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How to Do a Pushup - Variations, Modifications and Mistakes

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Updated February 09, 2010

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Pushup Modifications
Wall Pushup
Paige Waehner
If you haven't done pushups before, or it's been a long time, you may want to start with a modification that will allow you to practice the movement, build strength and keep your body safe. Keep in mind that even modifications may not work for everyone. If you feel pain, skip the exercise and substitute a different version or try one of the alternatives listed below.
  • Wall Pushups - Floor pushups require you to lift a larger percentage of your body weight than wall pushups, which allow you to practice your form without straining through the torso. You can also try these on a stair rail or other raised surface to reduce the amount of body weight you're lifting.
  • Modified Incline Pushups - When you've mastered wall pushups, add intensity by trying a modified incline pushup, with the upper body elevated on a step or platform.
  • Pushups on Your Knees - Taking modified pushups to the floor adds intensity and challenge. Without the elevation, your upper body and core will have to work a little harder.
  • BOSU Pushups - If you want more more of a challenge, using a BOSU will add instability to the movement, requiring your core and stabilizer muscles to kick into high gear.

Avoiding Wrist Pain

One common problem exercisers may experience during pushups is wrist pain. If you already have problems with your wrists (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), pushups may aggravate the problem. If you find this is a problem, try these tips for avoiding wrist pain:

  • Distribute your weight evenly: During pushups, try distributing your weight evenly across your entire hand rather than on the heel of your hand.
  • Use dumbbells or pushup bars: Holding dumbbells or using pushup bars may allow you to keep your wrists straight during your pushups.
  • Use your knuckles: Another option is to do the pushups on your knuckles. Make a fist and rest your hands on your knuckles. Make sure you use a comfortable, cushioned surface and, obviously, avoid this one if it's painful.
  • Brace your core: You can also take some of the weight off your hands (and protect your lower back) by drawing the abs in and keeping your core braced and stiff throughout the movement. If you're not able to do that, move to an easier variation.

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