Can’t Do A Push-Up? These Four Moves Will Help You Build The Strength You Need

Close-up of woman's smiling face as she attempts an incline push-up on a bench outside
(Image credit: Maskot / Getty Images)

The push-up is one of the most common bodyweight exercises programmed into full-body and upper-body workouts, but it’s not a movement most people can do without building up strength first.

Thankfully, this is relatively straightforward to do once you know how. “Building up the muscles necessary for a push-up involves targeting the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core,” says Amanda Place, personal trainer and founder of Sculptrition.

You can do this by using other exercises to develop the muscles used to perform the movement combined with practicing easier push-up variations, such as a negative push-up where you only perform the lowering portion of the movement as slowly as you can, an incline push-up where you place your hands on a raised platform, or a push-up on your knees.

“Aim to practice push-up variations and related exercises at least three to four times per week,” says Place. “Consistency is key to building strength and muscle endurance. Track your progress and gradually increase the number of repetitions or the difficulty of the exercises as you get stronger.”

Here are four strength exercises Place recommends to improve your ability to perform push-ups or help you achieve your first one. It’s also worth familiarising yourself with our expert guide to proper push-up form.

1 Plank

“Planks help strengthen the core muscles, which are crucial for maintaining stability during a push-up,” says Place.

Lie on your front, brace your abs and lift your body off the floor, supporting yourself on your forearms and the balls of your feet, with your elbows under your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your heels.

2 Dumbbell bench press

Lie on your back either on the floor or on a bench, with your feet on the floor, holding dumbbells by your chest, with your upper arms at a 30°-45°angle to your torso. Extend your arms to press the weights up, then lower under control to the start.

3 Overhead triceps extension

Stand or sit on the end of a bench holding the head of a dumbbell in both hands above your head with your arms fully extended. Keeping your elbows pointing forward and your upper arms still, bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head, then extend your arms to return to the start.

4 Cable flye

Attach D-handles to the high anchor points on a cable machine and stand in the middle of the weight stacks. Move forward until there is tension in the cables and your hands are out to the sides at shoulder height with a slight bend in your elbows. Adopt a staggered stance and engage your core, then bring the handles in front of you. Pause, squeeze your chest muscles, then return to the start under control.

Alice Porter

Alice Porter is a journalist who covers health, fitness and wellbeing, among other topics, for titles including Stylist, Fit & Well, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, VICE and Refinery29. When she’s not writing about these topics, you can probably find her at her local CrossFit box.