Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Shoulder FAQ

Question:

I saw an exercise video that shows a series of push-up exercises. One is supposed to be easier than the others. One is the hardest and two are in-between. I can't do any of them and can't tell where to start. What do you advise?

Answer:

If you don't have any neurologic problems like multiple sclerosis, stroke, or cerebral palsy and you just have muscle weakness, the exercises are ranked like this:

  • Wall push-ups (easiest)
  • Elbow push-ups
  • Knee push-ups
  • Standard (military) push-ups (hardest)

    Your age and overall physical condition are also part of the picture. Women and older adults often have less upper body strength than young males. Push-ups are usually more difficult for these two groups.

    A wall push-up is done standing facing a wall with toes about three feet away from the wall. Place your hands with palms open and flat against the wall. Keeping your feet in one place, slowly bend your elbows and move your chest towards the wall. Go as far as you can. This may not be very far to start, but with practice and persistence you should see some improvement quickly. Elbow push-ups are done in a position more like the traditional push-up. The chest, abdomen, and knees are off the floor while you support yourself on your forearms with your elbows bent. Hold the position for as long as you can. Add several seconds up to a minute onto your time everyday.

    Knee push-ups are done with the knees on the floor and arms straight. The most difficult push-up is the standard (military) push-ups. The arms are straight with palms flat on the floor. The chest, abdomen, and knees are in a straight line and lifted off the floor. The weight is on the toes.

    All push-ups are easier if you allow your elbows to go out to the side as you lower your body. A more difficult method is with the elbows tucked up against the sides. When you've mastered the standard push-up then go back and start over with the elbows in.

    Paula M. Ludewig, PhD, PT, et al. Relative Balance of Serratus Anterior and Upper Trapezius Muscle Activity during Push-Up Exercises. In The American Journal of Sports Medicine. March/April 2004. Vol. 32. No. 2. Pp. 484-493.

    *Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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