5 Steps to Your First Pushup

by Tony Bonvechio
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5 Steps to Your First Pushup

The pushup may seem like a basic exercise, but it’s challenging at first. If you can’t do a pushup from the floor yet, we’ll show you the path to your first real pushup.

It takes an impressive combination of upper body strength, full body coordination and core control to do pushups from the floor. Follow these five steps to enhance your pushup prowess:

STEP 1: HIGH PLANK

The first step toward a full-blown pushup is learning to support yourself on your hands. The high plank teaches you to stabilize your upper body with your shoulders while supporting your lower half with your core muscles.  

Coaching Cues

  • Keep your hands directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Maintain a straight line from your head to your toes. No sagging hips or poking your head forward.
  • Breathe normally. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

STEP 2: HAND-ELEVATED PUSHUP

When you’re ready, try pushups with your hands elevated on a box, bench or wall. The higher your hands are off the floor, the easier the exercise will be. All the same pushup techniques apply, but raising your hands reduces the amount of weight your muscles have to move.

Coaching Cues

  • Lower your chest down first. Don’t let your head or your hips lead the way.
  • Keep your elbows tucked to your sides at about 45 degrees.
  • Choose a box or bench height that allows you to do 8–12 reps per set. Once that’s easy, move to a lower height.

STEP 3: ECCENTRIC-ONLY PUSHUP

Once your upper body is strong enough to put your hands on the floor, try the eccentric-only pushup. Most people struggle to do a pushup because they lower themselves to the floor incorrectly. This exercise focuses on lowering under control while using your shoulder blades and core muscles to maintain perfect positioning.

Coaching Cues

  • Take 3–5 seconds to lower yourself to the ground.
  • Imagine pulling yourself to the ground with your upper back muscles rather than passively lowering your body.
  • Drop to your knees between reps and take as much time as needed to reset your position.

STEP 4: BAND-ASSISTED PUSHUP

After you’ve mastered lowering yourself to the ground, use a resistance band to help you dial in the push portion of the pushup. The band-assisted pushup is virtually identical to a pushup from the floor, but the band helps your upper body muscles to make things slightly easier.

Coaching Cues

  • Keep the band directly under your belt line.
  • Lead with your chest. If your hips or face hit the floor first, focus on squeezing your glutes and making a double chin.
  • Start with a heavy band for sets of 8–12 reps. Once that’s easy, move to a lighter band.

STEP 5: PUSHUP FROM THE FLOOR

The time has finally come: your first pushup from the floor. Keep your technique identical to what you did during hands-elevated pushups, eccentric-only pushups and band-assisted pushups. Trust that you’ve built the strength and technique to do a pushup and don’t be intimidated — you’ve earned this!


READ MORE

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THE PUSHUP PLAN

You’ll need to build strength in your chest, upper back, arms and core if you want to bust out pushups like a pro. Here’s a sample routine you can use to achieve your first pushup, including some of our favorite accessory exercises to build your pushup strength:

Week 1 (Perform this workout 3 days per week)

Hands-elevated pushup: 3 sets x 6–8 reps (stop 2 reps shy of failure)
Eccentric-only pushup: 3 sets x 4 reps
Lat pulldowns: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
Triceps pushdowns: 3 sets x 12–15 reps
High plank: 3 sets x max time (stop just before your hips drop or elbows bend)

Week 2 (Perform this workout 3 days per week)

Hands-elevated pushup: 3 sets x 6–8 reps (hands lower than week 1)
Eccentric-only pushup: 3 sets x 6 reps
1-arm dumbbell rows: 3 sets x 8–12 reps per side
Dumbbell bench press: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
1-leg high plank: 2 sets x max time per side (stop just before your hips drop or elbows bend)

Week 3 (Perform this workout 3 days per week)

Band-assisted pushup: 3 sets x 6–8 reps (stop 2 reps shy of failure)
Eccentric-only Pushup: 3 sets x 8 reps
Inverted rows: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
Incline dumbbell bench press: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
Front plank: 3 sets x max time (stop just before your hips drop)

Week 4 (Perform this workout 3 days per week)

Band-assisted pushup: 3 sets x 6–8 reps (use a lighter band than week 1)
Eccentric-only pushup: 3 sets x 10 reps
Machine-assisted pullups: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
Seated dumbbell shoulder press: 3 sets x 8–12 reps
Side plank: 3 sets x max time per side (stop just before your hips drop)

After four weeks, rest for a few days then attempt your first set of pushups from the floor.


GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT WORKOUT

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  • Niki

    I am having a hard time visualizing the band assisted push-up. Anyone got an image of this?

    • Truth

      They show you in the video, I had a hard time visualizing too!

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  • Jocelyn

    GREAT step by step break down of how to do a proper push up and train those who can’t do them yet.

  • Ilana

    What if I can’t do a plank that it says to start with? It’s all very overwhelming to me

  • Savannah Johnston

    What if you don’t have a resistance band?

  • Savannah Johnston

    What the heck are lat pulldowns, triceps pushdowns, dumbbell rows, inverted rows, seated dumbbell shoulder presses, and side planks? Do you have a routine for people who don’t have dumbbells and don’t go to the gym?

    And why are you recommending a routine with exercises that aren’t described in the article? That’s only helpful to someone who knows them already, and given that the article is for people who are struggling to do a push-up, that’s a pretty big assumption. If you think they’re necessary, at least describe them first.

  • Savannah Johnston

    I can’t even do more than two or three hands-elevated pushups at a time. To me they feel almost as hard as a regular pushup, and I’m pretty high up. Am I doing something wrong, or am I just way weaker than I thought I was?