- Although they’re a popular and effective full-body exercise, push-ups can be tricky to master.
- There are plenty of easy ways to modify a push-up for those looking to gain strength, manage discomfort, or try advanced movements.
- INSIDER spoke with a trainer, a fitness expert, and a physical therapist about some of the ways people of differing abilities can modify push-ups.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Fortunately, whether you’re looking to gain strength, challenge yourself, or work around a bit of discomfort, there are plenty of easy ways to adjust a push-up.
Here are some ways you can modify your push-ups, according to experts.
Before you modify a push-up, be sure to master the correct form
“Proper form and set-up is key regardless of the variation you choose,” said Chelsea Axe, DC, CSCS, and fitness expert for Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. “Keep the heels stacked directly over the toes and the shoulders stacked directly over the hands.”
She also said your neck should “stay neutral,” which means you shouldn’t tuck your chin to your chest. Instead, look directly at the ground in front of you.
“Engage your quads and glutes and pull your belly button towards your spine,” she added. “There should be no movement in the body from this position except in the elbows once the movement begins. The elbows bend and stay tucked into the body as you lower down and then extend to raise your body up.”
For all types of push-ups, she said you’ll want to keep your spine neutral so your body appears to be in one straight line when you’re looking in the mirror.
“Remember that push-ups are meant to be a full body movement,” said iFit trainer Mecayla Froerer. “If you notice just your upper body leading the push-up, remember to engage your core and let your entire body move down as one.” You should also not be forcefully lowering your body down or snapping back up, added Froerer.
If you want to build strength, try doing standing push-ups against a wall
“This is a good way to start if you are new to push-ups or haven’t done them in a while,” said physical therapist Dr. Jasmine Marcus. Axe noted that wall push-ups are great for those looking to build up their strength while decreasing the tension placed on their wrists and elbows.
Froerer also said that this is a great modification for “individuals who are looking for a lower intensity version of a traditional push-up, including senior citizens, pregnant people, and those with limited mobility.”
To try this modification, Axe said you should place your hands shoulder-width apart on the wall and slowly step back while keeping your core tight and engaged. Froerer said your toes should be pointed straight ahead and she recommends that you start off by standing about a foot away from the wall. Then, engage in the exercise as you would a standard push-up.
Axe also noted that the further you step away from the wall, the more challenging it will be to do a push-up.
Try doing push-ups on your knees as you progress
“Push-ups on the knees is a variation that can be done when one cannot completely support their own body weight or wishes to perform a higher number of repetitions,” said Axe. Froerer said this is also a moderate version of a standard push-up that’s meant for those who are working on their core strength, who are trying to boost their upper body strength, or who haven’t worked out in a while.
“To perform, kneel on the ground and walk your hands out until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your head. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders,” said Axe. “Keep your feet uncrossed and neutral behind you to keep your pelvis neutral. Engage your core and bend only your elbows, keeping them tight into your body to lower towards the ground. Extend them to complete the repetition.”
You can also try incline push-ups, a modification that involves resting your hands on a sturdy, raised surface, like a bench or table
“Incline push-ups are a great way to engage more of your lower chest muscles and back,” said Axe. “It can be a good option when trying to limit the tension on the shoulder or elbow joints.” Froerer also told INSIDER that this variation is a great place to start if it’s been a while since you exercised or if you want to work on increasing your upper body strength.
Froerer said to do this move you’ll start by placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the raised surface (like a bench, chair, or table). She said that you’ll want to position your feet roughly hip-width apart.
“Stand at an angle against your bench/chair/table with your body in a straight line while maintaining a neutral spine. While looking roughly one foot in front of your fingertips, bend at your elbows while keeping them close to your torso,” she explained.
Table-top push-ups can be a great choice for those who can’t yet support their full body weight, said Axe
“To perform, place your hands on the ground directly underneath your shoulders. Then kneel so that your knees are on the ground directly underneath your hips and your body forms a ‘table’ position,” Axe told INSIDER. “Pull [your] core in and bend your elbows only to bring your closer to the ground. Straighten them to complete a repetition.”
Utilise a mat or soft blocks if you need wrist and hand support
If you’re ready to try a traditional push-up but need a bit of extra support, you can place your hands on a mat or soft yoga blocks, the experts advised. “Using a soft mat for your hands when doing push-ups can help alleviate wrist pain,” Axe told INSIDER.
“To perform, place your hands on a soft mat, shoulder-width distance apart and directly underneath your shoulders. Walk your feet back until your body is in a straight line. Keep your core engaged to not dip in your low back and bend your elbows to lower your body to the mat. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides and straighten them again to finish the repetition,” she added.
