Who’s asked, “Why Can’t I Do Push Ups Anymore?”
If you’ve taken a break from performing push ups, or even training in general, I’m sure you feel disappointed at how many reps you can crank out now.
In fact, you may even find that you can’t perform a single push up.
This could even be true if you’ve been back exercising regularly for a few weeks.
So, why is it that you seem incapable of doing push ups?
Allow me to explain.
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Can’t Do Push Ups Anymore
If you’ve stopped doing push ups for a significant period then you can’t expect to go straight back to doing as many reps as before. However, you should continue to train them as muscle-memory will eventually kick in. You may find it easier to work through the various push up progressions, e.g. wall push ups, incline push ups, kneeling push ups, etc. until you are at the level where you can do a conventional push up. It’s also important to realise that any loss of core or tricep strength will limit your ability to perform push ups.
1. Work Through Push Up Progressions
Firstly, it’s important to realise that if you’ve had a break from training that it’s going to be near to impossible to perform any exercise at the same levels as previously.
This is even true if you’ve only had a few weeks off.
Granted, you won’t actually start to lose muscle mass until you get to around 3 weeks with no exercise.
But, any longer than a couple of weeks off and most exercises will feel a lot more difficult than they did before.
However, if you’ve had a long hiatus from doing push ups it’s probably best to go back to basics.
This will involve going through the various push up progressions and getting stronger at each level.
Start at the Very Beginning
Depending on what you feel capable of doing you may well need to start off with wall push ups.
This is as simple as it sounds – stand up facing a wall, place your hands on the wall, and perform a push up from there.
You may find that you’re at the level where you can only “lower” yourself towards the wall, but struggle to push yourself back up.
That’s fine, this in effect is the negative part of the wall push ups, and therefore it will have certain muscle and strength benefits.
You should ensure you keep your whole body tight when performing wall push ups, with special attention given to your glutes and core.
Once you feel you’re able to perform wall push ups with relative ease you can move onto incline push ups.
So, your hands are placed on a raised surface, while your feet remain on the floor.
Go through the same process until you feel comfortable enough to move onto the next stage.
The next progression will be kneeling push ups.
So, you’re now at the “final stage” before you get to the standard push up.
Once again, work on your kneeling push ups until you feel you’re at a level where you can perform a decent number of reps with relative ease.
Then you can finally move onto standard push ups.
I would also advise that at each stage you regularly perform planks with your hands on the floor.
So, in effect, holding the top of the push up position.
You should ensure that you contract your glutes and core during planks and aim to keep your body as tight as possible.
2. How’s Your Core Strength?
I’ve just mentioned that as well as performing push up variations you should also regularly be performing planks.
The main reason for this is that push ups do actually work the core muscles.
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Plus, you’ll actually find it easier to perform push ups with stronger core muscles.
Basically, your core should stabilize when doing push ups.
I also view push ups as a full-body exercise, and as I’ve said you should contract various muscles in the body while performing your reps.
This is especially true of the core muscles.
So, ensure that you contract your core tight throughout your entire set.
You should also look at performing specific core work if you feel that your core muscles have become weak from a lack of push ups.
In fact, this will definitely be the case, as push ups do target the core more than you would imagine.
3-Minute Plank Isometric Core Workout
3. Train Your Triceps
Another area of the body where you typically lose strength from a lack of push ups is the triceps.
And although we view push ups primarily as a chest exercise, the triceps definitely have a great deal of work to do.
In fact, the weaker your triceps the more difficult you’ll find it to push yourself up from the bottom position.
Just as with the core, if you haven’t performed push ups in a while it’s likely you will have lost a fair deal of triceps muscle and strength.
So, in order to improve and increase your push ups it makes perfect sense that you also focus on training your triceps.
7 Triceps Exercises For Bigger Arms
4. Continue Training Push Ups Regularly (Muscle-Memory)
Push ups are very similar to many bodyweight exercises.
By this I mean that they are relatively light weight-bearing exercises that you will typically perform for high reps.
Okay, this may not be the case at this moment in time.
However, if you’re here trying to discover why you can’t do push ups anymore, that tells me that you were capable of doing them at one point.
In fact, I have even known people who could crank out 30+ perfect reps, but would struggle with more than 1 or 2 reps after a long break from doing push ups.
The thing is with bodyweight exercises, such as push ups, which are generally done for hip reps, they don’t rely on strength alone.
Yes, of course improving strength in your core and triceps will definitely help to perform more push ups.
However, being able to perform high reps of push ups once more also relies on muscle-memory and actually training the movement.
The human body is a wonderful thing and is capable of far more than we often give it credit for.
Plus, not only does the body adapt to the stress we place it under, it also has a fantastic way of “remembering” what it is capable of.
This means that if you continue to train push ups regularly, even if this involves going through the easier variations, eventually your body will have an “aha” moment.
So, even if you’re struggling to crank out one rep at the moment, but you used to 20 straight, all is not lost.
The more often you train push ups your muscle-memory will eventually catch up.
You should actually find that you get to your previous level quicker than it took you to get there in the first place.
The main reason you can’t do push ups anymore is because certain muscles are now not as strong as they once were. Even though push ups are primarily considered to be a chest exercise, a loss of strength in the triceps and core muscles will impact your ability to do them. You can gradually work your way through the various push up progression until you eventually get to the level of performing standard push ups. Plus, the more regularly you train the movement, the quicker your muscle-memory will kick in.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.