Think You Can’t Do a Push-Up? This 4-Step Progression Is for Every Body

Photo: Meg Boggs / W+G Creative
Meg Boggs didn't think she'd ever be able to do a push-up. In fact, trainers told her that first she needed to lose weight. In her new book, Fitness for Every Body: Strong, Confident, and Empowered at Any Size, Boggs calls BS on such claims. Let it be known that anyone, at any size, can do a push-up with the right progression.

"I was told that I couldn't do push-ups, and that I should focus on trying to lose weight first because that would make it easier," says Boggs. "And that really messed me up mentally." After the birth of her daughter, Boggs started powerlifting. A benchpress is actually pretty similar to a push-up. So, she decided to give it a try. "I couldn't do a full one yet, but the fact that I could just hold myself up in a plank position on my hands and toes, that was enough in itself because I couldn't do that before," she says.

Experts In This Article
  • Meg Boggs, Meg Boggs is an body positive Instagram influencer and author of "Fitness for Every Body: Strong, Confident, and Empowered at Any Size."

From there, she slowly started pushing herself bit by bit to keep trying, and in every workout she'd do one or two push-ups just to see if she was improving. And what she soon realized was that she was able to do them, simply by getting stronger and through practice, even though her body (read: the size of her body) hadn't changed at all.

Boggs put together a four-level push-up progression that helps others conquer push-ups. "That was my hope for the progression, because I really do think it's possible for everybody—no matter your size, no matter where you are in your fitness journey—to do push-ups," she says. "We've just been convinced it's not, especially for women."

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If you've been brainwashed into thinking push-up modifications aren't real push-ups and are therefore wary of any sort of progression, Boggs wants you to ditch that mentality. She prefers to think of them as variations instead. "That's really all it is—if you're doing a push-up against a wall, it's still gonna benefit you and you're still going to progress towards doing a push-up on the ground, on your toes," she says.

Boggs isn't fond of chasing quantity. That is, she doesn't believe you need to do a hundreds of push-ups in order for them to count or for your push-up game to improve. "You always see push-up challenges that are like, 'We're going to do 100 push-ups a day for a month,'" she says. "But that's not really possible for a lot of people and it sounds horrible, actually—not fun at all." Instead, she encourages starting as small as you need to, and notes that it doesn't matter if you're never able to do 100 push-ups, or even more than a few at a time.

Finding success by approaching her own push-up journey this way is what helped her to ditch diet culture once and for all. "For my entire life, people have looked at me like I'm worthless, and that I wouldn't be worthy until I was a certain size and I looked a certain way," says Boggs. "Push-ups gave me a chance to see myself in a different light, and to understand that the goal doesn't have to be to look a certain way, but the goal can be to improve my performance. The performance aspect is something people don't allow plus-size people a chance to experience—it's all about weight loss and never about you can better your performance as an athlete and as a human."

Boggs notes that her newfound ability to do push-ups transformed her overall mobility and made everyday tasks easier, regardless of the fact that her weight didn't change. "The way that I navigate around my life and my experiences in the world, it's just different," she says. "And that's why I wrote this book, because I feel like this message needs to get out there. People need to know that you can embrace fitness, you can embrace movement, without feeling deprived and restricted in life. My advice would be just don't doubt yourself and remember that wherever you are is exactly where you need to be, and that's perfect."

4-Level Push-Up Progression by Meg Boggs

Each level in the push-up progression includes four exercises with three sets each. Each level of the progression begins with a plank hold, followed by eccentric push-ups, standard push-ups, and a final plank-hold variation. Level 1 begins with standing, using a wall to mimic the ground, and each level thereafter brings you closer down to the ground.

Once you feel more comfortable at Level 4, replace the resistance-band-assisted push-ups with standard push-ups on your toes. If you're still struggling to complete one rep, it's okay! Try a standard push-up outside the progression when your body is warm, but not exhausted. If you're still tempted to drop to your knees, continue Level 4 a little longer until you're ready to give it a try again.

1. Wall/Standing

  • High-Plank Half Hold, 3 drop sets of 30/20/10
  • Eccentric Push-Ups (Full Reset), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Push-Ups, 3 sets of 5 reps
  • One-Arm Plank Hold,  3 sets of 10 seconds/arms 

2. Counter/Incline

  • High-Plank Hold, 3 drop sets of 30/20/10
  • Eccentric Push-Ups (Full Reset), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Push-Ups, 3 sets of 5 reps
  • One-Arm Plank Hold,3 sets of 10 seconds

3. Bench/Incline

  • High-Plank Hold, 3 drop sets of 30/20/10
  • Eccentric Push-Ups (Full Reset), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Push-Ups, 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Decline High Plank, 3 sets of 10 seconds

Note: You can use a bench, sofa, chair—anything a little below counter height.

4. Ground/Plank

  • High-Plank Hold, 3 drop sets of 30/20/10
  • Eccentric Push-Ups (Full Reset), 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Resistance-Band-Assisted Push-Ups, 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Diamond High-Plank Hold, 3 sets of 10 seconds

Plank Hold: Place your hands shoulder-width apart, palms flat on the surface (or the widest part of your palm on the corner of the surface using an incline), feet hip-width apart, and shoulders directly above your wrists.

Eccentric Push-Up (Full Reset): Slowly lower your body (aim for a full four to five seconds). If pushing against a wall or counter, reset by stepping one foot forward once you reach the bottom and reset to a high-plank position. If pushing on an incline against a bench, reset by gently dropping your knees to the ground once you reach the bottom to lift yourself back up to a high-plank position. This exercise allows you to focus on the descending portion of the push-up in a slow and controlled manner.

Watch Meg Boggs demonstrate push-up progressions:

@meg.boggsthere are so many great push-up variations to choose from! ?? ##fitnesstips ##fitnessforeverybody

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