In the land of dreaded exercises, only the pull-up garners more eye rolls and mumbled curse words than the push-up.

They are dang hard. Rocky Balboa can crank them out one-handed, but the rest of us fall on our face, and then lie there squealing as we beg our noncompliant muscles to get us back up. Embarrassing flashbacks to seventh-grade physical education class flood our minds and we want to flee.

Trainers, drill sergeants, and coaches love the push-up, and for good reason. Add them to pull-ups and you have an upper-body workout.

Push-ups have extra bonuses like isometric core and lower body work, no special equipment required, they can be done anywhere, and there are loads of modifications to make them more difficult (exciting, huh?).

No wonder they’ve been around since forever and don’t look to be going away. If you’re gonna get fit, you’ll sooner, rather than later, face the almighty push-up.

So how do you go from flopping around on the floor to looking svelte and whipping out 15 Marine-worthy push-ups?

Believe it or not, it’s no big deal, but ya gotta give it time, remain dedicated, and most of all, be patient.

Step one: Imagine your body as a board — everything in a line. Stand with your back to a wall — push your head, shoulders, rear and feet against the wall. That’s good posture and your body is nice and straight.

Step two: While standing, note the angle between you and the floor is 90 degrees. This position is the easiest starting point for a push-up. As that angle decreases (you get closer to the floor), they get harder.

We’ll use different angles to progress you from easy to hard — a wall, the edge of the kitchen counter, a coffee table, the hearth, and eventually the floor. Just make sure whatever surface you choose is stable.

Step three: Once you have an idea where to start, you need to get into position. Start “down” (against the wall or on the floor, etc.) Where are your hands? We want them even with your chest — not your neck and not your head.

“Push up” until your arms are straight. Stop, and check your body. Remember that good posture we practiced — body like a board? You might feel your trunk muscles working to hold your body straight — one of those push-up bonuses we mentioned.

Also check that your hands line up under your shoulders. You might feel a little shaky, but we don’t want you unstable. If you feel like you can’t safely support your body weight, then increase the angle between you and the floor. And don’t worry, it gets easier.

Step four: Try to execute 10 to 15 really good push-ups. Take a short, one-minute break, and then go another round (a set).

Two sets for beginners are plenty, but work your way up to three. Do them two to three times per week, on non-consecutive days. When you can do 20, find a lower surface (decrease the angle) and start all over.

Try not to make too big of a leap — don’t go from the wall to a step. Maybe the kitchen counter instead? Just keep increasing the difficulty a little at a time.

Push-ups are a great upper-body exercise for all ages, men and women alike. And they don’t cost you a dime. Give them a try! Before you know it, you’ll be hearing the theme to “Rocky.”

• NSCA certified personal trainer Shannon Sorrels has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an MBA. Her Ahwatukee-based company, Physix LLC, works with Valley individuals and groups to improve their overall fitness. Reach her at (480) 528-5660 or visit

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