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The push-up is the ultimate barometer of fitness. The total-body exercise engages muscles in the arms, chest, abdomen, hips, and legs. No wonder they’re so challenging! If you want to be strong and fit, make the push-up a part of your daily regimen.

Why Push-Ups Matter

We are a nation obsessed with cardiovascular exercise—but in our quest to run farther and faster, we might be neglecting some of the most tried-and-true exercises, like the push-up.

Face it—push-ups are hard. That’s the whole idea. Push-ups require us to use several different muscle groups and to lift our own body weight. Why should we be able to lift our own body weight? Think about it this way: what happens if you fall? When people fall forward, they instinctively reach out to catch themselves—and land in a move that mimics the push-up. When your hands hit the ground, your wrists and arms absorb most of the impact and the elbows bend to reduce the force. If you can’t do a single push-up, how do you expect to break a fall without hitting your head on the ground? And furthermore—how do you expect to get back up?

This may sound overly dramatic—but the reality is that we’re all aging. One of the most important reasons to stay fit is to age well. Of course, there are other reasons to stay fit as well—like staying healthy, building strength, and looking good. The push-up has you covered in all of these departments.

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Practice Push-Ups

Push-ups are taxing. They test the whole body. It takes strength and endurance to do them. But the effort will pay off. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a 40-year-old woman should be able to do 16 push-ups and a 60-year-old woman should be able to do six. If you struggle to do even one push-up, it’s time to start practicing. The best way to perfect the push-up is to practice, practice, practice—and make it a daily habit.

Ready to drop and give us 10? Here’s how:

Push-up: Lie on your belly with your hands beneath your shoulders. Press into your palms and straighten your arms. Keep your head, neck, back, and hips in line as you lift yourself to a plank position. Now slowly lower almost all the way to the floor—and push back up.

If that’s too challenging, work up to a full push-up with these modifications:

  • Countertop: Lean against a countertop at a 45-degree angle and press up and down.
  • Stairs: Find a staircase and plant your palms on a stair higher than your feet. Push-ups that are slanted uphill are easier.
  • Knees: Drop your knees to the floor, with your lower legs lifted toward your rear end. Create a plank position from the knees to the head and push up.