can't do push-ups
Fitness

Can’t Do Push-Ups? Here’s Help!

The push-up is probably the oldest exercise that we do. And yet a lot of people can’t do them. This is a difficult upper body exercise that pits your body against the unrelenting force of gravity to test your upper body strength

If you can’t jump down and give me 20 right now, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered with a 12-week push-up progression workout that will have you smashing out push-ups like a pro in just 3 months.

How Many Push-Ups Are Good?

According to the experts, here are the standard expectation numbers for the regular push up, according to age and gender:

Average Push-Ups By Age (Men)

AgeNumber of push-ups
17-19 years19-34 push-ups
20-29 years17-29 push-ups
30-39 years13-24 push-ups
40-49 years11-20 push-ups
50-59 years9-17 push-ups

Average Push-Ups By Age (Women)

AgeNumber of push-ups
17-19 years11-20 push-ups
20-29 years12-22 push-ups
30-39 years13-24 push-ups
40-49 years8-17 push-ups
50-59 years7-14 push-ups

Push-Up Progression Program

Use the numbers above to work out your goal as you work through the following progressive push-up routine. It involves 12 different variations of the standard push-up. Each week you will advance to a slightly harder version of modified push-ups. 

You should perform this workout plan 3 times per week on alternate days. Your goal every workout is to get to 30 repetitions in as few sets as possible.

Let’s say you can get 11 reps on set one with proper technique. Then you pump out another 8 reps on set two. That gives you a total of 19 reps. On the third set, you get a further 7 reps. Now you’re up to 26 reps.

That means that you need to get 4 reps on the last set to hit your 30 rep goal. 

On your next workout try to get to your 30 rep total with proper form in fewer sets.

Your rest between each set should be 45 seconds. 

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Push-Up Progression Exercises (Easy to Difficult)

1. Leg Assisted Wall Push-Ups

  • Stand close to a flat wall and place your palms flat on the wall in front of you. 
  • Keeping your elbows close to your body, bend your arms so that you bring your chest to the wall. Keep your back straight at all times. 
  • Bring one foot forward. This leg will now be bent and can be used to assist with the pushup. The second leg will be straight behind you. 
  • Inhale through your nose as you lower your body to the wall. Exhale as you press up with your arms.

2. Wall Pushups  

  • Stand close to a flat wall and place your palms flat on the wall in front of you. 
  • Keeping your elbows close to your body, bend your arms so that you bring your chest to the wall. Keep your back straight at all times. 
  • Inhale through your nose as you lower your body to the wall. Exhale as your press up with your arms.

3. One-Arm Wall Pushups  

  • Stand facing 2 to 4 feet from a wall with your feet together. 
  • Lean forward and place one of your hands on the wall. Your other hand will remain by your side. 
  • Bend your elbow so that your face comes close to the wall and then press back up. Keep your hips square.

4. Plyo Wall Push-Ups  

  • Stand facing 2 to 4 feet from a wall with your feet together. Raise your arms so that your palms are facing the wall. Note that they should not be touching the wall. 
  • Keeping your back straight, start to lean forward so that your palms make contact with the wall. Start bending your elbows so that your face comes close to the wall. 
  • Explosively press back so that you return to the starting position with your arms straight and your palms facing (but not touching) the wall.

5. Wall Corner Pushups  

  • Stand with your back to the wall so that you are in a body position with your feet are between 6 inches and 2 feet from the wall. 
  • Raise your arms into the 90/90 pushup position. Your palms will be facing away from the wall into space with your arms parallel to the ground. 
  • Press your elbows into the wall to move your body forward. Hold for 2 seconds then lower yourself back to the wall.
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6. Chair Incline Push-Ups  

  • Place a chair firmly against a wall (you can also use a coffee table or any other elevated surface). You will want the back of the chair to be close to you, not touching the wall. 
  • Place your hands on the chair in front of you. 
  • Inhale through your nose as you lower your body to the chair. Ex-hale as you press up.

7. Box Push-Ups  

  • Kneel down on the floor with both your knee and hips at 90 degrees. The palms of your hands should be on the floor below your shoulders. You should look like a square box. 
  • Keeping the rest of your body rigid inhale as you bend your arms at the elbows and lower yourself to the floor. Exhale as you press up.

8. Cobra Push-Ups  

  • Lie down on the floor and get your arms in the 90/90 perfect push up position. 
  • Press up from the floor by straightening your elbows while keeping your legs on the ground. Keep your elbows close to your body, arch your back, and look upward to the ceiling. 
  • Pause at the top then lower yourself down.

9. Kneeling Push-Ups  

  • Lie down on the floor and get your arms in the 90/90 position. 
  • Cross both of your ankles into the air, bending at the knees. 
  • Exhale through your nose as you press up, inhale as you lower yourself to the floor.

10. Eccentric Push Up 

  • Start in the “Up” position of the pushup with hands shoulder-width apart. Make sure your abdominals and glutes are tight and your body in a neutral position.
  • As slowly as you can, lower yourself to the floor so that you are actually lying on it. 
  • Get back to the starting position but do not do it by pushing back.
  • Doing so would turn this into a full classic pushup. The exercise here is simply lowering yourself to the floor.
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11. Combo Push-Ups  

  • Lie down on the floor and get your arms in the 90/90 position, with hands shoulder-width apart. 
  • Cross both of your ankles into the air, bending at the knees. 
  • Exhale through your nose as you press up. 
  • Once you are at the top uncross your ankles and straighten your legs. You should now be in the full push-up position. Inhale through your nose and lower yourself to the floor. 
  • Once you are on the floor cross your ankles again and press up as a knee push up.

12. Regular Push-Ups  

  • Lie down with your stomach on the floor and your legs straight behind you.
  • Put your arms in the 90/90 pushup position as if you were in the high plank position. Keep your entire body tight.
  • Take a deep breath through your nose and then start to exhale as you press yourself up off the floor. 
  • Inhale through your nose as you lower yourself to the floor.

Final Thoughts

You now have a blueprint to take you from zero to 20 traditional push-ups in just 12 weeks. Follow this exercise routine consistently, working toward your target rep goal each workout, and pumping out push-ups will soon become your new party trick!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it bad if I can’t do a push-up?

To be honest, yes, it’s pretty sucky if you can’t pump out a single push-up. But it’s not that uncommon, especially among untrained people. By using the 12-week training program in this article, you can build up to doing 20 traditional push-ups in a row.

What are girl push-ups?

Girl push-ups, or knee push-ups, are a modified form of push-ups where you are resting on your knees while you perform the exercise. This knees variation reduces the amount of body weight that you are lifting by about half. 

Are 100 push-ups good?

Yes, 100 regular pushups in a row is a great goal to aim for at any age. You can work up to 100 push-ups by progressively working through goal sets where you set a target and get there in as few sets as possible. When you can reach that goal number in one set then reset your goal until you are eventually doing 100 perfect push-up sets.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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