Is there an exercise you want to be better at?
Do you want to be able to do a harder variation of an exercise? Lift more weight? Do more reps?
Well if so, you need to follow the instructions below.
While today we focus on being able to do MORE PUSH UPS, these rules really apply to any exercise you want to get better at.
If you want to get better at an exercise, you can’t simply do a ton of reps and expect it to improve.
You’ve got to actually work on your weak points because you really are only as strong as your weakest link.
If you want to be able to do more push ups, you’ve got to strengthen your weak muscles. Is your core weak? How about your shoulders? Or your triceps?
Identify the weak areas then isolate and work on.
Below are a few common weak areas and exercises you can do to strengthen them.
1. Weak Core – Do your hips sag? Or is your butt way up in the air? If you can’t keep your body in a nice straight line and your low back is rounding or arching, your core is probably weak.
To strengthen your core, you may want to try:
- Pelvic Tilt – Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. You should almost be able to reach your hands down by your sides and touch your heels with your finger tips. Feel the space between your low back and the ground as you lie there. Then draw your belly button in toward your spine and press that space away. You should feel your low back against the ground. Hold there, making sure to not hold your breath. The beginner variation is simply to hold, pressing your low back into the ground. To advance the move, march the knees in one at a time. Once you’ve mastered that and are easily able to keep your low back against the ground as you slowly march, then draw both knees in at the same time. From there you can do single straight leg lowers and then finally both legs together. Make sure that as you progress the move, you are able to keep your low back firmly against the mat.
- Planks – Planks are a great way to strengthen your core for push ups because they make everything work together the way it will have to during push ups. You have to engaged your abs just like you learned with the pelvic tilt. You have to keep quads, glutes and adductors tight. And your shoulders will work whether you do a high plank hold from your hands or a traditional forearm plank. For 10 Great Plank Variations, click here.
While the two moves above are essential if you want to improve your core strength for push ups, they aren’t the only moves you can do. Here are some other great core moves to try. And the bonus is that many of them, like planks, work more than your abs.
2. Weak Shoulders – When you do push ups, are your shoulders the first thing to give out? Then you need to strengthen them.
To strengthen your shoulders, you may want to try:
- Overhead Presses – You can do a two-arm overhead press, an alternating arm press or even a unilateral press. You can use a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or sandbags. The key with overhead presses is to keep your core tight and start with the weight at your shoulders. Extend your arms straight up overhead. Keep your core tight and do not arch your low back. You want to make sure you press straight up and not forward. If you do a unilateral press, make sure not to lean to one side.
- Bull Dog Hold – Set up on your hands and knees on the ground. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees should be under your hips. Flex your feet and tuck your toes under. Lift up onto your toes and your hands, keeping your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Hold with your knees just an inch or two off the ground. This move is great to work your quads as well.
- Handstand Holds – The good things with handstands is that they also work your core, shoulders, quads and glutes. Beginners will want to do a modified handstand, almost like a downward dog. Set up on your hands and knees. Then push your butt up in the air and drive your chest back toward your knees. Try to get your back as flat as possible, driving your butt up. Do not worry if your legs stay straight. If your hamstrings are tighter, you will definitely need to bend your knees to push your butt up higher and get your back flat. Do not walk your hands in too close to your feet. The most important part is pressing your chest toward your knees so your back stays flat. To advance, you can put your feet up on a table or chair. However, the hardest variation is walking your feet up the wall while getting your hands as close to the wall as possible. The closer and more parallel to the wall you are the harder the hold. Make sure that on each variation, you draw your shoulder blades down and back and draw your belly button in toward your spine. Squeeze your glutes also to keep your low back safe.
- Crawling – This is another great move that also works your triceps, core and quads. You can crawl forward, backward, side-to-side and in a circle. You can even change it up from the basic table top crawl by doing a crab, gorilla or alligator crawl. To do the basic table top crawl forward and backward, set up on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Then flex your feet and lift up onto your toes. Take a step forward with your left foot and right hand, keeping your knees close to the ground and your back flat. Then step forward with your right foot and left hand. Keep alternating moving the opposite arm and opposite leg together. Once you’ve crawled forward the 20-50ft, you will then reverse the crawl. Take a small step back with your right foot as you step back with your left hand. Take small steps, especially moving backward. If you reach too much with your leg, you are going to put more strain on your shoulders and your movement will get off. The opposite arm and leg need to move together. Keep your knees close to the ground as you move backward. Beginners may need to perform a baby crawl from their knees and hands.
