Whatever flavor of fitness you personally prefer, chances are you’re no stranger to pushups. Requiring just your body and a sizable helping of motivation, the classic move ignites the muscles in your chest, back, arms, core, and legs simultaneously. Because of this, pushups have the ability to create a serious total-body burn.
But if you’re already doing pushups on the regular, you probably also know that the struggle can be real—like really real. Heck, even as a woman who prides herself on being able to pull a 300-pound bar up off the ground, I often exclude pushups from my strength workouts out of sheer embarrassment of my lack of skillz.
I’m not the only one struggling with how to get better at pushups, either. “Women, on average, have less upper-body muscle mass compared to men, and proportionately carry less strength there,” explains Danyele Wilson, CPT, trainer for the app Tone & Sculpt. As a result, pushing movements tend to be more challenging.
Your goal to finally be able to churn out more than five (okay, three) pushups is far from hopeless, though. “Women are more than capable of performing a pushup,” says Wilson. It’s just a matter of building some upper-body and core strength.
Feeling inspired to improve your pushup game? These oh-so compelling reasons to master the move—plus form tips—will make you feel like a total badass.
Here Are All The Muscles Worked In A Pushup
Unlike biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder raises, and other upper-body exercises that tend to isolate one or muscle or a handful, pushups ignite multiple major muscles in your upper bod, offering significantly more bang for your buck, Wilson says.
In fact, the muscles you use in a pushup include:
Though not the main focus, your glutes and quads will also get in on the action. Talk about a full-body experience.
How To Do The Perfect Pushup
Your first step in getting better at pushups? Mastering perfect form, one single pushup at a time.
Here’s how to execute a flawless rep:
A few common mistakes to avoid? Letting your hips sag down, flaring your elbows out wide away from your sides, and allowing your head to drop down, Wilson says.
4 Big Benefits You’ll Reap From Doing Pushups
Though the road to mastering pushups may seem long and winding, trust me: It’s a road not traveled in vain. “Pushups are a highly accessible, effective movement that helps to develop the major functional pushing movement pattern,” explains Wilson.
Here are four of the biggest benefits associated with pushups:
1. You’ll improve your upper-body and core strength and stability
Not only do a stronger, more stable upper-body and core mean you’re more likely to nail funky yoga moves like crow pose, but they also protect your shoulders and lower back from injury, explains Wilson. What’s more: A strong core better supports your spine, reducing your risk of lower-back injuries, according to research published in the journal Sports Health.
2. Your posture will improve
Kiss those slumpy shoulders goodbye! Having a stronger core(which pushups help with) with a more upright posture, per study findings in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science.
3. Your cardiovascular health might get a boost
People who do at least one hour of strength training per week experience a 40 to 70 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke than those who don’t, according to a 2019 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. So, if you needed another reason to pursue those pushups, know that they do your heart just as much good as your other muscles.
4. Your confidence skyrockets
Sometimes the biggest benefits are the ones you can’t see but ~feel~. “Once you start doing pushups, especially as a woman, expect to feel a boost of confidence,” Wilson says. She’s a firm believer that the sense of accomplishment that comes from building the upper-body strength women may naturally lack affects how we show up in every aspect of life. Heavy moving boxes? No problem. Work presentation? Crushed it.
4 Ways To Improve Your Pushups
If you want to get better at pushups (or any exercise move, for that matter), the way to do it is with progressive overload. This technical term just refers to gradually increasing the stress you put on your muscles, often by increasing your load or the amount of time your muscles spend under tension, explains Wilson.
In the case of pushups, you’ll want increasingly challenge yourself while performing upper-body pushing movements and core work. Here are four ways to do just that.
1. Start from your knees, if needed
If you’re unable to touch your chest to the floor (or at least close to it) during a full pushup, before giving up hope, try performing them from your knees first, suggests Wilson. “Modification over elimination—always,” she says.
Build up to three sets of 12 knee pushups three times per week. Once they feel easy, you’re ready to get those knees up off the floor.
2. Experiment with progressions and variations
Pushup variations are plentiful—and they’re a great way to challenge your muscles and keep you engaged on your pushup journey. Some of Wilson’s favorites: incline pushups (hands on an elevated surface), decline pushups (feet on an elevated surface), and tempo pushups (in which you slow down the lowering portion of the move).
Looking for more upper-body love? Check out this equipment-free workout:
You can also play with your hand placement. Moving your palms in halfway from their usual position (think slightly closer than shoulder-width) best activates your chest and triceps, found a study published in The Journal of Physical Therapy Science. Just make sure to keep those elbows from flaring out wide.
3. Incorporate chestpresses into your workouts
While you can most definitely get better at pushups by simply doing pushups, if you have access to dumbbells or a barbell, Wilson recommends incorporating a handful of pushing exercises into your upper-body routine. These similar movement patterns will help your efforts on the floor.
“Start with dumbbell or barbell chest presses and gradually increase your load and time under tension,” explains Wilson. For example, you might start out pressing 15-pound dumbbells for three sets of 10 reps. Once that starts to feel easy, increase your weight by a few pounds.
4. Focus on your core
One of the most common culprits responsible for trouble nailing pushups is a lack of core strength, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). That being said, if you really want to amp up your pushup game, core work (specifically planking) is a must.
“The main requirement for doing a pushup is to be able to maintain a straight-arm plank,” explains Norma Lowe, CPT, trainer and certified sports nutritionist. “I always say that the pushup is like a moving plank.” Build your planks up to at least 30 to 60 seconds and incorporate about three sets into your workouts three times a week.
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