Think a full press-up is out of reach? This step-by-step guide will help you nail a full rep.
Right now, it’s important to make goals that are orientated around equipment-free training so that we can continue to progress without gyms (because we can’t assume we’ll have regular access to them), as well as setting ones that are fun (of course) and tangible.
Building the strength to do a press-up might not sound achievable, but we promise that you can get there. If you need convincing to start, press-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises, targeting multiple muscles for an effective upper-body workout (you’ll feel it in your chest, shoulders, triceps and core) you can do from home.
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All it takes to nail them is consistency in your training to build upper body strength and stability. These simple steps from member of the Strong Women Collective and press-up pro Alice Miller are the best place to start. If you want step-by-step tutorials and Alice’s support, she’s even launched a four-week press-up programme you can join now.
How to do a press-up
1. Perfect the plank
Before we can think about lowering to the floor, we need to be able to hold the starting position that will support our body through the movement. “You need to be able to maintain a strong position throughout, so if you’re struggling with the plank then it will affect your form,” says Alice. “Practice holding a plank while keeping the shoulders back and down, away from your head.”
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2. Add an incline
Incline press-ups sound scary, but placing your hands on a raised surface can actually help take some of the resistance away while you work on form. According to research by Journal of Strength and Conditioning, you move 64% of your body weight in full press-up, while elevating your hands on a 24-inch bench allows you to lift even less than a knee push-up, moving just 41% of your body weight. Essentially, that means that a 70kg woman would be moving 29kg, rather than 45kg – still tricky, but considerably easier.
Don’t be too worried about the height of your surface, just use your sofa, coffee table, desk, stairs, or any raised surface in your house.
3. Move slowly
Negative press-ups are a great way to build more strength through the upper body before you can press yourself back up again. “This is where you move really slowly on the eccentric part of the movement, aka when you’re lowering yourself down to the ground,” explains Alice.
Begin on your knees and lower yourself slowly to the floor, then make your way back up and start again. “Form is key in negative move – you’re moving so slowly that your body has the time to go through all the points of performance. Getting it right here will train your body to have perfect form as you move faster through the movement,” says Alice.
That form means shoulders down and back, as rehearsed in the plank position, with fingers spread widely and your weight spread through all of the fingers rather than simply being dumped into the wrists.
3. Hold it
Isometric work is another strength building technique that you can utilise before you’re able to nail the full rep. “This is when you’re not moving but your muscles are engaged,” explains Alice.
Lower yourself down as far as you can, and when you find the point where you can’t go any further, hold there for up to five seconds before bringing your chest to the ground and resetting at the top of the movement.
4. Put it all together
All of these elements can be used together in a press-up workout. Structure it like this:
- Three sets of incline press-ups until failure. (This means do as many reps as you can until you can’t do anymore without compromising on form.)
- Three sets of negative press-ups on the knees until failure.
- Three sets of isometric holds until failure.
- Three sets of 30 seconds plank.
After the first week, you might want to up the intensity by swapping the incline press-ups for press-ups on the knees. In week three you might be able to do the negative press-ups on your toes rather than on your knees. Note how many reps you can do until you reach failure too, as this will show how much strength you’ve gained too.
On week four, try a full press-up (or two!) and see how you get on. Once you’ve nailed it, have a celebration, then repeat the same programme using full press-up variations to add on reps to your press-ups. You’ll be doing 10 in no time.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).