Fitness Tips

This Common Misconception Could Be Keeping You From Doing a Push-Up

Photo: Stocksy/Danil Nevsky
When it comes to full-body workout moves, the push-up is a classic. As Bridget O'Carroll, founder of Studio Qila puts it in an email to Well+Good, "Push-ups are one of the most efficient exercises you can do." The problem? People tend to think that the full-body workout move involves arm strength and arm strength alone. And this misconception may be what's keeping you from adding this killer move to your strength training rotation.

Although push-ups may look like they're purely an upper-body exercise, O'Carroll says that—when done properly—they activate nearly every muscle in your body. "[Push-ups] are amazing for working so much of your upper body, including your chest, triceps, and biceps. But truly your entire body should be active and involved," she says. "Your core tightens and stabilizes you, working your abs, obliques, and back. Your legs will also work to some degree in order to keep your hips and legs straight and in position." Phew, that's a lot of muscle groups, right?

According to O'Carroll, the reason you might not be able to do a push-up yet (keyword: yet!) is that you're not strengthening all the muscles involved in the compound movement. For example, maybe you're doing bicep curls, but you're not doing anything to strengthen the muscles of your chest, back, and core. Fortunately, you can add a few zero-equipment moves to your toolkit that will help you build up the top-to-bottom strength necessary to nail every trainer's favorite full-body exercise. Below, Carroll walks you three moves to help you prep for a push-up. Do them diligently and, before you know it, you'll be completing rep after rep.

3 exercises to prep your body to do a push-up

1. Plank

Come to your hands and knees and step both feet back into a plank pose. Make sure your wrists are stacked directly under your shoulders and your back is as flat as a table. Tuck in your core, squeeze your glutes, and pinch your shoulder blades together. "Planks are key to building strength for your push-up," says O'Carroll. "That doesn't mean you should just hold an isometric plank every day: Mix it up with plank variations—like bear planks."

2. Bird Dogs

Come to your hands and knees. Engage your belly and extend your right leg straight back. Keep your hip point facing down and make sure you're not arching your back. At the same time, reach your left hand straight forward without straining your left shoulder. Come back to all fours and switch sides. This move will teach you stability and muscle awareness skills that you can bring into your push-up routine.

3. Leg drops

Finally, it's time to work your core. Come to lie down with your straight up in the air. Bring your arms alongside you. Lift your shoulders off the ground while keeping your gaze straight up to protect your neck. Without lifting your lower back off the ground, lower your right leg to hover about one foot above the ground. Come back to center and switch sides.

When you're ready to do a push-up, here's how to do it the right way:

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