The perfect push-up is like the holy grail of exercise moves. It works everything from your arms to your shoulders to your core (if you’re doing them right, that is), and just the thought of having to drop and give someone 10 (let alone enough to pass the U.S. Army Fitness Test) is enough to get even the fittest among us quaking. But building up to flawless form is no easy feat, which is why if you’re just starting to flex your push-up muscles, you may want to start at the wall.
Think of wall push-ups as push-ups with training wheels—a way to get your body prepped and ready for the real thing. They’re performed perpendicular to the floor, with your hands against the wall, and give your body a chance to get used to the movement of a push-up without having to exert quite as much strength as the regular floor version would. “It allows individuals to introduce proper pushing-pressing mechanics without overloading the core, making it ideal for someone lacking sufficient core stability and proprioception, an awareness of how one’s body is moving through space,” says Marcel Dinkins, a Founding Coach at Rowgatta.
The move is accessible to people at any fitness level, and just because they’re easier than the real thing, you’ll be happy to learn that they come with comparable benefits. Like regular push-ups, the move works your pectoral muscles, anterior shoulders, and triceps, but are easier because you’re reducing the load and resistance of the movement. Plus, they don’t have quite as much of a demand on your core. “Wall or elevated push-ups reduce the amount of resistance in order to focus on proper form and technique. As you increase strength you can begin lowering the incline to say maybe push-ups from a bench,” says Phil Timmons, the PT Program Manager at Blink Fitness. “This is especially beneficial when working on stabilization of the scapula and gaining proper technique before progressing the movement.”
Even if you are strong enough to do 10 full push-ups (and if that’s the case, I applaud you), it may be worth turning to the wall push-up for the sake of perfecting your form. “The wall push-up is a great teaching aid for proper push-up mechanics, and it also introduces proper neutral spine position without substantially loading the spine, two things that are critical for a proper push-up,” says Dinkins. “Sometimes you have to regress to progress. So even if you feel strong enough to take on a traditional push-up, I recommend using the wall push-up to dissect your form, identify problem areas, and create a plan to improve your overall form.”
To try the move for yourself, follow these steps:
1. Facing a wall, stand a little further than arm’s length away with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Place your hands at or slightly above shoulder height with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Lean your body forward as you slowly bend in your elbows.
3. Keep your hips squarely in line with your shoulders and your ankles as you lean forward, and try to count three seconds from the beginning to the end of your range of motion. “Your body should be straight and stiff as a surfboard by bracing through your core,” says Timmons.
4. Hold your elbows at 90 degrees just below your shoulders, still keeping your body surfboard straight, exhale as you straighten your arm. This motion should take one to two seconds.
Build up to a full push-up by working through this progression from Timmons:
1. Start with slow tempo wall push-ups, with at least three seconds down, one second hold and two or three seconds back up to starting position. Work your way up to three sets of 15 to 20.
2. Once you can perform three sets of 15 to 20 with perfect form, do the same with an elevated push-up on a bench. Hands on the bench feet on the floor progressing towards the same goal of three sets of 15 to 20 reps.
3. Once you can perform three sets of 15 to 20 with perfect form and tempo on a bench progress to the floor and start with a reduced volume and tempo. For example, one to three sets of six to 12 with a tempo of two seconds down, no hold at the bottom and a one second return to starting position. As you accomplish this goal, add back in the tempo of three-one-one and then after accomplishing that begin to increase reps within the sets.
And finally, you really will be ready to drop and give someone a perfect 10. For flawless form, check out the video below.
Here are three more things to keep in mind as you master the art of the push-up. And once you have the regular thing down pat, challenge yourself to the “Spiderman Push-up,” which will leave every muscle in your body quaking.