What It Really Means If You Can't Do A Pushup

Pushups are difficult. Yes, they are a cornerstone of most strength training, bodyweight, and HIIT workouts, but that doesn't mean they're easy to do. In fact, they're popular because they require your entire body be working in unison to produce a smooth up-and-down motion with your arms while maintaining good form. If you can't do a single pushup, you're not alone — but you can work on your limitations and learn how to do one properly.

For most people, the inability to do a pushup indicates a lack of strength in the arms, chest, or core — which isn't a bad thing, since it can be trained. For improving strength in the arms, you can begin with exercises like dumbbell flies, tricep dips, or pulldowns with weights or resistance bands (via Lifehacker).

For some obese people, pushups (and other bodyweight exercises) are difficult because there is simply more weight that needs to be raised and lowered, and that requires more strength. More weight in the midsection could also mean doing a pushup while holding your core stable is difficult (via Livestrong). In these cases, building arm and core strength can still make pushups possible — and can also help aid weight loss efforts.

How can I get better at pushups?

Since pushups require a lot of core strength to stay stable through the motion, you're going to need a strong core. Fortunately, one of the best moves to build that strength is a plank, which mimics the high pushup position. Start by focusing on holding a strong plank for up to a minute (and rather than collapsing to the ground at the end of your time, slowly lower down like you would if you were doing a pushup). You can also start to work on incline pushups, using a wall, table, or couch to place your hands on as you do a pushup. This means less work for your arms, but you should still make sure that you're keeping your core engaged. Start by using the wall for your inclined pushups, then progress to lower surfaces until you're eventually able to do a pushup on the ground (via Adidas). Skip the pushups done on your knees, though: they aren't very effective at training you for the real thing.

It's worth pointing out that there are certain medical conditions that may make it impossible for you to comfortably do a pushup, like arthritis or other long-term conditions. Short-term conditions, like muscle tears or pulls, can also mean taking a break from your pushup quest to heal before trying again (via Livestrong).