If there was a Fitness 101 list of basic exercises, push-ups would definitely be on the list. Everybody knows what a push-up is, right? It’s such a simplistic exercise. How many people can actually do a good one these days is another matter entirely, but that’s not the point of this article.
The point of this brief article is to share what, in my opinion, is the best way to develop the strength to do a push-up if you cannot right now. A popular method I’ve seen is having people drop to their knees and do what is sometimes (inappropriately) referred to as ‘girl pushups’. First of all, I’ve seen females do push-ups far better than males on many occasions, so let’s drop that gender-biased nonsense. Secondly, the ‘knee push-up’ method rarely ever carries over to developing the full body push-up properly. There’s a better way.
The simple method I use to help people develop push-up strength is descending elevated push-ups. The concept is simple. Maintain the same body position as a full push-up, but elevate your hands to a point where you’re able to do the movement with proper form. The easiest variation would be completely vertical, against a wall. Most people can start somewhere around hip height, like using the back of a park bench or the top of an office desk.
Stay at a level until you can perform a few sets of 10-15 reps with excellent form and full range of motion, then place your hands on a lower surface to increase the challenge. Continue this way until you’re on the floor banging out push-ups with ease like a pro. Do a focused session of 3-5 sets every 1-3 days (or as long as it takes for any major soreness to subside).
You can accelerate your progress by ‘greasing the groove’ with a quick lower intensity set (do no more than half of your maximum reps) every couple hours throughout each day. This is like constantly reminding your nervous system that you want to be able to do this, without fatiguing it to the point of diminishing returns. It usually works well in conjunction with your less frequent, higher volume training sessions.
I should mention that this advice assumes you meet the other necessary requirements for good push-ups. For example, wrist mobility and scapular mobility are common limitations that sometimes require specific supplemental work.
If you’re already able to perform full push-ups with ease, try your hand at the alternating one-fist push-ups shown in the video below. Chest to the ground! No cheating. Half range of motion is for the delusional ego-driven folks who only want to pretend to be strong.