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Push-ups for any fitness level

Shawn McClendon demonstrates the proper way to do traditional push ups.
Shawn McClendon demonstrates the proper way to do traditional push ups.

These days, I can look back at my days as a young lad in Physical Education at Jones County High School with fondness and laughs. Back then, it was straight up embarrassing.

Don’t get me wrong. I have always been athletic, to an extent. I didn’t play a lot of team sports, but I was always into playing pick-up basketball, racing folks, and exercising with my dad. However, one thing I recall in particular was that my upper body strength was absolutely terrible.

Part of our grade in P.E. came from fitness evaluations that we would have to take. I did OK in the running, and I did excellent in the sit-ups because I always did those. Push-ups were another story. Let me put it this way. You had to do at least five push-ups to make a high ‘F’; I couldn’t even get five, man. Hey hold up…don’t laugh too hard.

Anyhow, fast-forward several years to present day, and things are much different for me. I can do push-ups just fine, now. And I have a soft space in my heart for those who struggle with this age-old exercise and who would like to receive the benefits of it. So hey, there was purpose in my struggle.

Push-ups are an excellent bodyweight exercise that target the chest, front shoulder and triceps (back of arm) muscles. They also require stabilization from the core musculature, which makes them decent for the abs, too. I would call them a staple for the fitness routine of any person.

But what if you can’t do them?

If you’re like me and struggle to get off of the ground when attempting push-ups, there are a couple of easier variations that you can try:

Wall (or Table) Push-up: This is my preferred recommendation for those working up to regular push-ups. Stand approximately 2.5 feet away from a wall, placing your hands on the wall just wider than shoulder width apart, and with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your arms and approach the wall until your face nearly touches the wall. Push back against the wall to the standing position, and you have completed one repetition.

Knee Push-ups: Some call these “girl” push-ups, but I don’t like to call them that because it implies that “girls” cannot do regular push-ups…and that ain’t the truth. Anyway, these are the second best push-up variation that you can try to work up to regular ones. Get on the ground with your hands wider than shoulder width apart, and with your knees on the ground. Bend your arms to lower your chest towards the ground until it touches the ground, keeping your back and neck straight. Push yourself back up to starting position to complete one repetition.

Regular Push-ups: This is the classic, baseline form. Get in starting position by getting yourself on the ground with your hands on the ground just wider than shoulder width, and the toes of your shoes on the ground as well. Lower your body until your chest touches the ground, keeping your neck and back straight, then push yourself back in starting position to complete one repetition.

Incline Push-ups: These are actually more advanced than regular push-ups. You perform regular push-ups, except with your feet placed on a stair step, a table, or some other inclined surface. Perform these like regular push-ups, and be sure to keep your back straight and your abs tight to prevent slouching.

Remember to let your doctor know before you start a new exercise program, and if you want to see demonstrations, visit my YouTube page.

Macon resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, podcast host and owner of the health/fitness blog E-mail him with your questions at or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.