How to do a Push-up if You Can’t Do One

Many of the older adults that I work with struggle with various aspects of their strength. Some have difficulty lifting items with their back muscles, while others sruggle to use their legs effectively. In addition to these two deficits, many of them have a lot of difficulty with their upper body strength. Specifically, many of the individuals that I work with struggle to perform even a single pushup without some sort of assistance. Being able to perform a proper pushup is incredibly important for remaining independent. If you fall and need to get up off of the ground, having the strength to do at least a partial pushup is a prerequisite. Thus, it is important to practice the pushup movement, in hopes of getting enough strength some day to do a full pushup. This article will briefly go over a few of the exercise variations that you can do to improve your pushup strength if you are not strong enough to do one.

Before You Begin

Before you begin, it would be good to set out a bit of space and equipment to perform the pushup exercise. If you have stairs available, make sure to clear off any unnecessary objects from the stairs to ensure that you will be able to exercise safely. in addition to this, we will also be on our knees for one of the variations of this exercise. Because of this, it is recommended to use a yoga mat, towel, balance pad, or something similar for your knees to rest on. In the video posted above, we use a yoga mat. If you would like a yoga mat, the yoga mat we recommend can be purchased with our amazon affiliate link here.

How to do a Push-up if You Can’t Do One

If you are currently not strong enough to complete a proper pushup, we will give you a few different variations to practice your overall strength. For all of these exercises, we will try to complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions for every movement. Once you complete one variation with this repetition scheme, you can try the next level up. The variations mentioned in the video above include:

  • Wall pushup
  • Stair pushup
  • Elevated pushup on knees
  • Elevate pushup
  • Pushup on knees
  • Full Pushup

Wall pushup

For the wall pushup, you want to find a wall that is sturdy and will not budge if you place a large amount of force through it. A brick or concrete wall would ideally work the best. Next, stand in front of the wall with your feet about 2-3 feet from the wall. Lean forward, and place your hands on the wall. In this position, slowly lower your head and chest towards the wall until you get as close as possible. Now, push hard against the wall, until your arms are straight. If this version is difficult, take a small step forward until you can complete ten repetitions in a row. Another point to note for all of these exercises is to make sure your body is completely straight the entire time.

Stair pushup

Once you have gotten strong enough on the wall pushups, you can do pushups off of stairs. I really like this variation because you can slowly progress to a new stair level once you get strong enough at another. Because of this, it is a very easy way to measure your pushup strength. For starters, we recommend starting at the fifth stair level and seeing how strong you are there. You will still complete the same movement as the exercise above, keeping your body straight, lowering as far as you can, and straightening your arms all the way at the top when finished.

Elevated pushup on knees

If you do not have stairs, this is where you can grab a bench or use your couch as another way to boost yourself up. Once you have your sturdy bench or box, you will place the yoga mat on the ground beneath you, allowing your knees to rest gently on them. In this position, you will then put your hands onto the bench, with your knees on the mat. While keeping your body straight, slowly lower your chest and body to the bench or raised object, and push yourself back up into position, just like the other variations.

Elevated pushup

The elevated pushup is identical to the elevated pushup on your knees. The main difference, of course, is that you will not need the yoga mat to place your knees on for the exercise. This will be much harder than the previous exercise, so make sure that you are able to perform this variation of the pushup. This variation will put extra emphasis on your core muscles, so be aware of how straight your body is throughout the movement.

Pushup on knees

If you are strong enough to complete elevated pushups off of a raised object, you are likely ready to increase the challenge. Doing pushups off of your knees is as simple as it sounds. You will be placing your knees on the yoga mat, with your hands out a decent amount in front of you. Like shown in the video above, you will then lower your chest all the way to the ground, and then push yourself all the way back up.

Full Pushup

The holy grail! If you were able to complete three sets of ten repetitions on the other pushup variations before this, you are ready to try full pushups. For a full pushup, you will bring your feet behind you, and place your hands on the ground. Next, you will bring your knees off the ground, keep your body straight, and then slowly lower your chest to the ground. You will finish the exercise by straightening your arms completely at the top. Make sure you don’t let your butt sag too low, or bring it up high. If you are not able to do ten repetitions your first try, that is okay. Try to do as many as you can pain free, before giving yourself enough rest to do another one. Just like the last pushup variations, over time you will increase your strength to the point where you can do multiple sets.

The pushup is a wonderful functional exercise that can assist us in getting off the ground more efficiently. For individuals who struggle with falling, or have a weak upper body, practicing the pushup is fundamental in improving overall strength. Good luck when performing the exercise, and keep up the work!

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