Doing your first (or best) push up: top 3 exercises to improve push up strength

When we think about our fitness goals, one of the most common ones I hear revolves around push ups. I hear from ladies all the time that they’re trying to achieve their first push up from their toes, working on their range of motion, or trying to crush a fancy push up variation. Even in my #ConsistentlyLean coaching group, many of the ladies are working on their push up goals.

And I get it.

Crushing a full push up is HARD. It requires tons of upper body and core strength. And as women, we do tend to have more lower body than upper body strength. But don’t read that as “I’m never going to be able to do push ups from my toes.” There are SO many ways to increase your relative strength enough to complete lots of different types of push ups (the triceps push up is one of my faves).

woman push up

I’ve worked with nearly 100 women online over the last year and have helped many of them achieve their push up goals. So today, I’m sharing my three favorite exercises to progress your push up (learn exactly how to implement them in my free #PushUpPower Blueprint).

 

But first, let’s talk form.

One of the biggest mistakes I see ladies make in the gym is doing push ups with crappy form. They’re on their toes, arching their backs, and barely moving their chests towards the ground.

I get it. There’s pride involved. We want to be able to do *real* push ups. But the truth is, our bodies don’t care if we are on our toes, knees, or up against a wall. Our bodies know the force exerted on the muscles. And with a push up, range of motion is queen. We’ve gotta make sure that we’re correctly progressing (here’s how to progress or regress any exercise) so that we are moving towards a full range of motion (think chest all the way to the ground while still engaging the core).

This is why I won’t default to having clients perform their push ups from their knees; the range of motion is different AND it does not engage the core muscles in the same way. Today, I’m gonna share my three favorite exercises to help you build push up strength so that you can do your first (or best!) push up. If you want me to break it all down for you and show you exactly what to do, check this out.

 

Before we get started…

If you’re working through an injury, follow the cardinal role of working out: don’t do anything that hurts! If you’re feeling pain, stop it.

However, if you’re feeling stiff, that could be a warm up or activation issue. It’s so incredibly important to warm up prior to exercising, but it’s something so many of us skip, because it feels like just another long set of exercises to do before we start our actual exercise. That’s why I warm up like this instead.

Additionally, it’s super important that we activate the muscles we’re about to work, prior to exercising. This (1) decreases the likelihood of injury and (2) helps our muscles work harder during the actual workout. Activation is so important that I specifically call it out in my DARR formula for effective workouts.

Alright.

Assuming now that we’re all warmed up, activated, and ready to go, here are my three favorite exercises to improve your push up strength.

Learn the 3 best exercises to improve your push up. push up challenge - how to do a push up - beginner push up - push up workout

Wall Push Up

If you’re just getting started with push ups, this is the best place to start (yes, instead of push ups from your knees). This exercise will build the strength you need while also engaging your core.

Elevated Push Up

Once wall push ups become too easy for you, it’s time to elevate your hands. By elevating your hands, the movement becomes quite a bit easier (while still forcing you to use your core muscles).

While you’re doing elevated push ups, you can definitely incorporate some push ups from your knees for variety.

Push Up Holds

Once you’ve mastered these push up variations, it’s time to start increasing the challenge. One of the best ways to do this is through push up holds.

By holding yourself at the bottom of the range of motion, you’ll build lots of strength so that you can do even more challenging variations. It’s super important NOT to arch your back while you hold, so be mindful of your form.

By incorporating these three exercises into your routine, you’ll definitely master the push up! Try adding one (or all) to your next workout. If you want a step by step guide, grab my push up blueprint. I’ll tell you exactly what to do and when to do it to get your first (or best!) push up in the next four weeks. Check out all the details here.