Getting Past 'Girl' Push-ups

How do women develop upper-body strength to do push-ups?
Stephanie Necamp, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, does push-ups during the Warrior Women Fitness Challenge on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Aug. 16, 2017. (R.J. Oriez/U.S. Air Force photo)

I received a great question from a member about building up strength to do full, strong push-ups.

So many women have trouble building up the strength, or just say they hate doing them and give up. It's very important for women to have strong upper-body strength. Just follow these steps:

1. Practice against a wall

Start standing arm's length away from a wall and count as many as you can do against it. If you can do more than 20, move on to the next step. If not, practice every other day until you can do 20 against the wall, trying to do one or two more each day. (You need to give yourself a day to recover in between.) Finish by stretching your chest muscles: link your fingers behind you and lift your arms upward for 15 seconds.

2. Practice angled push-ups

Find a table, couch, weight bench, bed or counter. This should be around knee to waist high. Stand back far enough that you can lean your body diagonally onto the bench, holding yourself up with your arms. Do the push-ups at this level, slowly working up to 20 at a time, practicing every other day. Bring your chest down to the bench or whatever you are practicing on, and be sure to focus on keeping a straight line from your ankles to your hips to your shoulders. Your hands should be farther than shoulder width apart. Keep the body aligned and don't hinge at the hips. It's better to do one perfect move than 10 with poor form. Watch yourself sideways in a mirror, video yourself or have a friend watch and tell you if your hips tilt up to the sky or you let your belly sink to the floor instead.

3. Move to step push-ups using your knees

Move to a step (either like one from an exercise class or a step at home on a staircase.) Start on your knees with feet together. Again focus on your form being a straight line from your knees to hips to shoulders while bringing your chest and chin to the step and work your way up to 20.

4. Move to step push-ups using your feet

Now you are ready to do them on your feet, still on a step. Ankles, hips and shoulders in line, chest and chin to the step.

5. Graduate to full push-ups

Congrats. You are ready to try the full push-up. Once you work up to 20, you can start trying to do more.

Quick push-up tip: You always should work your upper-back muscles -- the opposing muscle group -- to avoid a muscle imbalance. An imbalance will cause the shoulders to round forward, tight pectoral muscles, overstretched trapezius and rhomboids, and other back conditions, even pain.

You can strengthen your back by doing weighted dead rows, weighted reverse flies or by lying on the floor, arms out to the side away from your body at shoulder level -- forming a “T” -- and lifting the chest and arms off the floor. You squeeze the shoulder blades toward each other and release down for 20 reps.

Nikki Fitness is a personal trainer, group exercise instructor, writer and publicist living in New York City. She started as a cheerleader at Syracuse University but became certified in fitness before her beach wedding so that she could get back in shape.

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