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How to build strength for a push-up

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

We need to stop assuming that a push up falls into the same category as a squat.

Yes, it's a body weight exercise, but it is SO much harder that a squat - especially and genuinely for females. There's about 25% difference in muscle mass between males and females and that difference is mainly on the upper part of the body.

You may think you can't do a push up. But let's redefine impossible shall we? How about you regularly strength train and work through the different progressions, and then tell me whether you can't do it?! I once had a client who was told she'd never be able to do push ups - she's now able to do 25 in one workout (and we're not stopping there!). It actually took me 2 years, starting from scratch with resistance training, to build up the strength to do a full push up (that's without focusing on it as a goal).

And if you can do a push-up, then how about having a little look to see if your form is on point, and having a go at some of the harder variations to mix up your training?

Push ups focus on the chest muscles, front of your shoulder and backs of your arms - but they also work your whole body and are amazing way to work your core and challenge yourself!


- Start with shoulder over wrists. I see people creeping their shoulders backwards to try and make it easier - not helping!

- Engage your core (stop hanging out on your bones!) - draw belly button to spine, tuck in front ribs and tuck in tailbone.

- If in half or full push up, hips in line with the rest of the body

- Inhale to lower, exhale to push


- Do tiny push-ups for vanity. You do not have a full push-up if you are moving up and down by an inch. Back off and take an easier variation that is going to work SO much harder for you. You'll get so much stronger so much more quickly!

- Creep your shoulders back - keep them forward baby!

- Let the hips snake up and down - we don't want to love the floor too much! Hips sometimes get left behind if our core is either disengaged or weak, so film yourself and notice where your hips are. They should stay in a strong, straight line with the rest of the body if doing a full/half push up

- Assume you have good form. Check it.


- Start with a wall push up or a box push up

- If you're realllllly new to weight training, lie on your back and start with a chest press


- Progress to a half push-up or an incline push-up (hands higher e.g. on a chair or step)

- Start with the hands high, and then work them lower as you get stronger

- Start with hands wide (more emphasis on the chest) and work the hands closer together and elbows in to make it harder (more emphasis on the triceps)

- DO ECCENTRIC push-ups - this means slowly lower to the floor without collapsing. You have to be able to control it to the very last inch. If you're collapsing half way, then back off and raise the hands. Increase the length of time it takes you to reach the floor. You can do this with incline, half and full push ups.

- DON'T STAY WITH THE SAME VARIATION - I see people doing box push ups for months and years! Mix up the variations, you can try just one rep of a harder version, you haven't signed up to commit to just one variation in one workout - or even one set!

- Accessory lifts will help e.g. working the triceps, chest, core etc. separately but aren't critical. To get good at push ups you have to do push ups.


- Strict 'military' press up - hands narrow and elbows tucked right in.

- Feet-elevated push-ups - you're working with more of your body weight so harder!

- Hand-release push-ups - you're releasing the tension from your muscles when you release your hands from the floor in the bottom position. Engage core (as though trying to lift your belly button off the floor) before you try and push up again!!

- Asymmetric hand-elevated press ups - grab a couple of blocks and place one hand on the ground and one on the block. Take a push up, and then in high plank swap the hands round.

Here's my awesome client Kathryn rocking out the push-ups she was 'never going to be able to do':

Any questions? Let me know and I'll answer them below!



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