Hi Hayley,

I cannot do a pushup on my toes and I don't think I'm alone. I am a fit person that exercises 5-6 times a week with a combination of weight lifting, running (easy, speed work, hills, tempo, and long runs), and swimming. I am not a petite person (5'10" 175lbs) but this shouldn't stop me from being able to do great pushups. Can you recommend exercises for me to add into my routine to improve my pushups?



Push-ups are the nemesis of a lot of women in the gym, and more often than not I observe them being done incorrectly, mainly due to the fact that women’s bodies can sometimes lack the strength they need to do a pushup correctly.

Step number one is get off of your toes and down onto your knees. If you have trouble doing 5 pushups from your toes with perfect form then you should be doing your pushups from your knees. A lot of gym-goers refer to this style of pushups as a “girl pushup” but in my training business, I also make my male clients do it this way, so let’s start to call them knee pushups.

Why should you drop to your knees? Well, if you are doing a bicep curl and the weight you are lifting is too heavy, causing bad from, what do you do? You get a lighter weight. Same thing with pushups! Dropping to your knees lightens the load on your arms and upper body, enabling you to do more pushups… properly. Some, however, may need to modify them even more, so find a bench or a ballet bar and work at completing 10 push-ups perfectly before lowering yourself onto your knees on a mat.

When do you progress? Once you can complete 3 sets of 10 modified pushups then progress to your toes. Start with 1 or 2 full pushups and then 8 or 9 knee pushups for 3 sets. Every few workouts try and add one more pushup from your toes until you can do 1 full set of 10. It may take time to get to 3 sets of 10 but with gentle progressions each week you will get there.

Other muscles also play a role in proper pushups, the main ones being your core. When you are doing a pushup, it is very important for your core to stabilize your lower back (lumbar spine). If you look in a mirror while doing your pushup and notice that your lower back is scooped, then you need to strengthen your core. Your low back should be very neutral and you should see a straight line running from your heels right to the top of your head. Start adding in planks into your workout, both front and side, to help offer support to your body. You will actually feel lighter if you hold your body neutral than you do when you let your lower body sag to the floor.

Triceps also have a key part in push-ups, so hit up the triceps rope in your workouts to help build the strength of these little muscles. Deltoid strength is also important, as is the stability of your shoulder blades (scapula), so add in dumbbell lateral raises, shoulder presses and seated rows.

But the only real way to get better at pushups is to do pushups, so keep trying!