For many, the push-up is the first real step towards building upper-body strength and resilience. The truth is however, not everyone is capable of doing a standard bodyweight push-up. Whether you’re male or female, being able to do a proper push-up is a test of both strength and skill, both of which need to and should be built up gradually.
Most people who are unable to perform a standard push-up are limited by two things: suboptimal core alignment and poor scapulohumeral rhythm. In layman terms, it is the lack of proper body positioning and musculoskeletal sequencing that are to blame, not so much as relative body strength.
When it comes to regressing the push-up, many are quick to adopt the kneeling push-up as a way of building up the qualities necessary for a full push-up. The truth is however that this push-up variation does a very poor job of reinforcing said qualities. Kneeling shortens the moment arm of the movement which makes it easier to perform, but at the expense of learning how to adopt and maintain a proper push-up position. Instead, foregoing kneeling in favour of performing normal push-ups of an inclined surface brings body mechanics to the forefront while keeping the strength requirements relatively similar.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Like the plank, setting up for the incline push-up requires head-to-toe tension. Your lower back should maintain a neutral arch while flexing the hips and depressing the shoulders. The amount of incline you used can be customised accordingly – benches, step-up boxes and weight plates can all be used to this effect. A higher incline will make the movement easier to perform; progressively lowering this will allow you to make more pertinent progress towards doing your push-ups from the floor.
You can vary your hand width to shift emphasis to different parts of the body. For example, a narrower “diamond” push-up will require more triceps activation while the wider “spider” push-up focuses on the anterior shoulders and chest. You can even add load by way of accommodating resistance via resistance bands or have a partner utilise manual resistance to overload a certain position before progressing on to the next.
Incline push-ups can be programmed in a variety of ways. You can start with lower repetitions and higher sets to build up confidence and motor patterning before using higher repetition sets to focus on strength and muscular endurance. The most important thing to remember in terms of progression is to always work towards lowering the incline, as this will pave the way to performing push-ups off a level surface. Invest in performing the incline push-up correctly and you’ll be pumping out reps like a seasoned soldier in due time!