If You Want to Get Better at Pushups, Don't Get on Your Knees

We love pushups. The bodyweight move is one of the first exercises just about everyone learns as a kid because they’re so very simple: all you do is lower yourself down, then push yourself back up. Pump through enough reps, and you can build a seriously strong chest and arms.

Sure, once you’ve grown a bit and you actually have some goals for your training, the move is just a bit more complicated than just going down and up. You need to be able to own your plank position to start, keeping your spine neutral and core engaged. Then, you can’t just drop yourself to the floor, pelvis first. Doing a good pushup requires you to control your descent so that you lower your chest just above the ground to a point where you could hold for more than just a second if need be, then extending your arms to return all the way up to the top of the position before moving on to the next rep. Need to see that play out in real time? Watch and learn below.

But not everyone has built up the strength to pump through rep after rep, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The whole point of strength training (exercising with any type of resistance to make your muscles bigger and stronger, not just heavy iron weights) is to build strength—it’s right there in the name, after all. You can’t just expect to complete any type of workout, even working with your own bodyweight, without creating a base to get there first.

So if you want to try a workout that you’re not ready for strength-wise, one option is to scale the exercises (you might also hear this referred to as a “regression”). One of the most common ways that people scale the pushup is to perform reps on their knees—some trainers even build knee pushups into their programming for beginners. While this isn’t going to hurt you, necessarily, it’s not going to do much to help you, either.

Instead, your best bet to build real strength while working your way up to a full pushup (or your regression when you can’t keep performing reps with proper form during a workout) is to elevate your hands on a raised surface to do incline pushups. If you’re in a gym setting, a bench works well—but you can use an ottoman, couch, or even steps if you’re at home, too.

“We see that a lot [knee pushups]—and then we see people to struggle to evolve to the full pushup. That’s because you’re not training your glutes and core to properly stabilize,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Rather than focusing on taking your abs and legs out of the equation, focus instead on engaging them even more.

“Instead of doing starting your pushups on your knees, place your hands on a bench and gradually progress to using lower and lower benches (or whatever platform you have handy) for your hands. This will let you work with less load but still train core tension,” Samuel advises.

So next time your pushup form starts to flag, look to raise up instead of dropping down.

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