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5 Tips to progress from a kneeling to real pushup

5 Tips to progress from a kneeling pushup to the real deal

One thing I hear time and time again from my female client is “I’m not good at push ups”.

Our conversation after usually goes like this:

Me: "Ok, how often do you work on them”

Client: “Not that often, they are just soooo difficult for me”

Me: “Are you usually really good at things you don’t work at”?

Usually by this point I have a little smirk on my face and the client cracks a smile too and realizes that yes, just like everything else, we need to work at things we want to get good at.

The bottom line is women don’t have as much natural upper body strength as men. The truth is, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Just because you were born with a genetically stronger lower half of your body, doesn’t mean you can’t improve the strength on the upper portion. It will take some purposeful work and practice. However, with the correct exercises and proper form, I promise you that if you focus on it, you CAN do push ups, and do them well. Just think about how great you’ll feel when you can finally knock out a set of 10 perfect push ups!

Here are my top 5 tips to progress from ‘girl’ push ups from your knees to full blown proper push ups.

  1. Inclines are your friend – If you only ever practice push ups from your knees, you will get really good at….push up from your knees. When you do push ups from your toes you engage the whole line of your body down from the crown of your head to your feet. Practicing this engagement is key to being able to do a full push up from the ground (not on your knees). I suggest starting at a height that enables you to do a push up in good form. It might be a kitchen counter top, a coffee table, chair or better yet, stairs. Stairs are perfect because you do pushups at an incline and as you get better and the pushups get easier (they will, don’t worry!), you can decrease your angle and put your hands on a lower stair. This is a great way to gradually work your way down to a full push up.
  2. Squeeze your bum – Most people think of push ups as a great chest & upper body exercise, and they are. But the benefits extend well past your chest when done correctly. A push up can be (and should be) a full body exercise. You should squeeze your bum to engage your glutes, press through your heels to keep your legs straight, pull your shoulders down your back (keep lots of space around the ears & neck) and slightly pull your belly button in, engaging your core.
  3. Use your breath – Timing your breath can help add some ‘umph’ to your push up when you need it most. As you lower your body to the ground (or table/chair/counter/stair) inhale. When you push yourself away with your hands exhale. Use that exhale as a little bit of extra power to get out of the depth of the push up.
  4. Engage all 5 fingers – Often the tendency is to make the ring and pinky fingers do most of the work when pressing back from a push up. That’s not fair is it? Those two fingers pick up the bulk of the effort while the other two and thumb just hang out there? Typically people put most of their weight and pressure into those outside fingers and the outside edge of their palm, leaving extra power & available energy on the table by not using their full hand. When you set up for a push up, spread your fingers wide, feel each finger tip press into the ground and keep them engaged throughout each rep.
  5. 45 not 90 – Women, for some reason, tend to have their elbows flare out at a 90 degrees from their body as they do push ups. Proper form is to have your arms come back towards your torso at about a 45 degree angle. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, weird and likely much harder the first couple times you try it. Your body has gotten used to the other movement pattern you have taught it. Stick with it and over time you will get better at it and it will feel more natural. When your arms come away from your body at 90 degrees it puts your wrist into an awkward angle and places a lot of strain on the joint. It also often leads to a scrunching up of the back of the shoulders (traps), which prevents you from coming down fully into a push up.Correct arm position – arms at 45 degrees Incorrect position – arms flaring out at sides

I have a short video available here which walks through some of these tips. Check it out and keep practicing! Remember, you can’t get good at something if you don’t put in the work and effort to improve it.


Marisa is BCRPA personal trainer and a fun-fitness-fanatic living the active dream in beautiful Vancouver, BC. She hikes, swims, runs, bikes, bootcamps & yoga's as much as possible, outdoors when possible, and believes everything is possible. Find her on the web at www.motivatedmovementpt.com and on Facebook and Instagram.