Overhead carries, Planks, T-Push Ups, Climbers and even Staggered-Stance Push Ups are all also great exercises to work your shoulders. Front and side raises are also an option if you really need to isolate the shoulders. Dive Bomber Push Ups are also a great option as they work and open up your shoulders while also killing your triceps.
3. Weak Triceps – Do your elbows flare way out when you do push ups? Do you struggle to do push ups if you keep your arms in close? Then your triceps are weak.
To strengthen your triceps, try these moves:
- Dips – You can do these off a bench, an assisted dip machine, dip bars or parallel bars. While the full dips off of dip bars or parallel bars are more advanced variations, you can regress them by using your feet to push up just like you can progress the dips off a bench by straightening your legs or placing your feet up on a box. To do a full dip, place one hand on each bar. Press up to the top so that your arms are fully extended. Then slowly bend your elbows and lower your body down. You want to lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Then drive back up through your hands until you are fully extended at the top. Quickly press up. Keep your core tight so you don’t arch your low back. Do not lean too far forward. To do this move from the bench, place both hands on the bench behind you. Your finger tips should hang over the bench and face you. Stretch your legs out then in front of you. The straighter your legs are and the further your heels are from your butt, the harder the move will be. Bend your elbows and drop your butt toward the ground. Drop so your upper arms are parallel to the ground then quickly press back up. Keep your butt and back right up agains the bench. Do not let your body drift forward.
- Dip Hold – Just like the dip, this move can be done from parallel bars, dip bars or a bench. Basically want you want to do is press up to the top of the dip and hold. This is also a great move to work your middle and lower traps. To do a dip hold, press up to the top of the dip with arms straight down and shoulder blades drawn down and back. Press your chest out and do not tuck your chin or shrug your shoulders. Maintain a nice tall posture. Your body should hang straight down if on the parallel bars. If you are doing this move off a bench, your hips shouldn’t come up like a posterior plank. You should remain in a seated position with your back and butt close to the bench. Hold at the top of the dip. If you start to shrug, you are done even if the time isn’t up.
- Handstands and Crawling – See above for details, but these moves work your shoulders and your triceps.
- Any sort of traditional tricep extension – Cable overhead extensions, skull crushers, tricep kick-backs. All these moves isolate the triceps and make them work.
Some other great moves to strengthen your triceps are the Body Saw, Push Ups To Dips, and Close Grip Push Ups.
4. Weak Mid/Lower Traps – Do you sit at a desk all day? Do you tend to hunch and shrug your shoulders? Do you shrug your shoulders or do your shoulder blades “wing” during push ups? Then you need to strengthen your mid and lower traps.
To strengthen your mid and lower traps, try these moves:
- Scapular Wall Hold – This move is great to improve posture and get the correct muscles activated. Stand with your back to the wall. Step a couple of inches away and bend your arms to 90 degrees. Keep your elbows in by your sides and drive them back toward the wall. Do not shrug your shoulders as you drive your elbows back. Then lean onto your elbows on the wall. Do not let your upper arms or back touch the wall. Relax your head back. Pinch your shoulder blades down and back while keeping your core and glutes tight as you lean into the wall. You should feel this move low between your shoulder blades. Keep your body in a nice straight line. Do not let your hips sink toward the wall or your low back arch. Make sure to drive your elbows down and back. To advance the move, move your feet a bit further from the wall.
- Inverted Rows – Just like the scapular hold, this move will work your upper back. It will strengthen the muscles and also work your core. Hold a suspension trainer strap in each hand or hang from a bar. Walk your feet out so you are leaning back. The closer to parallel to the ground you get, the harder the move will be. Squeeze your core and glutes and press your chest out so there is tension between your shoulder blades. Then row up, keeping your body in a nice straight line. Row until your chest comes up to the handles and then lower yourself back down. Don’t let your hips sink as you lower back down. Also, keep your chest pressed out the entire time (do not let your low back arch though).If there is no bar or XT/TRX on which to do rows, do scapular push ups or corner rows.
