How to Modify: Pushups

If you’re anything like me (i.e., you hate to exercise), it can be really helpful to know how to modify common exercises so you can get through anything from the 30-Day Shred to public boot camp classes. After all, doing full-range exercises when you’re still building strength can actually cause injury if you’re not careful.

So in the spirit of treating your body right and not pushing it to heights it just can’t reach quite yet, here’s how I’ve learned to modify pushups.

“Knee” Pushups: This version I’ve actually found more difficult, but different people have strength distributed to different places. If you’re rich in upper body strength but need to give your core and legs a little easier time than a traditional military pushup, this may be the one for you.

In order to do a knee pushup, you want to lay belly-down on the ground. Cross your legs at the ankles and bend your knees so your ankles are in the air. Keep your knees firmly on the ground. With hands palm-down under your shoulders, fingers pointing forward, keep your torso, butt, and upper legs in a straight line as you use your arms to push yourself all the way up. Keeping your torso and upper legs in a straight line, as opposed to bending at the hips and sticking your butt out, will help build core strength (which means it’ll make your abs and back stronger), but it will also help prevent injury, which can occur if you bend incorrectly.

“Girl” Pushups: First of all, fuck that name. But these are a much easier simplification of pushups than the knee version. In order to modify pushups this way, kneel on the ground so that your legs form a 90 degree angle, your back is flat, and your arms are about shoulder-width apart, straight, fingers facing forward, with your hands parallel to your head, or about six inches in front of your shoulders. Lean your weight on your arms, and lower, then push back up. You should be holding your abs in (“engaging” them, as many workout instructors phrase it) and lowering yourself all the way down and using all of your arm muscles to push back up. This will help to develop strength in your upper body, but long-term it will stop being an effective workout. Only you can really know when you’re ready to move on.

Standing Pushups: These are also much easier than Knee Pushups but are probably a good middle step between those and the GPs aforementioned. Place your palms on a stable wall, about shoulder width apart, and straighten out so that your arms are completely extended and straight. Keeping your feet firmly on the floor, allow your weight to lower your upper body toward the wall; keep everything (back, butt, legs) straight for all the same reasons mentioned before. Using your arm strength only, push yourself back out so your arms are straight again. That’s a standing pushup! It’s kind of nice, isn’t it?

If you’re interested in working toward doing full pushups, another challenging but effective way to build strength (especially core strength, which I know I’m lacking) is to do planks. Here’s a video someone else made on how to correctly do a plank. You can see how they could eventually lead to doing proper pushups, right?

Anyway, hope this modification lesson has been helpful! Remember: modifications are here to help you, so you don’t injure yourself or treat your body unkindly. Use them!

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

4 replies on “How to Modify: Pushups”

Another fun (and by “fun” I mean “tricky and sometimes tortuous”) way of using a bosu for pushups is turning it over so the flat side is up and holding onto the edges while doing your pushups. I like it because you can still modify your legs (knees bent, straight, whatever) while getting an additional challenge.

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