This article won’t show you different variations of push-ups, nor will it tell you what’s wrong with your current one. There are plenty written on those topics. Rather, I’d like to show you a different, unconventional approach to your first push-up.

Deal? Deal.

But first, let me tell you a story.

Meet Susan, a doctor and mom of two humans (and a dog). This beast climbs the mountains of Patagonia, hates deadlifts, and is working up to her first 100lb bench press. Susan also does push-ups with her feet elevated.

6 months ago, @themamalama could do 3 push ups tops. Yesterday she did 3 sets of 10 with feet elevated.?? #fitover50

A post shared by Lana Sova (@shameless_strength_academy) on

She’s a champ—a deadlift hater, but a champ.

How long do you think she’s been strength training? A year? Five? A decade? You’re cold. Susan’s training age is nine months. She’s not even a toddler based on her fitness lifespan.

Back in late November 2016, Susan could barely do one push-up. Today, she’s able to do 25. Not too shabby for an almost 60 year old, huh?

How often do you think she’s been doing push ups? Every day? Once a week? Every other week? I’ll tell you. For the first months of training, Susan included modified push-ups in her program once a week. But exercises that targeted her back, chest, and core muscle she did as often as you eat meals each day.  Yet four months into the training she was able to nail her first 10 push-ups.

What’s the magic? None.

So what am I getting at? Can you, too, stop agonizing about push-ups, quit doing them every damn day, but still get strong enough for your first one? Yes. Yes you can.


By strengthening your entire body, but more specifically your back, chest, and muscles. Push-ups are not just an “arm exercise.” Relying only on your arm strength is like taking the engine out of a car and hoping it’ll run by itself, because, well, the wheels are still there.

If you want to be able to do a push-up or two, you need to get all the parts of your body stronger. It’s like baking a cake; you gotta have of all the ingredients ready to go. Because there are lots of working parts involved in a push-up, let’s break the exercise apart.

Core muscles

A push up is a moving plank. Nailing a plank is like adding yeast to your dough—it’s the base. In a plank, you engage your core and butt muscles, then maintain that engagement while moving your body to the floor.  Getting better and stronger in a plank will help you get to your first push-up sooner.

Here is how to do a good plank:

Back muscles

The first phase of a push-up is when you get closer to the floor. In a good push-up, you don’t just drop your body down; you pull yourself to the floor. This phase is similar to a TRX Inverted Row, when you pull yourself up—your back muscles are the moving force here. Thus getting stronger in pulling exercises is your next step to your first push-up. Your go-to exercises can be (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cable rows
  • Bent over rows
  • Inverted rows
  • Face pulls

Chest and shoulder muscles

The second phase of a push-up is when you push yourself away from the floor back to the starting position. The strength of your chest and shoulder muscles is important here. Exercises like

  • Floor chest presses
  • Bench presses
  • Incline bench presses
  • Overhead presses

are a must in your routine.

But wait. What about your arms?

Because all of the exercises above involve your arm muscles, they will get stronger without being worked on directly. But it sure won’t hurt to add some more exercises to tone these limbs. So go ahead and bust out 3 sets of 10 or your favorite biceps and triceps exercises at the end of your workout routine.


Now that you know what exercises to do to get you to your first push-up, you wanna know how often should you do them. Fair enough.  For better results, I’d suggest doing these 3 times a week.

Here is an example of workouts you can do:

Workout A.

  • A1. TRX Inverted rows 3x 12

  • A2. 1 Arm Dumbbell floor press 3x 12

  • A3. Dumbbell squeezed skull crushers 3×15

  • B1. Face pulls 3×15

  • B2. 1 arm cable row 3×10/s

  • B3. Cable bicep curls 3x 10


Workout B.

  • A1. ½ Kneeling High Cable row 4×8/s

  • A2. ½ Kettlebell Overhead press, 1 arm. 4×8/s

  • A3. Standing Band pull aparts 4×10

  • A4. Deadbugs 4×6/s

  • B1. 3 point stance bent over row 3×12/s

  • B2. Dumbbell chest press, neutral grip 3×12

  • B3. Forearm plank holds 3x 8 breaths.

And boom! You’re strong AF!


That’s it? No magic? I’m afraid so. As you get stronger and better at the exercises above, all the pieces will come together to create a beautiful picture – your first push-up. I’d like to add, however, that working on a push-up form is still a good idea. I’d suggest to do elevated push-ups to practice connecting all the dots of the puzzle, like the pulling phase, pushing phase, and your body plank, every now and then.

If you want to get more workouts that will help you strengthen your upper body, I’m sending them to my VIP email list, so be sure to subscribe below.

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