Push-ups are an exercise powerhouse, working your entire upper body and your core too. But, “people don’t realize that they’re a really advanced move,” says Hannah Davis, CSCS, a certified personal trainer based in Cleveland, Tennessee, and the author of Operation Bikini Body. “You need to work up to them, and if you’re not strong enough to do them with proper form, you put yourself at risk for shoulder and neck injuries.” This 6-exercise routine, created by Davis, works the same muscles as a push-up, so you get the strength and toning benefits without the risk (or the demoralizing feeling of trying to do 10 push-ups and having to stop after 4).
Davis recommends 10-to-12-pound dumbbells, but if that’s too heavy for you, feel free to start at a lower weight and work your way up. Eventually, you might find that those impossible push-ups aren’t so hard anymore.
How to Do it:
For each pair of moves, do one set of 10 to 15 reps of Move 1, then immediately do 10 to 15 reps of Move 2–no break. When you’re done with Move 2, take a 30-second rest (if you need it) before starting again with Move 1. Repeat until you’ve done 3 sets of each move. When you’re done with Pair 1, take a 30-second break and move onto Pair 2, repeat 3 times, then Pair 3. Do these moves 2 to 3 times per week to maximize the strength-building benefits.
Move 1 – Uprow
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep a slight bend in your knees. Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing your legs.
2. Lift the weights by raising your elbows up and out until your elbows are as high as your shoulders.
3. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position. That’s one rep.
Do: Make sure to keep your shoulders back and down–you don’t want them up by your ears.
Don’t: Lift your elbows higher than your shoulders, which could put unnecessary strain on those joints.
Move 2 – Overhead Triceps Extension
1. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grab one dumbbell and hold it by one end with both hands.
2. Lift the dumbbell up and over your head, so it’s right behind your head.
3. Keeping your arms as close to your ears as possible, straighten your elbows and raise the weight until you’re holding it directly over your head.
4. Slowly lower the weight back to starting position.
Do: Keep your chin lifted instead of letting it drop down toward your chest. Try not to let your shoulders move either–they should stay in a fixed position.
Don’t: Let you elbows bow outward away from your head. You want to keep them as close to your ears as you can to make your triceps to do the work.
Move 1 – Overhead Press
1. With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Your feet should be directly under your hips and your hips directly under your shoulders. Bend your elbows to hold the weights at your shoulders.
2. Extend your arms and lift the weights straight up toward the ceiling.
3. Slowly bring the weights back to starting position.
Do: Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bring the weight back down to get your back muscles in on the action.
Don’t: Cut off your range of motion–make sure you fully extend your elbows overhead. Don’t let your back arch as you lift the weight overhead either, a common mistake. Squeezing your core should help prevent that.
Move 2 – Lat Pullover and Crunch
1. Grab one dumbbell and lie on the ground. Hold the dumbbell by both ends and lift it straight up over your chest.
2. Straighten your legs and lift them toward the ceiling so your feet are directly over your hips.
3. Extend your arms back overhead toward the ground while you lower your legs down toward the ground as well.
4. Bring your arms back to starting position, holding the weight over your chest, while you bring your legs back up to starting position. Repeat,
Do: Make this easier by lowering one leg to the floor at a time, switching legs with every rep.
Don’t: Let your lower back come off the floor at any point during the move. You should feel it making contact with the ground throughout.
Move 1 – Bent-Over Wide-Grip Row
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and hinge forward from your hips so you’re in a bent-over position. Keep your back flat and hold the dumbbells in either hand, palms facing your legs.
2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together to row the dumbbells back, extending your elbows up and out as you do so. You should feel like you’re pulling the dumbbells away from each other.
3. Pause for a second at the top of the move, then slowly lower the weights back to starting position.
Do: Make this easier by rowing one arm at a time and holding onto a chair with the other arm for support.
Don’t: Let your back arch or round. It should stay flat throughout the move.
Move 2 – Front-Raise Quarter Rotation
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Using both hands, hold one dumbbell long-ways at your midsection.
2. Lift the weight out in front of you, rotate your upper body toward the outside of your right leg and lower the weight.
3. Lift the weight back up from the right side and rotate your upper body back to center. That’s one rep.
4. Now rotate to the outside of the left leg and lower the weight.
5. Lift the weight and come back to center. That’s two reps. Continue until you do 10 to 15 reps.
Do: Keep your body still from the hips down to work your core more, and focus on keeping your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible, as your shoulders will tend to inch upward, especially as you start to get tired. Bending your elbows slightly will help too.
Don’t: Let your knees turn at any point during the move.