- Lying Bat Wing – A great variation of the scapular wall hold. Lie face down on a bench with your legs out straight behind you and your arms hanging down toward the ground. Bend your elbows to about 90 degrees. Advanced exercisers may grab weights. Then drive your elbows back and draw your shoulder blades down and together. Squeeze your glutes to protect your low back. You should feel this low between your shoulder blades. Hold at the top, pinching your shoulder blades together and driving your elbows back. Relax your head and neck as you hold. Do not shrug your shoulders as you pull up and back. Make sure you don’t turn this move into a bicep curl instead of pulling your elbows up to the ceiling.
- Scapular Push Ups – A great move to work your shoulders, upper back, core, glutes and quads. This move has only a very small range of motion. Set up in a push up position from your knees or toes. Create a nice straight line with your body. Then pinch your shoulder blades back and together and press your chest out. Then relax. It is really only a few inches of motion. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CORE TO MOVE. Do not bend your elbows or allow your hips to sag. All you are doing is pinching your shoulder blades back and together. Also, do not let your shoulders shrug up by your ears.
Push ups plus are a great push up variation to strengthen your core and upper back as well.
5. Weak Glutes – To protect your low back and keep your body in a nice straight line, not only do you have to strengthen your shoulders, abs and back, but you must also strengthen your entire core, which includes your glutes.
To strengthen your glutes, try the moves below:
- Posterior Plank – A great move to stretch your chest and shoulders while working your back and butt. Start seated on the ground with your legs out straight and your hands on the ground behind your butt. Your finger tips should be pointing toward your butt. Drive through your hands and heels and raise your hips up off the ground toward the ceiling. Press your chest up and out as you raise your hips. Keep your legs straight as you bridge up and relax your head back. Really squeeze your glutes at the top so you don’t feel this in your low back. Beginners may need to bend their legs a bit to hold the bridge at the top. Advanced exercisers can also do single leg posterior planks. You can either hold the bridge or complete reps.
- Glute Bridge – A great move to really focus on the glutes. Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart. Bring your heels in close enough to your butt that you can touch your heels when you extend your arms down by your sides. Then bend your arms to 90 degrees with only your forearms on the ground. Drive up through your heels, lifting your glutes up as high off the ground as you can. Squeeze your butt and keep your core tight. Do not hyperextend your low back. Also make sure your knees do not fall open and you are not pushing yourself backward. You want to drive straight up. Beginners will want to stick with a two-leg glute bridge while more advanced exercisers will want to progress to a single leg glute bridge. You can either do repetitions or hold at the top. You can also do this move with your feet up on a box/bench/chair.
- Reverse Hypers – Another great move to isolate the glutes. It is also a great place to check and see if your low back is trying to take over. You should not feel this move in your low back. Lie face down on a table, bench or box. Make sure your hips are right at the edge. Hold on to something in front of you if you want. Keep your upper body relaxed. Squeeze your legs together and point your toes out. Lift your legs to basically parallel to the ground, keeping your legs straight. Do not hyperextend your back and lift way higher than parallel. You do not want to feel this in your low back. Hold for 2-5 seconds and then lower down. Keep your core tight and really squeeze your glutes as you lift. You can also do this move from the ground.
If you could only do one move to make your push up stronger, the best move to strengthen everything listed above is the Turkish Get Up. The Turkish Get Ups, works on core strength and shoulder stability. It also works on leg strength. And it forces everything to work together and move together just like in the push up.
For a breakdown of the Turkish Get Up and a great workout, check out “Breaking Down The Turkish Get Up.”
You can also use different variations of the push up to build strength through your body. Using different variations is great because it forces your body to work in a similar fashion while changing the focus of the move to slightly different muscles.
With any exercise actually, you can use different variations to work on your weak points.
For the push up, you could use a wider stance to isolate your chest. Or a narrow hand stance to work more on your triceps. You could do a handstand push up to work on your shoulders more. Or even do push up holds to focus on your core. For more great push up variations, check out these 10 Push Up Variations.
You can also use variations or modifications to perfect your form and strengthen the muscles while doing the move itself.
Want to work on DOING push ups while you are strengthening your weak muscles? Then regress the push up so that you can perform reps with perfect form.
If your form isn’t perfect when you do push ups from your toes, do them from your knees. Not good on your knees? Then do an incline push up. Regress it as need until you can perform all your reps with perfect form.
So if you want to strengthen your push up (or any move for that matter), you need to work on your weak links with supplemental exercises and push up variations while also regressing the move to perfect your form.
And if you are looking for a workout to improve your push ups, try our Death By Push Ups Workout!
What are you doing to work on your weak links?