Training | POSTED March 31, 2024

4 Easy Ways to Get Phenomenal Push-Ups

Push-ups are one of the most recognisable exercises in the world. Being able to do a push-up is a a sign of being strong and athletic, even for people who don’t train. They’re great for building strength and muscle in the pecs (chest), anterior deltoids (shoulders), and triceps. They’re also incredibly versatile. All you need is yourself and a surface to push against, so they’re perfect for times that you don’t have access to any strength training equipment.

However, push-ups are hard. Research has shown that a regular push-up requires a person to lift around 64% of their body weight.1 That’s a lot of weight, especially for people who haven’t got a lot of training experience. Fortunately, there are many ways to work up to a push-up no matter your starting point!

A full push-up in the starting position.

1. Barbell/Dumbbell Bench Press

Although it’s not a push-up, the bench press shares almost all of the same muscle groups and joint actions. Research has shown that the two exercises have a strong association regarding strength and muscle development,2 which means that training one will likely improve the other.

So why would you choose a bench press instead of an easier push-up variant? The main reason would be to allow for more gradual increases in difficulty over time. Most of the ways to make a push-up easier involve elevating the hands, but people are unlikely to have easy access to a series of progressively lower surfaces that match their rate of strength gain. The bench press allows for weight increases of as little as 1kg at a time, making it a lot easier to progressively load the movement.

Of course, the bench press requires access to more equipment than a push-up, so it’s not the most accessible alternative. Building strength is also specific to the movement trained, so if your goal is to be able to do a push-up, we’d recommend continuing to do a push-up variant alongside the bench press.

The bench press, a great assistance exercise for push-ups.

2. Incline Push-Ups

The main way of making push-ups easier is to place the hands on a raised surface. By angling the body, we reduce the amount of body weight that needs to be moved.

The first step is to find an appropriate surface to start on. The easiest version has the hands placed on a wall, but your starting height will depend on your strength level. From there, we follow a progressive loading scheme similar to any other exercise, with hand elevation substituting for weight. Once you can do the desired number of reps, we can make it harder by using a slightly lower surface. The surfaces will get progressively lower until you’re on the floor.

A squat rack with adjustable hooks is an excellent tool for this method if you have access to one. The idea is to rack the bar on the hooks and use it as the elevated surface for your hands. As you get stronger, move the hooks down to make the push-ups more difficult. This is my favourite method, as it allows for load increases that are uniform and more gradual.

An incline push-up.

3. Knee Push-Ups

The knee push-up is a great exercise for someone who is strong enough to not need an incline, but isn’t quite ready to do full sets on their toes yet. The load of a knee push-up is 49% of body weight compared to 64% for toe push-ups,3 so it’s significantly easier whilst still being a good challenge.

Adding sets and reps is the best way to progress the movement. Once you can do a comfortable number of reps and sets (e.g. 3 sets of 10 reps) at full range of motion, it might be time to move from your knees to your toes!

A push-up done on the knees.

4. Controlled Negatives

Controlling the eccentric (lowering) phase of an exercise is a great way to build muscle and strength, especially if you can’t yet do the full movement.4 For a push-up, this would involve starting in the top plank position, then lowering yourself to the ground as slowly as possible. Once you reach the ground, climb back up to the starting position and do another rep.

This is a great technique that can be used with any of the variations that we’ve discussed. For progression, work up to doing multiple sets and reps before moving on to a harder variation.

Final Thoughts

If you want to be able to do a push-up, hopefully this guide will be useful. No matter your ability level, there are ways to start building the necessary strength through the chest, shoulders, and triceps. With effort, consistency, and some help from one of our coaches, it won’t be long until you’re doing your first push-up!

Final Thoughts

  1. The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push-Up Variants ↩︎
  2. Push-Ups are Able to Predict the Bench Press 1-RM and Constitute an Alternative for Measuring Maximum Upper Body Strength Based on Load-Velocity Relationships ↩︎
  3. The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push-Up Variants ↩︎
  4. The Effects of Eccentric Versus Concentric Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Mass in Healthy Adults: a Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis ↩︎