Fitness Articles

You Can Do Perfect Pushups

Reach Your Fitness Goals!

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Make your fitness dreams come true once and for all, starting with the classic pushup!

Pushups tend to be much easier for men, since they have greater muscle mass and strength than women. But you don't have to be G.I. Jane to master the "boy" pushup. Before you can perform real pushups, you have to build enough strength in your upper body to handle your body weight, and a strong core (a variety of crunches and plank exercises will help) to stabilize your body in the pushup position. The following exercise progressions will help strengthen the major muscles involved in pull ups until you're strong enough to do them on your own.
 
Time Involved: Two 10-minute sessions a week, for several weeks
Muscles Worked: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
 
How to Train at the Gym
A variety of gym machines and equipment can help you build strength for your pushups.
  • Phase 1: Start by strengthening your "pushup muscles" by using the chest press machine, or by doing chest presses with dumbbells or a bar. Start with any weight you can handle until you can perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form. Then move to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2: Continue to gradually increase the amount of weight you press over time, until you can lift about 80% of your body weight for 1-2 sets of 10-12 repetitions in good form. Once you can lift this, you can do real pushups—guaranteed!
  • Phase 3: Pushups! Once you've mastered Phase 2, you should be able to perform about 4-6 pushups or more. Congratulations!
  • Phase 4: To perform more pushups, or perform them with ease, work on your pushups regularly. If they still feel difficult, focus on the negative (lowering) phase of the pushup, lowering slowly for about 5 counts. This will help you build more strength so you can perform more pushups in good form.
How to Train Without Equipment
If you don’t have access to strength training equipment, another great way to train is by using a set of stairs. Performing pushups on an incline (like placing your hands on a wall, or on an elevated surface) is easier. Because your weight is distributed differently, you're lifting less of your body weight when on an incline. So this is a great way to start!
  • Phase 1: Perform wall pushups until you can handle 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form. Then move to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2: Perform incline pushups on a set of stairs. Stand at the landing and place you hands on the fourth or fifth step in front of you, and assume the pushup position with your legs straight. When you can do 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on that step, then progress by moving to the next step down. Continue to "walk" down the steps over time as you get stronger. Once you can do about 10 pushups on the first step, you're ready for the real thing!
  • Phase 3: Pushups! Once you've mastered Phase 2, you should be able to perform about 4-6 pushups or more on level ground. Congratulations!
How to Train with a Stability Ball
You can also use a stability ball to help you progress to full push up! When doing pushups on a stability ball, the exercise will be easier when the ball is closer to your hips, and harder when the ball is closer to your feet.
  • Phase 1: Perform pushups with your hips on the ball until you can handle 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form. Then move to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2: Continue to gradually increase your intensity over time by doing pushups with the ball closer to your knees. When you can do 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form with your legs on the ball, you're ready to move to Phase 3.
  • Phase 3: Continue to gradually increase your intensity over time by doing pushups with the ball closer to your feet. When you can do 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form, with the front of your ankles on the ball, you're ready for real pushups!
  • Phase 4: Pushups! Once you've mastered Phase 2, you should be able to perform about 4-6 pushups or more on level ground. Congratulations!
General Training Tips
  • Be sure to rest these muscle groups for 1-2 days after each of your training sessions. Resting is just as important as training, because recovery is what will help you repair, rebuild and get stronger.
     
  • Eat right. You can't make muscles out of just any old food—you need to fuel them properly before and after each workout to ensure you're getting the most of your workouts.
     
  • Don't neglect your other muscles. A sound strength training program, which targets each of your major muscle groups, is important for avoiding injury and creating balance.
     
  • Mix it up. It will take several weeks to master pushups if you're starting from square one, and you're sure to reach a few plateaus along the way. If you experience several weeks of stagnant progress, change things up.
     
  • Keep at it. If you don't continue to practice your pushups, you'll lose the strength that took you weeks to build up. Practice your pushups on a regular basis, aiming for 2 training sessions each week to maintain your newfound strength and skills.
Good luck reaching your goals!

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Member Comments

  • I trained myself to do push-ups using the training program New Rules of Lifting for Women. It included planks - I can now hold a 90 second plank, but when I started I could barely hold it for 30 seconds - and pushups at an incline. I started pressing off a bar (I used a bench-press bar, and have also used the Smith Machine bar), and then moved it lower (to a bench) and finally to the floor.

    I found the trick for me was to remember it is a PLANK, and to squeeze my butt. I can now do 8 in a row, but it will only go up from there. I can't get my nose to the floor yet, but I'm the closest I've ever been. I'll be working on perfecting that nose-to-the-floor over the next few weeks.
  • This is my dream exercise is the Regular(military) push up. I will master it. I just have to get past the cramp I get in my foot when in the full plank position. :(

    My number to achieve is a mere 50.
  • I used to do up to 25 "real" pushups many years back. Now, I don't know why my knees don't want to come up! So only girly pushups for me now! :(
  • I am unable to do even 1 pusu-up at this time but tis article gives me hope. I will make sure to give it a try.
  • WOW.. maybe if I LOSE about 80% of my body weight, then I can actually chest press 80%,... though I'll be too weak to chest press any weight!
  • KARATE_KID
    I've been working on my upper body strength for a while. Currently I bench press 50 pounds, which is "not quite" 80% of my body weight ;-) Actually it's quite a bit less. However I can do about 8-10 perfect pushups in a row, and after taking a break I can do a few more. So I'm confused by the advice to work up to 80% first and then do pushups.
  • Years ago I used to be able to do literally hundreds of pushups at class. Sadly this days appear to be long gone at least for now.

  • I started a boot camp class at my gym about a month ago, and found it AGONIZING how often they worked in pushups! When I started I could do a total of 4 (regulation push-ups). Now I'm up to 30!!! It's amazing how much you can improve when you just keep at it, relentlessly! (having very mean trainers who don't cut you any slack helps too!)
  • Stability ball push up are only harder when the ball is closer to your toes, but that still isn't as hard for me as floor push up, because the ball supports some of your body weight.
  • I might be mistaken, but isn't pushups on the stability ball HARDER than floor pushups?
    Also, are there any suggestions for improving floor pushups. I can do about 8-10, at what my dad estimates to be just short of 90 degrees or perfect form.

    I seem to be stuck in getting to perfect form, and any more than this number. =/
  • The only push up I can do is a frozen treat...lol I am going to work on my chest strength so I can do a proper push up
  • I found out when I started Boot Camp that in all my 32 years of living I have never done a proper push up. I still stuggle with them, but hopefully this will improve with time and training. Thank you for the advice.
  • I am definitely saving this one since at the moment I cannot do even ONE pushup with correct form. This will give me something to work with.
  • CSTEVENS4
    The phase training sounds great and sets a goal that is obtainable. I am going to give it a try for six weeks and see what results I can get.

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.

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