Hey ladies! I’m so honored to be able to share this post with you guys! I “met” Kelley via Instagram, and since we’re both military wives we had things in common. While my husband is working on becoming an Air Force chaplain, I’m also getting more in shape in anticipation of joining the military as well.
As some of you may know, “embrace the suck” is an eloquent phrase often used by military people to describe things that… well, suck, but are good for you in the long run or are just part of the process. I can’t think of anything more fitting to that phrase than a pushup!
Pushups are the nemesis of many women. Most women have their largest amount of muscle strength in their bottom half, so upper body exercises like pushups can be more difficult for us than for men. HOWEVER, that absolutely does not mean we can’t get great at them and become upper body beasts! It’s totally possible for a woman to develop great upper body strength through pushups. Here are some tips to help you work up to doing pushups regularly:
1. Know basic pushup principles.
Here are some generalities for the different kinds of pushups you may have seen: the wider apart your hands are, the more your chest/pectoral muscles will be used. The closer your hands get, the more you’ll be using your triceps/arms to do the work. (This is usually more difficult for women.)
Also, the higher your hips or feet are compared to your hands, the harder a pushup will get. (Like putting your feet on the couch and your hands on the ground, for example, will make for a tougher pushup.)
“But, Emileigh, you don’t understand… I REALLY can’t do pushups. Like even one.” That’s really okay! One way you build up the muscles you’ll need is to do what I call “wall-ups.” Stand and face a wall. With your feet planted and your arms out, lean until your hands hit the wall, then bend your arms until your nose touches the wall. Push yourself back to a standing position. The further your feet are from the wall, the harder these will get. When these get easy, you can try the next modification: High hands!
3. High Hands
“High Hands” is what I call this other kind of modified pushup. Put your hands on something stable like a couch or sturdy coffee table, with your feet on the floor. From here, get into a normal pushup position and do a few. This is the same movement as a pushup, but it moves some of your body weight from your arms to your feet and makes it a bit easier.
If you can’t do several pushups in a row, it makes it hard to get better at pushups. (If you can’t do the exercise… how do you build the muscle?) Well, never fear! Modify the exercise a bit by putting your knees on the ground and doing a pushup from there. (Cushion your knees if you need to.) Try to keep your body from your knees to your head in a straight line. This kind of pushup allows you to do the same movement as a normal pushup with less than your own body weight so you can start developing your muscles and range of motion for the real thing.
Another modification you can make is to slowly do half a pushup to help yourself build muscle. Start in a normal pushup position, and lower yourself slowly to the ground, then relax. You can also do the opposite and start by lying on the ground and slowly pushing yourself up, then relax. Alternate between sets of these two kinds of “half-ups” until you’re able to do 3-5 full pushups in a row.
6. Strengthen the muscles you need for pushups through other exercises.
The main muscles you’ll use in pushups are your chest, upper arm, and shoulder muscles. Strengthen these sections individually during other workouts by doing exercises like bench presses, bicep and tricep curls, shoulder presses, etc. As each of these muscles get stronger, you’ll be able to do more pushups with them!
7. Do something every day and build on it.
Set a goal for yourself in how many pushups (or pushup modifications) you want to do daily, then stick to it and be consistent. Even if you can’t do them all in a row, spread them out over several hours and hit your goal number each day. Slowly increase your number of push up reps and sets each week or two and watch yourself get stronger!
8. Change up your grips
The way your hands are placed or certain little changes in position make a big difference in the muscles that are worked during a pushup. Try some of these different kinds of pushups to help strengthen your upper body in different ways:
Standard Grip/Military Pushup
Diamond Pushups – (I had a major victory moment the first time I could do one of these!)
Dive bomber pushups
Pike pushups – (Do this with our without elevated feet to target your shoulders)
9. Do pushups in your downtime.
The great thing about pushups is that you always have the equipment you need with you: your body! I don’t always include pushups in my official workout times, but I’ll work them in at other points of my day, like when I’m watching TV, when I need a break from the computer at the office, or when I’m waiting for pots of food to heat up during dinner. It only takes a few seconds to hop down and do a few, and you’ll be surprised how many you can fit in during a day!
Don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to build up your pushup strength. Pushups are one of those exercises that you have to develop over a longer time, and it can take several weeks to make incremental steps. Don’t be discouraged by that; just learn to appreciate every little gain you make and celebrate them!
So do pushups feel more doable now? Do you have any issues with pushups you aren’t sure how to overcome? Any tips that have made you into the pushup beast you are today?
I was born in Missouri, and I grew up there until my family moved to Africa to do community development. I spent my last two years of high school in Egypt and Sudan where I learned to love people different from me and to thrive in tough places. I became a military spouse when I married my soon-to-be Chaplain husband, Jacob, and I’m currently in the process of fulfilling a years-long dream of joining myself. I like lifting weights, Nutella, and vintage fashion.