Last updated on January 9th, 2023 at 05:34 pm
I see this question asked time-and-time again, “Why Do I Shake When I Do Push Ups?”
You start your set of push ups and everything’s going well.
Then you get about halfway through your set and you start shaking uncontrollably.
This is especially true as you try to push yourself up from the bottom of the push up.
And to make matters worse, sometimes it’s your arms that shake, other times it’s your leg, and occasionally you’re even shaking all over.
What’s going on here?
In this article I’ll explain why you shake when doing push ups and what you can do to fix this.
Table of Contents
Why Do I Shake When I Do Push Ups?
There are various reasons why you shake when you do push ups. Most people typically start shaking once they have hit their current level of strength and muscular endurance for performing push ups. In other words, certain muscular weaknesses are holding you back. If it’s mainly your arms that shake, this points to a potential weakness in the triceps. If your legs shake during push ups, this indicates a weak core.
1. Is it Normal For Arms to Shake When Doing Push Ups?
It’s actually quite normal for your arms to shake when doing push ups.
This is especially true if you are fairly new to push ups or if you’re regularly progressing with reps, sets, weight, etc.
Basically, your current level of strength and muscular endurance only supports the number of push ups you do before you start shaking.
I guess this is just a nice way of saying, you’re weak, LOL (sorry).
That being said, the more regularly you perform push ups, and progress as you go along, the easier they will become.
However, you could also say that it’s likely that you’ll always shake, but the number of push ups you’ve performed before this happens will hopefully get higher-and-higher.
The main reason that your arms shake is typically due to triceps weakness.
That being said, it could also point to a potential weakness in the shoulders.
But, in the main, your triceps are typically the limiting factor when performing push ups.
If you think about it, the pecs and delts are far bigger muscles than the triceps.
So, it stands to reason that the muscle to “give up” first will be the smallest one.
Therefore, in order to stop your arms shaking during push ups you’ll need to work on your tricep strength.
This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing push ups, as they also train the triceps as a secondary muscle.
However, performing close-grip bench press, dips, skullcrushers, and tricep extensions on a regular basis will certainly improve matters.
2. Why Do My Legs Shake When I Do Push Ups?
The arm shaking during push ups certainly seems a more obvious cue.
I mean, after all you’re performing an upper body exercise, so it stands to reason that certain muscles in your upper body will start shaking as you reach your strength potential.
That being said, I know for a fact that many people experience leg shaking when doing push ups.
As strange as this sounds, it is actually a fairly common occurrence.
In truth, it’s not so much your legs, but your core that is the root of the problem.
Basically, your core muscles are weak, and unfortunately they play an important role during push ups.
In fact, after the triceps I would say that your core is the next limiting factor when performing push ups.
But, you may not actually realise this, and therefore blame your push up weakness on other muscles.
A prime example of this is that if your core is weak your midsection will typically sag towards the floor.
This will automatically cause your entire back to arch, which is not a favourable position for push ups.
What happens here is that you start using your arms and shoulders simply to press your body back up from the down position.
You’ll generally notice that your core is no more than an inch off the floor, whereas your arms are fully extended.
In effect, your body position is very similar to that of the yoga sphinx pose.
Realistically, you have also taken your pecs (as well as your core) out of the equation.
So, you may find that as you get further into your set, not only are your legs shaking, but then your arms start too.
Once more, things will get better as your strength and muscular endurance improve.
But, once again, it makes sense to work on your core strength in order to hopefully eradicate leg shaking.
3. How to Build Strength With Push Ups
Okay, so I’ve mentioned working on your upper body pushing/pressing strength, especially your triceps.
You should also look to improve core strength.
Now, I also think it’s a great idea to incorporate planks, particularly planks that involve you being in the push up position.
So, this may involve standard push up position planks.
Then again, you could perform plank–to-push up.
You can also do plank-to-pike, and to really test your core, throw in some toe touches here as well.
What this does is to initially help with improving core stability and strength.
However, you’ll also get much more used to being in the push up position, while supporting your body weight.
Finally, another fantastic exercise, which can also make a real difference, is burpees.
Now, you can of course perform burpees with push ups, but if you’re shaking while performing push ups, this may not be such a great idea.
That being said, I typically find push ups slightly easier to perform when incorporated into burpees.
Realistically, this is probably because I’m more concentrated on my extremely elevated heart rate during burpees.
However, burpees are great exercise for your triceps.
In fact, I credit much of my tricep growth to burpees.
It’s an unexpected source, but burpees do seem to produce some superb tricep strength and definition.
Furthermore, you’ll also be working your core, conditioning, and muscular endurance as well.
These are all factors that will help with performing push ups.
Plank Pike Toe Touches
So, I hope you understand that the reason that you shake when doing push ups typically comes down to muscle weaknesses.
If you find that your arms are shaking, this means that your triceps are weak.
Then again, if your legs are shaking, this indicates a lack of core strength.
To be honest, your triceps and core are generally the limiting factors when it comes to performing push ups.
Therefore, if you work on improving triceps and core strength, you should find that your push up shakes will eventually go away.
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.