Push-ups are a fitness staple. Sure, they look like a pretty basic motion—but anyone who has tried to eek out that last rep knows that push-ups are a humbling move, regardless of skill level. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t deny that they work almost every muscle we’ve got: chest and triceps—for starters—while engaging the lower back, legs, gluts, lats, shoulders, and core.
The good news is that if you’d rather clean your toilet bowl than drop and give us 10, studies show that there are plenty of other movements you can do to build out those muscles.
“Push-ups can be very challenging because upper-body strength and mobility is often a weak point,” says Lacee Lazoff, a trainer at Performix House. “Be patient! Strengthening muscles takes time, and being able to execute a push-up with proper form takes practice and reps. Trying out alternative movements to build the strength needed to complete a push-up is a great option.”
Here, Lazoff offers five moves for the push-up haters. String them together for a complete workout (Lazoff suggests doing 10 reps of each for 6 rounds, resting until recovered—up to 2 minutes—between each). Do it twice weekly for five weeks and you might just find yourself ready to crank out a slew of proper push-ups with a lot less “ugh.”
One note: The rep scheme is designed with heavier weights in mind. The reps should be challenging, but you should be able to complete all reps in each set without failing.
1. Overhead Press
Hold one dumbbell in each hand, with wrists turned in to face each other and dumbbells level with your shoulders. Keep knees soft and core engaged. Press weights up overhead, focusing on fully extending your arms before lowering the weights (with control) to your shoulders for one rep.
2. Dumbbell Bench Press
Start lying on a bench. Hold the dumbbells on the outside of your shoulders with palms facing your waist. Press the dumbbells up overhead so that they’re straight over your chest. Slowly lower them back down for one rep.
3. TRX Chest Fly
Face away from the anchor with feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and extend arms in front of you at shoulder height. Lean forward so that your body’s at a diagonal. With control, spread arms out to a “T” (but keep elbows slightly bent) as you lower your chest closer to the ground—this is where you seriously activate those chest muscles. Reverse the movement to return to start for one rep.
4. Heavy Med Ball Push
Stand in a staggered stance about two feet from a wall, with your left foot slightly ahead of your right foot and hips square. Hold a 10- to14-pound medicine ball at your chest. Bracing through the core, push the ball forward to the wall with enough force that it bounces straight back to your hands at shoulder height for one rep.
5. Modified Push-Up
Oh come on—it’s not technically a standard push-up, so no talking back here! Identical to a regular push-up, the modified push-up is performed on your hands and knees. Start in a table top position, then walk your hands another foot forward to create a straight line from shoulders to knees. Lower down into a push-up with the feet raising off the ground as the push-up goes to the floor. This takes a lot of the work away from the abs and legs, making it a great way to train your shoulders and chest for the real thing. Press back up to start for one rep.