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What To Do When You Just Can't Do Push-Ups

Lifehacker Australia logo Lifehacker Australia 10/03/2018 Aimée Lutkin

a person sitting on the floor © Supplied

Committing to a push-up challenge like the one we did last month is a great way to get good at push-ups, but it may not always be the best way to develop upper body strength for you.

I personally find push-ups incredibly difficult, even after working on getting good at them in various ways and at various times throughout my life. I never got good enough to feel like I was really getting a workout, because I was struggling so hard with the base form and movement.

It was discouraging. Eventually, I assessed what I wanted push-ups to do for me -- tone my arms, back, and chest. Well, it turns out there are plenty of ways to do that which suit my body much better!

Below are some upper body workout options for the truly push-up-averse:

Fly

For my chest, I like dumbbell fly exercises. You can lay on the floor or on a bench, holding dumbbells in either hand. You then stretch them to the sides, making a "T" shape with your body. Keep a bend in your elbow so you don't overextend. Then bring them up to meet above your body and back out again. I love this as a break from more vigorous moves when I'm doing a circuit with lots of jumps or lunges. Gives me a second to rest, think about life, and work my pecs.

Dips

For your triceps, you can do dips by placing your hands on two parallel bars, then lowering and raising yourself up in between them. A variation if you can't find two convenient bars are bench dips. Put your hands behind you on a stable chair or couch, keeping your legs out straight in front of you. Again, raise and lower yourself by bending your elbows. This is fun to do on momentary breaks from work, right at your desk, assuming your office is chill with it.

Pull-Ups

Remember pull-ups? That was the January Lifehacker fitness challenge. Surprise, they actually do a lot of the same stuff for your upper body as push-ups do, by strengthening not only your arms and shoulders, but your core muscles, too. Doing a full pull-up isn't much easier for me than a push-up, but if you work out at a gym, they probably have an assisted pull-up machine.

I love them. I get gradually closer to doing something very difficult with less frustration, because even assisted pull-ups are working out my body and I can do a number of sets that leave me sweaty and sore. In a good way.

Pulldowns and Pushdowns

Gyms also have weight equipment that may look intimidating, but which will make it easier for you to isolate and work the same muscle groups as push-ups. Pulldowns are when you pull the weighted bar down towards your chest or behind your head from a seated position. Pushdowns are when you push the bar or rope down your body while standing. Pulldowns are for your back and shoulders, pushdowns work your triceps.

Bear Crawls

If you love doing push-ups because of the way they raise your heart rate, but struggle with the form, try a bear crawl. This will also make you want to scream with exhaustion, I promise! Start in a table-top position on all fours, then lift your knees off the ground. Move forward slowly with opposite arm and leg movements. Your hips will go up if your upper body is weak, so concentrate on the form rather than speed.

You will still be out of breath after doing this for 30 seconds, don't worry.

The benefits of push-ups over some of these moves is obvious -- not everyone has access to gym equipment, and push-ups can be done at home. But even if you love them and your strength has grown enormously over the last month, the body acclimates to doing the same move again and again. Mix it up and challenge your muscles even more.

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