout,” says Emma. “You are obviously working your upper body, arms and chest but you’re also working your core, legs and glutes in a big way so that you’re able to keep your body in a straight plank.” And since this exercise has full body advantages, you’re overall athleticism will feel a boost, notes Andy. “Getting better at push ups will increase your overall strength, helping to improve everything from running to swimming to all of your day to day activities.”