Ashley Joi

5 exercises to improve push-ups: the perfect strength workout

Ashley Joi

Push-ups are a classic move.

Even if you mostly smash cardio workouts at the gym, chances are you’ve tried HIIT training at some point where this tried and true bodyweight resistance exercise has come up.

Push-ups are standard in many strength training and HIIT workouts (especially on Centr) because it’s one of those great resistance exercises that fit into a routine whether you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscle.

But while push-ups may be a classic exercise, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. So what should you do if you’re struggling to complete a single rep?

We've got the key exercises to get better at push-ups. But first, let’s explore what they are and why you need them in your routine.


Wrist pain during push-ups? The cushioned grip on the Centr Push-Up Handles will reduce strain and provide support so you can focus on nailing your form.

What are push-ups?

A push-up (called a press-up in some parts of the world) is a fundamental bodyweight exercise that involves pushing your body away from the floor and then lowering it again using your arms.

Why can’t I do a push-up?

Just because they are common, that doesn’t mean they’re easy.

A push-up targets more than just your arms: your chest, triceps, shoulders and core all need to work together to make this resistance exercise happen (and happen again and again!).

What should I do if I can’t complete a single push-up?

Even if you can’t do a push-up now, we can hit those areas individually, build muscles and turn you into a push-up pro with this strength training workout for beginners.

You might be wondering how to strengthen your arms for push-ups, but the truth is you’ll also need to build strength in your chest, core and shoulders to nail this move.

All you need is dumbbells, a positive attitude and three words: “Do not stop!”

How to build push-up strength: Ashley Joi’s favorite exercises to help with push ups

For each of the below exercises for push-ups, do as many good-quality reps as you can for 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds.

You can either do four rounds and make this a full strength training workout or just add a few sets to your gym routine. If you’re fitting it into a strength and cardio program, I recommend doing your weight training before cardio.

Remember to start off with a dynamic warm-up and finish with stretches.

A woman performing a chest press with dumbbells.

1. Chest press

Why this?
Bringing the weights down slowly and pushing up with control builds chest and upper body strength.
What weight?
Dumbbells with a challenging weight. By the end of the set, you should feel as though you could have managed two more reps maximum.
How the pros do it:
Lying flat on your mat with your knees raised and feet flat to the floor, grab a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells down to just above your chest and then push up strong until your arms are both fully extended and your dumbbells touch gently. Bring them back down at a slower tempo.

A woman performing skull crushers with dumbbells.

2. Skull crushers

Why this?
This move really works the triceps, and you can’t have a push-up without strong triceps!
What weight?
Lighter than the first weight, as this move is about a steady pace and controlling the form.
How the pros do it:
Remain on the mat with your back flat and hold one dumbbell in each hand with your fist facing up. Bring them back slowly towards the sides of your head near your ears in a 2:2 tempo (two seconds down, two seconds up). Remember to keep away from the face and pay attention to your elbow joints and ensure they're soft at all times.

A woman squatting and punching the air with dumbbells.

3. Dumbbell squat hold and punches

Why this?
Dumbbell punches will really work your shoulders, and the full-body burn from the squat hold is an added bonus!
What weight?
The same light weight as the Skull Crushers.
How the pros do it:
Grab your dumbbells in each hand and come down into a squat by sitting back into a chair that ain't there. Now hold that squat. Think it's easy? Wait for the burn to kick in. But, before that, start punching out while holding the dumbbells. Lead with your right and then pull back and punch out with your left. Keep going. Keep holding that squat throughout.


4. Tricep kickbacks

Why this?
Triceps again! These guys need some isolated TLC as they’re one of your key push-up powerhouses.
What weight?
The light dumbbells.
How the pros do it:
In a standing position, lean forward about 45 degrees. With fists clenching the dumbbells in each hand and beside your chest, "kick" the dumbbells back at the same time to full extension. Aim for a 3:1 tempo where you kick back for three seconds with just one-second return.

A woman doing a plank exercise.

5. Plank up-downs

Why this?
Without a strong core, you won’t be able to hold a full push-up position for long. Think of how similar it is to a plank: the core muscles keep your form steady and protect your back.
What weight?
Just bodyweight.
How the pros do it:
Starting in the high plank with your arms locked, brace your core and keep your back straight. Come down onto your right forearm and then bring down your left forearm so both are on the floor. Come back up into the high plank position in the same order you came down. Make sure your core is always locked.

What are some other workouts to help with pushups?

If you’re looking for other workouts to improve push-ups in a different style, give these a try:

All of these workouts feature exercises that help with push ups.

Want more strength advice from the experts?

Ashley Joi

Whether you’re new to fitness or need a fresh start, ISSA certified personal trainer Ashley Joi will help you discover that spark. A lifelong athlete (she attended University of Rhode Island on a track and field scholarship) who has led training events for Nike, Ashley’s passion for physical and mental fitness is infectious. Just remember her No.1 rule: Don’t stop!

Ashley Joi


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