Getting Started With Push Ups

Jun 23, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

For those of us less-blessed in upper body muscles, push ups can be a real struggle. Maybe on a good day you can get one and it’s still kind of ugly. Over the pandemic, Liz Serago rose to this challenge. She’s an ambitious CPT and NASM youth soccer coach out of Kansas. She’s worked with athletes of all ages, from two to 90-years-old, and runs group training classes while working on her master’s degree.

In this article, she outlines why you need to be doing more push ups and how to do them properly. She also offers scaling options depending on your fitness level, like knee push ups and foot-elevated push ups.

Liz Serago Heahshot
Liz Serago

Why You Should Actually Work on Push Ups

What comes to mind when you hear the word “push-ups”?

Maybe it’s “gross” or “why would anyone want to do this tedious, Army-style punishment exercise?”

Maybe you’re someone who gets jazzed about push ups and finds them easy—that wasn’t me. Until recently, I was a push-up hater…

After COVID-19 shut down gyms, I realized I needed a backup plan. I needed a type of training that I could rely on and benefit from, gym or no gym. What did I land on? Push ups. One of the best functional exercises to modify and one of the hardest to do consistently.

Push ups are a simple movement, but they’re not easy (especially for a lot of women).

Whether you love or loathe them, push ups are the best builder for your upper body strength and stamina. And they can even be fun if you learn to do them well!

The Benefits of Proper Push Ups

Too many of us are slumped over a computer for most of the day. It’s no secret this does a number on our shoulders and back muscles. The effects of gravity on our spine in this rounded position can mean poor posture. 

Poor posture has a domino effect of serious negative consequences for your body:

  1. It deforms our natural spinal curvature resulting in that nagging back pain you feel when you stand up.
  2. Extra stress on your neck and spine weaken the surrounding muscles leading to those end-of-the-day headaches.
  3. It can even have a negative impact on your digestion and oxygen flow. 

Push ups are a quick and accessible start to solving all of these issues. This simple exercise strengthens the majority of the muscles needed for good posture. 

Push ups increase scapular and shoulder mobility while strengthening your pectoral (chest) muscles, front deltoids, triceps, and shoulder girdle. Your entire upper trunk holds these essential postural muscles and they can always benefit from being stronger.

Push Ups

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How to Do a Standard Push Up

The best thing about this exercise? No set-up or gym equipment necessary! Do them in your living room during commercial breaks, between work tasks or homework assignments, or any time you have 5 extra minutes to dedicate to your fitness. 


The starting position of a standard push up is a high plank. Place your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Engage your core, low back, and glutes to remain in proper alignment, keeping your butt/low back neutral. Your hips shouldn’t be sagging down to the ground or shooting up to the sky. 


Bend at your elbows to lower your body toward the ground. Keep your eyesight slightly in front of you to maintain a neutral neck position and aim to lower your chin to the ground (not your nose).

Important! Tuck your elbows toward your sides in an “A” shape rather than flared out in a “T” shape. This ensures that your shoulders and scaps are moving through proper form, keeping the quality of engagement through your pecs, delts, and triceps.

Tap your chest to the floor without letting your thighs or the rest of your torso touch. Then press back up into a plank position.

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Push Up Variations

There are hundreds of variations and modifications for push-ups to make them harder or easier. To keep things simple, I’ll cover two of the most common variations here:

  1. Modified knee push up (an easier variation to get you started) 
  2. Feet-elevated push up (a more challenging variation)


Knee Push Ups

If a standard push up is still a huge mountain for you, try the “knee” modification. 

Your torso starts in the same position as the standard push up: plank with your core engaged and spine straight, but rather than balancing on your toes with your legs straight out, let your knees rest on the ground. 

This position still engages your core, glutes, and back muscles, but decreases the load and stress on your arms. Once this modification becomes easier, challenge yourself by straightening your legs out into a standard push up. You’ll get there soon enough!

Push Ups

Coach’s Tip: If attempting push ups on your knees feels impossible, use a box, couch, or other sturdy piece of furniture to lean against. If a box is still a bit too much, start by pressing against a wall.

Push Ups
Feet-Elevated Push Ups

If you’re already comfortable with standard push ups and you’re looking for a challenge, try elevating your feet. 

Start in the standard push up position, but place your feet on a set of stairs or on your couch. This slight elevation pushes your weight forward into your hands. The higher the elevation is, the more challenging the pressing movement will be. 

Bonus: Handstand Push Ups

Once you become Wonder Woman level strong, you can progress into handstand push ups. Work with a coach on these and try not to fall on your face!

Welcome to the wonderful world of push ups, my friends. Start with just 10 a day and see how far they take you!

Push Ups

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