There are a few push-up modifications for those dealing with wrist discomfort or pain
If you feel like you’re straining your wrists, Marcus said she recommends you try to grip dumbbells while you do a push-up.
Axe added that doing wrist stretches before you perform push-ups can help alleviate wrist pain. She also said you may want to try changing the positions of your hands.
“Push-ups may be done from a fist position instead of an open hand or one may rotate their hands outward slightly to alleviate some tension,” she told INSIDER. “To perform, begin in a full plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and core engaged. For the fist variation, make a fist with each hand and place the ‘punching surface’ of your hand on the ground so that your wrist is completely neutral.”
“To perform the open-handed, rotated version, rotate your hands outward 15 degrees, keeping them directly underneath your shoulders,” said Axe. “Once you have set up, engage your core and bend only at your elbows keeping them pulled tight into your body. Extend your elbows to complete a repetition.”
There’s an easy way to modify your push-ups to alleviate shoulder discomfort
Marcus suggested one simple tweak – reduce the amount you’re lowering your body as you work on building up shoulder strength.
Try raising your feet on a sturdy bench, chair, or step to change which part of your body you’re targeting
Raising your feet is another great modification, said Axe, noting that doing so can “target more of your upper chest and front shoulders.” She said the higher you raise your feet, the more your shoulders will be targeted.
“To perform, place your feet on an elevated surface: a step, a bench, a chair, etc. and walk your hands out so they are directly stacked underneath your shoulders and engage your core so that your body is in a straight line,” she told INSIDER. “Keeping your core pulled in to not sag in your low back, bend your elbows to bring your upper body closer to the ground and then extend back up.”
You can try doing one-leg push-ups to test your core strength and stability
“Starting with your body in a tall plank position, place your hands and feet shoulder-width apart,” said Froerer. “Before lowering yourself, lift one leg off the ground and engage your core.”
“While looking about a foot in front of your fingertips, slowly lower your body down with your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your torso,” she told INSIDER. “Once you reach the halfway point of your repetitions, switch which leg you raise. This will test your stability and core strength.”
Doing isometric push-ups is another great way to boost strength
To complete an isometric push-up you’ll want to do a traditional push-up but instead of immediately lowering and raising your body, you’ll hold your body at its lowest point for three to five seconds. Then you will return your body to a raised position and hold it for another three to five seconds, said Froerer.
Spider-Man push-ups can help engage your oblique muscles
Froerer also said she likes the Spider-Man push-up because it is “a great way to engage your obliques” and it can add a stability challenge to your workout.
To do this move, you’ll start in traditional push-up form but “as you slowly lower yourself down, bend one of your knees, and bring it up and out next to the side of your body. Push yourself back into the starting position while bringing your leg back to its starting point. Switch knees on the next repetition.”
Plyometric push-ups help get your heart rate up fast
If you’re looking to mix cardio movements with strength movements, look no further than the plyometric push-up, which starts in traditional push-up form but ends with a twist.
“In one quick explosive movement, you’ll push yourself back up while bringing your hands away from the floor,” said Froerer. “This advanced push-up variation is for those seeking a way to incorporate power training along with strength into their fitness regimen.”
Other props can also be used to modify a push-up’s intensity
Each expert suggested you can also place your hands on a Bosu ball (a dome-shaped, partially inflated training device that’s commonly used for balance-related exercises) when doing a push-up. Marcus said that the “unstable” surface of a Bosu ball can make push-ups more challenging.
Axe said you may want to try using a medicine ball (a weighted ball commonly used for strength exercises) or two to help change up the intensity of a typical push-up.
To do a push-up with one medicine ball, keep one hand on the ground and the other on top of the ball. Your body should be in plank position, said Axe.
“Both hands should still remain directly underneath the shoulders. Engage the core and bend the elbows only and then extend. You can alternate which hand the ball is under every repetition or change it every set but remember to keep it even,” she explained.
“You can also utilise two medicine balls when doing push-ups,” she added. “The set up for the push-up is the exact same except one medicine ball is placed underneath each hand. This is a very advanced movement and can test stability as well as strength.”
If you have access to them, gymnastic rings can also be used to help you work on your stability
“Gymnastic rings are a great tool to both keep your push-up form in check and also increase the intensity of the exercise,” said Axe. “This will not only be a full-body exercise but will also challenge stability as well.”
“To begin, adjust the height of the rings. The higher the rings, the easier it will be. Grip the rings and walk your feet back so that your body is in a straight line,” she told INSIDER. “Engage your core and bend your elbows only, keeping them tight into your body. Once lowered down, straighten them to complete the repetition.”
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