Push-Ups for Beginners – How to start?

How to do push-ups if you can’t

In this guide, I’m going to show you how to work up to a push up if you are a total beginner, overweight, or have an injury that stops you from doing it correctly.

What will you learn?

  • A few words about why push-up exercises are so beneficial.
  • How to train to do push-ups with progressive exercises.
  • The correct form and typical mistakes.
  • Workout routines for beginners.
  • Other home workout advice.

Let’s start!

What are the benefits of push-ups?

It’s a compound bodyweight exercise. That means it strengthens more than one muscle group at once. It seems to be a practice for the chest muscles, but it also engages the triceps, shoulders, back, core, and even your lower body. Plus, it doesn’t require any equipment at all, can be done anywhere, and works the upper body as a whole. Hence, perfect for home training.

push ups muscles worked

Besides, depending on our fitness level, we can choose from a wide range of push-ups variations, almost endless number moves. No matter if you are a beginner, intermediate a professional athlete, there’re modifications for you to keep your development.

Exercises for progressing to push-ups

If, for some reason, you can’t do a clean rep yet, you should step back, and do exercises that are much easier to perform but prepare your muscles and mind.

Below I show you the best workouts to improve push-ups.

They’re going to be easy, but still, proper form is vital, so follow the instructions carefully. You’d better perform fewer reps with clean technique, than doing more poorly. Cheating will lead you nowhere.

Also, you should increase the number of reps to high numbers, minimum 20-30, or even 40. If you can do such high repetitions, your body is ready for the next exercise. It takes time to go up to such high numbers, but your physique and nervous system will get prepared ideally for the future, more advanced variation.

The difficulty is relative since we all come with a different body type, muscles, etc., but I try to list the exercises based on the hardness

1. Wall push-ups

  • Starting position: With your feet together, stand in front of a wall. With shoulder-width and chest level, place your palms on it with almost straight arms.
  • Bend your elbows until your forehead reached the wall.
  • Push yourself back to the starting position.

Control the entire motion with the power of your chest and arms. Lower and push yourself back with a coordinated technique. Keep you back straight.

2. Incline push-ups

incline push ups

Once you are familiar with the wall version, you can switch to incline moves. For this, you need a stable table or anything which is at your hips level.

  • Starting position: Lean over and place your palms on the table. Keep your back aligned and your feet together. The optimal angle of the body is somewhat about 45 degrees, and when you lower yourself, the edge of the table touches the middle of your chest. So, test it out.
  • Slowly lower your upper body until your chest gently touches the table.
  • Pause for a moment and press yourself back.

The lower the object you use, the more complicated the exercise is.

3. Plank

Plank is typically done for core strength, and that is what we want. Push-ups require a strong core since we have to keep the body aligned no matter which version we do. Plus, planks work the chest and shoulders, but the entire body.

For a beginner, a 20-second hold 3-5 times is a good start. Of course, regularly try to increase the length with 5 seconds.

4. Kneeling push-ups

With this exercise, we are getting closer to the standard push-ups since more bodyweight is loaded on the upper body.

  • Starting positions: Kneel on the floor with your legs together. With shoulder-width apart and straight arms, lean forward and place your palms on the ground. Your hands are under your chest. Tighten your torso and keep it aligned during the entire movement.
  • Bend your elbows and lower your upper body until your chest is about 2-3 inches from the floor. While you lower your upper raise your calves so that they are right angle to your thighs.
  • At the bottom stop for a moment, then with power, press yourself back to the starting position.

5. Half push-ups


If you can make 30-40 clean kneeling moves, you can skip this step, but I recommend it. I’ve seen a lot of people doing push-ups this way, but it isn’t a real push up, it’s just half! (You know, the guys telling “I can do 100 repetitions”.) The range of motion (ROM) is limited. Full ROM is required for strength.

  • With hands shoulder-width apart, place your hands on the floor. They are located somewhere at the level of your lower chest. Your arms are in a straight line.
  • Place your feet behind you and align your entire body and keep it during the whole movement.
  • Lower your upper body until your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Stop for a moment and push yourself back to the starting position.

A great idea I saw in Convict Conditioning is to place a basketball under our hips. This, way when your hips touch it, you know how deep you went. By placing the ball towards your chest, you can go deeper and with that closer to the regular push-ups.

I believe these easy push-ups are enough to get red for the full ones. Increase the reps to high numbers, and if you can do about 35-40, I’m sure you’re ready for the next move.

The proper full push up form technique

  • Get into a plank position. Your entire body is aligned. Your legs are next to each other. Your arms are straight, shoulder-width apart, and they are under your middle chest.
  • Bend your elbows and lower yourself until your chest is about 2-3 inches from the floor.
  • Pause for a moment, and press yourself back.

Typical mistakes

  • People don’t perform a full range of motion. They don’t go deep enough.
  • Wrong hands placement. The stance is too wide, narrow, or they place hands too forward or backward. The hands should be at the level of the middle chest. Different hand positions are for various types of push-ups. Right now, we don’t want to do variations, just to perform the classic push-up with the best form.
  • The incorrect alignment of the body. Don’t let your hips sag, but also don’t push your buttock up. Keep your entire body in a straight line during the whole movement. If you find it hard, do more planks to strengthen your core.
  • Rushing. Well, there is a debate about performing exercises quickly or slowly. IMO too fast performance ruins the form and focus.

Sample push up workout for beginners

Here is a scenario:

Joe is a 200 lbs, 36 years old office worked who has never worked out before. He is overweight and has terrible fitness. He should start with wall-push ups. Let’s say do 4×15 3 times a week. But to lose weight, he should also do some cardio, for example, walking for 45 minutes 3 times a week. That is a mild way to start.

Another example. Bill isn’t overweight and quite healthy because he does physical work almost every day. Of course, his muscles much more energetic, and he can handle his bodyweight quite well. He’s never worked our before. So, he can easily make 3×30 wall push-ups and 3×10 incline ones. I’d recommend him to go until he can do 3×50-60 wall ones, then switch to incline ones.

Find beginner calisthenics push up routines here.

However, I don’t recommend doing only push-ups. Simply it’s not enough to build a strong body. At least do easy bodyweight squats, pull-up modification, and leg raises.

To sum up

I hope you now know how to train for push-ups. The rules are quite straightforward:

  • Start with easy progressive variations and increase the reps high, so your body is getting ready for the next advanced exercises.
  • Always perform the moves with proper form.
  • Don’t give up. Sometimes it takes months to get ready for the next drill. Champions aren’t born. They reach the unbelievable with tiny steps.

Find more home chest workout tips without equipment here.

Written by Imre

Imre has been working out for over 20 years. He likes all sorts of strength training and boxing. Since he's a busy father he works out only at home.