Getting that 1st Push-Up!

By James Rose –

Image courtesy of Tyler Gatlin

For many of us…it kills us. Being envious of friends or siblings who seem stronger than you when they perform a chest-to-deck push-up. While you seemingly struggle to get all the way down without your elbows collapsing.

So let’s work on that. Below, you’ll find two different phases for working on not only the strength, but also the form. We’ll make sure the right muscles are working and that your imbalances are not taking over!


You’ll need: A broken down/flattened Amazon box, or a very thin, long, LIGHT piece of board. 

To Perform: 

1) Lie in your back, with head on the ground and fully extend your arms to the ceiling.

2) With your palms open, have a friend place the flat box on your hands, so it stretches across both palms. (Yes, make sure the box/board is long enough!) Make sure too that your fingers are pointing directly behind you, not out to the sides. As your balance the box on your palms, pull your shoulder blades back and push the chest out. This part is key for creating perfect Push-Up form later on!

3) Begin to bend your elbows and lower the box towards you – simultaneously, so the box stays comfortably in your palms. Elbows should NOT be jetting out to the sides! Keep them close enough to your torso. (Note how the range of motion feels. Any discomfort in the shoulders? Any aches in the elbow? What about the upper back?)

4) Now reverse the motion, pushing the flat box away from you and extending the elbows. At the top, make sure to keep the shoulders back, so to not over-extend the arms. 

Go ahead and repeat these steps a few times, to get a feel for the range of motion.

Note: It’s important not to ignore this step, despite how ridiculous it sounds. You need to build a muscle memory for how a push-up should be correctly performed. By performing it upside down with minimal weight, your body is getting a feel for the motion. 

Now let’s add some weight:

5) If you’re at a gym: Grab a pair of 10lb dumbbells. If at home: Try and add some light objects on top of the flax box/board. (Nothing breakable or small that could slide off and hit you! Shoes work well.) Repeat the same process and go for as many reps as you can, for a minute, or until it starts to burn. DON’T RUSH IT. I want you to be aware of the movement. Keep an eye on those elbows. 

Final notes on Phase 1: Remember to keep palms open and fingers pointing directly behind you. Keep those shoulder back! Bend elbows down to your sides, making sure they don’t jet out wildly! Keep everything else nice and still. 


So now we’ll be working towards the actual movement, with drills that have you face forward. Start with A) and work your way along, as you get 10 unbroken reps.

A) The “Wall” Push-Up: Find a vacant wall at home and stand about 2-3 feet away from it. Space the feet out about shoulder-width apart. Place your hands the same distance apart. Begin to descend towards the wall, mimicking the form from Phase 1, until your forehead touches. Then push yourself back to starting position. Make sure you keep your heels on the ground the entire time. Again, note how it overall movement felt. Can you perform 10 unbroken?

B) The “Counter Top” Push-Up: Find a counter-top at home that it clear of clutter. A bathroom sink usually works well, just move the toothbrush to one side. Now I’d recommend using the edges of the counter-top here, so our form may adjust slightly. (But we’re still recruiting the same muscles.) Since we’re going a little lower now, there’s new checkpoints to consider. 

– Keep back straight and make sure hips don’t dip down. (Squeeze butt!)

– Don’t dip the head. Keep it neutral! Only the arms should be moving!

So repeat the same process, with elbows bending down to sides, keeping a firm grip on edge of counter-top. Can you push-back up? If so, Great! Try and do 10 unbroken.

C) The “Bed” Push-up. Again, surface is getting even lower. With this, try and remove the top comforter, so your hands have a smoother surface to operate. Again, repeat the steps. If you can do push-ups here, you’re not far away fro the real-deal. Work towards 10 unbroken. (if you’re at the gym, a regular flat bench would work well at this stage!)

D) Kneeling Push-ups. The Penultimate stage! You can almost taste it!.Grab a soft mat or pad for your knees to rest on. Make sure your back is completely flat, all the way down to your knees. The biggest note when performing these: Don’t leave the hips behind! People tend to lower themselves down, but push the butt back, thus performing incorrectly. So make sure your hips travel with you. If you can perform 10 unbroken, you might as well try that push-up! You’re pretty much there! 

Final note: It’s always important with any form of Push-up that you keep your form in check. Shoulders back, elbows not bending out to sides, fingers pointing forwards. If you have any aches and pains performing any of these steps, dial it back and work on things that don’t exacerbate pain. Check in with a fitness professional or a Personal Trainer if you’re still concerned, or visit a local physician if the pain continues. 

Good Luck – JR!

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