Confession: I can’t do a push-up. I fake my way through them every time I’m in a workout class. What’s the secret if you have zero upper-body strength? —Erin M.
This move has been my nightmare ever since participating in the Presidential Fitness Challenge in middle school gym class. You can master the push-up though, even if you consider yourself a weakling (spoiler alert: you’re NOT!). Even super-fit people sometimes struggle to complete more than five or six reps with perfect form, so don’t feel bad. With a little practice, you might be doing them one-handed in no time.
The basic move: push-up
1. Start in plank
Refresh yourself on the fundamentals of the plank here, and then roll out into the pose—abs in, back flat, and pressing firmly into your hands. If you want to drop down to your knees, do it after you’ve come out to a plank position; if you take this modification, make sure your body is in a completely straight line (don’t stick your butt out).
2. Lower your body
Once you’ve got a strong base, slowly lower your entire body toward the ground while bending your elbows. Instead of pointing your elbows straight out to the sides to form a 'T,' angle your upper arms and elbows out from your ribcage at about a 40-degree angle. This position protects your shoulder joint. Only go as low as you can control, keeping your torso strong and straight.
3. Press back up
Push down through your hands and activate the muscles under your armpits and shoulder blades to press back up to your starting plank position. Take a second to evaluate your form and adjust if needed, and then repeat. Remember, with push-ups, quality over quantity matters most; even if you can only do one perfectly today, that’s better than doing five crappy ones.
Already a master? Here are four variations that work different muscles in your arms and back, leaving you with a chiseled—and super strong—upper body.
4 muscle-sculpting push-up variations
Do: 10 reps
Tip: Squeeze your elbows into your ribcage, bringing your heart forward through your hands to lower towards the mat.
Do: 10 reps
Tip: Make a little triangle with your hands, placing the opening of your palms directly beneath your sternum.
Do: 10 reps with the right hand forward, then repeat on the left
Tip: Stagger your hands so your top hand is directly in front of your shoulder, and your bottom hand is in line with your chest.
Do: 20 reps, alternating between the right and left
Tip: Squeeze your knee all the way up toward your elbow using your oblique muscles—the higher the better!