Thanks to their simplicity and versatility, push-ups have made a permanent home in countless fitness routines–as a warm-up activity and also as a strength-building exercise. When performed correctly, push-ups boost cardiovascular endurance and develop muscle in the arms, chest and shoulders, according to the American Council on Exercise. Despite their benefits, push-ups remain a challenging–and sometimes intimidating–activity for exercisers, especially people lacking upper-body strength. Fortunately, improving your push-up prowess is possible with enough time and patience–whether you want to “drop and give 20” or drop and give 200.
Practice proper push-up form, which will help you get the most out of each push-up and also protect against injury. As StrongLifts.com explains, the correct posture involves keeping your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground, keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle away from your body, holding your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles and tucking in your chin. When performing each repetition, lower your body until your chin or chest touches the floor, then raise yourself until your elbows are fully extended.
Engage in push-up holds. Keep yourself in the starting position–arms extended, body held in a straight line–for as long as your strength allows. This exercise targets your abdominal muscles and can improve your ability to perform regular push-ups.
Do variations of the standard push-up. Wearing a weighted vest, lifting your body with one arm instead of two, clapping your hands between push-up repetitions or elevating your feet can emphasize different muscle groups and increase the difficulty of each push-up. This also helps you become stronger and more proficient with regular push-ups.
Supplement your workout routine with chest and triceps exercises, such as triceps extensions, dips and weight-lifting on a bench-press machine. According to the Little Rock Air Force Base, these exercises engage the same muscles needed for push-ups, helping you build the strength necessary to improve the quantity and quality of your push-ups.
Push your limits. When doing push-ups, try to perform one or two more repetitions than you think you can–even if your arms feel fatigued. This will help you increase the number of push-ups you can comfortably complete in a row.
Tips and Warnings
- If you can’t perform a full push-up, build up strength by performing kneeling push-ups. Unlike standard push-ups, kneeling push-ups involve placing your knees on the floor rather than your toes–a modification that lightens the load on your arms.
Set realistic goals. If you can do only five consecutive push-ups now, don’t expect to pump out 100 in a row by next week. That expectation will breed disappointment.
- When doing push-ups, avoid looking forward, hyperextending your neck or letting your elbows turn more than 45 degrees away from your torso. These common errors can lead to injury.
Avoid letting your hips or torso sag during push-ups; this prevents you from developing the core strength necessary for proper push-ups.
About this Author
For five years, Denise Minger has worked as a copywriter, editor and college instructor, publishing articles in various online publications. Passionate about health, she has researched and written extensively in the fields of fitness and nutrition, and offers health consultations for individuals with special dietary goals. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, where she graduated summa cum laude in 2008.