Can’t Do a Push-Up? Here’s How to Do the First One

Woman doing a push up

Do you struggle with Push-ups? Does it seem like you’ll never be able to do one? Don’t let Push-ups intimidate you. Push-ups are really tough when you first start trying to do them.

The following routine will help you succeed at your first Push-up. It can be combined with a workout plan or done separately.

Before you start

Make sure you know what a proper Push-up looks like – check out and avoid these mistakes.

This video shows you the correct Push-up form (elbows tucked, not flared; body straight from head to heels):

Correct hand position for Push-up

Place your hands under your shoulders with the index fingers pointing forward. For more stability, try to screw your palms into the floor, creating external rotation force or torque – it will stabilize your arms and shoulders.

Step 1: Preparation with the Plank

Can you hold a 60 sec High Plank with good form?

Great! If not, build up to that first, before starting the Push-up routine below. You can practice the plank every day.

Step 2: Push-up Practice

The simplest way to progress to a full Push-up is to consistently train your body with Incline Push-ups.

Aren’t Knee Push-ups enough to build up to a full Push-up?

Knee Push-ups will build upper body strength, but the position greatly differs from the actual set-up of the Push-up (you are supporting yourself on your knees, not toes, which changes the load on your upper body). If you want to be able to do a full Push-up, you should practice Incline Push-ups, too (explained below).

The Incline Push-up

An Incline Push-up is a variation of the Push-up where your upper body is supported on a higher surface than your toes. It works the upper body muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps & back muscles) and requires core stability as well. Here are some examples:

How to do the Push-up routine

  • Find an incline height – could be stairs (very practical to modify), a desk, or even the wall (Wall Push Off is a variation of the Incline Push-up) – at which you can perform more than one straight line Incline Push-up.
  • Start by doing as many reps as you can with good form, rest for 2 minutes, repeat another 2 rounds. Do this workout 3 times per week.
  • Work on this height until you can do 3 x 10 (3 sets of 10 repetitions) with good form – no sagging belly or chest, no sticking out your butt, no flared elbows.
  • Progress to a lower height and repeat the same process again.
  • Keep reducing the height until you reach the floor 🙂

This routine is enough to get you to your first Push-up. If you are eager to learn more, you can add the following exercise at the end of the routine.

For those who want more (optional): The turning point exercise

  • Top down: Get in a High Plank position and start to slowly lower your body. Your goal is to find the lowest point at which you are still able to push yourself back up. This is your turning point. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Bottom up: Lie down and try to push yourself off from the ground (like you are about to do a Push-up). Push yourself as high as you can, even if it’s just 3 cm off the ground. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds.

Choose the variation that you like better and repeat it 5-10 times at the end of your routine.

Man practicing a push up

Can the Push-up routine be combined with a workout plan?

Yes, you have 2 options:

  • The routine as an added workout: If your workout plan doesn’t involve many Push-ups, add this routine to your workout 2-4 times per week. Do the routine on days when you didn’t work your upper body much in general and allow a rest day between two routines.
  • Fitting the routine into your workout plan: if your workout plan includes Knee Push-ups/Push-ups, do Incline Push-ups instead. Whenever a set of Knee Push-ups or Push-ups comes up in your plan – first do the incline variation for as many solid reps as you can (on an incline as low as possible), then finish the set on a higher incline (easier) for as many reps as indicated in the plan.

Final tips to help you do your first Push-up

Ready to start? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be disciplined: You know you can’t manage the routine at least 3 times a week? Set a goal you can achieve, so you don’t get discouraged. Just stick to the plan. Remember, upper body strength is important for runners, too.
  • Don’t give up: As you progress with the routine, you will feel stronger and closer to succeeding at your first Push-up.Try it during every workout if you like or once a week, as long as it’s before, not after the routine.
  • Start with one: As soon as you can do one full Push-up, start your sets with the full Push-up (one or more) and then finish the set with an easier variation (Incline or Knee Push-up).

When you can do the full Push-up easily, it’s time to check out other Push-up variations and set yourself a new goal to work toward!

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Hana Medvesek With a background in physical therapy, Hana strongly believes that movement is medicine. She likes to run, lift weights, and try out simple, healthy recipes. View all posts by Hana Medvesek »