Ideas for Modifying Push-Ups and Still Seeing Results

ideas for modifying push-ups and still seeing results

Pushing through Push Ups – and Other Goals Along the Way

When you think about push-ups, you might have some bad memories of a gym teacher shouting, “Drop and give me twenty!” Maybe doing push-ups gives you anxiety from your past, or maybe, like me, you’ve just never been that good at them, so dropping and giving anyone twenty is just not gonna happen. If you can’t do twenty “real” push-ups, I encourage you not to let that stop you, but to challenge yourself with a few modifications. Practice a little more and more each week, and you’ll be amazed at how strong you’ll become, both in body AND in mind.

The power of push-ups – even modified ones – should not be underestimated! Not only are they efficient, convenient and equipment-free, push-ups are one of the best ways to shape your arms, shoulders, and chest, and also your back, legs and glutes! Basically, the push-up is a functional workout move that will sculpt your entire core.

Muscle strength and the body clock

Our muscle strength plays a huge role in aging well. As a woman over 50 I can attest to the physical changes that happen over the years as the hormones start their inevitable shift. Both men and women lose muscle mass as we get older, at a rate of about 5% each decade after age 35 (just ask the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research).

And guess what happens when we lose muscle? We gain weight!

If we do nothing to increase our muscle mass as we age, we’ll start gradually picking up a few pounds every year, not to mention we become weaker and lose bone density, which can lead to injury and a host of other problems. The good news is that while we can’t stop the aging clock completely, there is plenty we can do to slow it down, and the push-up is a great place to start.

Push-ups are for anyone, from beginners to elite athletes, and for everyone in between. So let’s not make excuses that we are getting older or we can’t do “real” ones. Let’s get up and do something to get stronger!

What if I can't do a "real" push-up?

If you aren’t able to do more than a few traditional push-ups, or if you just want a little variety, there are many ways to modify. So if you can’t do even one at this moment in time, don’t get down on yourself. You might think that doing “girl push-ups” on your knees is pointless, but studies like this one show that modifications are nothing to scoff at. They can definitely get you strong enough to work up to doing them on your toes.

The way to work up to standard push-ups is to start where you are able. Always remember, proper form is better than speed or quantity, both for your safety and your results. Here is a progression you might try as you work your way up to those “real” push-ups:

Step 1: Counter push-ups

On a kitchen counter or a wall, place your hands shoulder width apart, focus on squeezing your back muscles together as you bend your elbows, like you’re holding an invisible tennis ball. Push up off the counter slowly, and then lower your body back down for 10-12 reps. Repeat 3-5 times (sets). Continue a few times per week until you get stronger.

If this offers you no challenge whatsoever, it’s too easy. Move to the floor.

Step 2: Knee push-ups

For knee push-ups, like counter push-ups, you’ll do the same movement, just using the floor (you may know these as “girl push-ups”). Knees touching the floor, place your hands shoulder width apart, raise and lower your body for 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps. Again, you’ll get good at these eventually, so when you do, it’s time to challenge yourself and move on.

Step 3: Standard push-ups (aka the “real” ones)

When you feel ready for the standard push-up, start off in plank position and place your hands on the floor, aligned with your shoulders and just slightly wider. Bend your elbows 45 degrees to lower your body until your chest is almost touching the floor, tucking your elbows in as you do. While you lower and raise your body, focus on keeping your core engaged, your back flat, and don’t let your hips sag.

If you can do a few with proper form, even if you still have to start off with a modified version on your knees, you are making progress. Work up to about 10-12 reps, repeating for 3-5 sets with a slight pause between each set.

Need more of a challenge? These programs are full of core strength variations you can do at home

modifications for push-ups

More variations

You’ll be the best judge of where you should start, and how much you should modify. Begin where you can to at least do a few good repetitions to the point where you feel fatigued – then progress as time goes by to challenge yourself a little more as you go along. With consistency, you will see progress!

There are countless ways to modify a push-up, to either modify or extend your range of ability and challenge you further. You can slow it down, change your hand placement, or alter the angles. You can even kick it up a notch by using basic equipment like stability balls or a weight bench.

The possibilities are pretty endless!

Of course, if all of that is too easy for you still – you can always do some handstands instead! :)

Got goals?

push through the push up

I’m not here to tell you that my push-up form is a model of perfection, but I do acknowledge the need to take care of the body that God has given me. 

By challenging myself to increase my strength and endurance through a simple old school exercise like push-ups, I not only stay on track with my physical goals, but also with my mental self-talk (that I sometimes very loudly argue with) – even at 50+ years old!

Baby steps

No one is perfect, but we can keep improving our health with simple steps in the right direction. For me, it means purposely scheduling time for my workouts, I check in with my accountability partner, and I try to reach beyond what I think I can do!

If you’ve been shying away from push-ups because you thought they were too hard, now you have lots of ideas for how to modify them, and more importantly, why you should.

Do you love (or love to hate) push-ups? Share a comment below!

Strength for your journey,


Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefor honor God with your bodies. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

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Laurie Yogi
Your online wellness strategist, just trying to embrace 50(ish) & helping you do the same.