4 Exercises to Train for Your First Push-Up

One of the most common goals I see for newcomers to the gym is being able to rep out some quality sets of push-ups.

Question is, how are you going to train yourself to rep out 10 push-ups…when you can’t even do 1 to start.

Thankfully there are plenty of push-up variation exercises that we can utilize to rapidly improve your progress from no push-ups to an absolute push-up machine.

Here’s 4 exercises you can use to train for your first push-up…and then 10 more.

1. Incline Push-Ups

Most people when they think about modifying the push-up start with knee push-ups. This is fine, it’s a solid option and it’ll allow someone to build upper body strength to eventually do a “real” push-up overtime.

I however prefer progressing people with incline push-ups.

Reason being is incline push-ups feel more like what a real push-up is going to feel like comparatively to a knee push-up. You’re in the same exact position you’re going to be in once you reach normal push-ups, your hands for the time being are just on a raised surface.

Additionally, incline pushups give you an extra training variable to progress overtime. Your progress isn’t limited to just “get more reps“, but you can also decrease the height of the incline to increase the difficulty.

This allows a complete beginner to progress from something like wall push-ups, to a high incline push-up on stairs, to a lower incline push-ups on a bench, to an even lower incline push-up in the form of some bumper plates on the ground, and finally to the true full ROM push-up.

2. Band Assisted/Slingshot Push-ups

Ever seen guy’s benching in the gym with those big, red stretchy bands across their chest? They’re called slingshots, and while most commonly employed for bench press training they can be used to provide you assistance in a push-up as well.

The slingshot will stretch with you providing assistance as you reach the bottom of the push-up (where it’s typically most needed for newer lifters) and let’s you accelerate faster than normal out of this position.

So not only will you now be able to rep more push-ups than you might be able to normally, you’ll be able to get those push-ups from the “normal” push-up position.

If you don’t have a slingshot this same effect can easily be achieved by hanging a band off of a power rack and having it strapped around your chest. Or if you have a power rack with pins you can use the pins and that same band to create a kind of “trampoline” for yourself for push-ups.

3. Push-Up Negatives

Can’t get back up once you reach the bottom of a push-up? No problem. Just keep training those negatives.

A “negative” in lifting refers to the lowering portion of the lift. In this case the starting push-up position up until you lower your chest to touch the ground.

Utilizing negative reps is commonly seen in pull-up training and can just as easily work for training your push-up.

Set yourself into your starting push-up position and lower yourself to the ground as slowly and as controlled as you can. Once you bottom out, just reset yourself and repeat the process.

These might start out with you crashing to the ground very quickly but overtime, you’ll be surprised by how long you can maintain a negative rep.

4. Plank Variations

Finally, a great supplement to all these other push-up variations you’ll be working is simply working to improve your plank.

Not only is this the starting position of the push-up itself, but it’s going to strengthen all of the muscles you’ll need to maintain proper positioning throughout a push-up.

Most notably you’ll be improving your core strength to such a degree that “caving in” at your lower back on your push-ups will no longer be an issue.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.