Work Up to Standard Push-Ups With These 3 Modifications

Work Up to Standard Push-Ups With These 3 Modifications

We should all be doing push-ups. They’re effective and functional. Simple, yet challenging. They may even be an indicator of heart health. But what if you struggle to get off the ground? How do you improve at push-ups if you can’t do one? The answer: modified push-ups.

Thanks to middle school gym class and outdated ideas about fitness, reducing your range of motion, or doing push-ups on an incline has an unfair reputation for being a “cheat” or a “cop-out.” But the truth is that learning how to do these push-ups is part of mastering the proper form for standard push-ups. Modified push-ups work the upper body in a similar way as traditional push-ups — you’re just reducing the load that your chest and arms need to handle.

Modified push-ups are a suitable substitution for any workout that includes standard push-ups. Openfit Trainer and Ladder supplement enthusiast Kelsey Heenan recommends trying to start with a few regular push-ups before changing it up.

“Let’s say you’re doing one push-up where you’re getting down all the way, and you’re getting back up,” says Heenan, who is also the co-founder of The Daily Kelsey. “That’s amazing. Do that one, and then go into a modified version like putting your hands at an incline.”

Here are some popular push-up modifications.

Want more expert tips from Kelsey? Build strength while sculpting your body with her workouts in Openfit’s 4 Weeks of Focus! Try it here for free.


1. Incline Push-Up

incline push up | knee push ups

  • Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on a bench or other stable, elevated surface, and assume a high plank position with your arms extended and your body straight from head to heels.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, lower your chest to within a few inches of the elevated surface.
  • Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.


2. Reduced-Range-of-Motion Push-Up

reduced range of motion push up | knee push up

  • Start in a high plank position with your hands on the floor.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked in toward your body and your neck in a neutral position, lower your torso as far as possible. Aim for at least 75% of your full range of motion so that your chest remains a bit higher at the bottom of the move than it would be during a classic push-up.
  • Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

“If you can go three-quarters of the way down, try to pause at the bottom of your movement,” Heenan says. “That gives your muscles a little more time under tension, so you’re developing more strength.”


3. Knee Push-Up

knee push up demonstration | knee push ups

  • Start in a high plank position but with your knees on the floor instead of your feet.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked and core and glutes engaged, lower your torso until your chest is within a few inches of the floor.
  • Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.


Benefits of Modified Push-Ups

One of the most important benefits of modified push-ups is their accessibility. The standard push-up is challenging — especially for people who are new to strength training. Making these adjustments allows beginners to learn proper form and practice the full range of motion while gradually building up enough strength to perform the standard push-up.

Push-up modifications also offer many of the same benefits as the standard push-up, including the ability to strengthen the chest and arms while challenging the muscles of the core, making them an at-home workout staple that can be performed anywhere — no equipment required.