Scientists haven't delved deeply into whether being tall makes push-ups more difficult — but numerous anecdotes say that's the case. Still, that doesn't mean push-ups are a bad thing for tall people to do. In fact, you could argue that taller folks stand to get more benefits from doing them.
Although there hasn't been a clinical trial to prove that doing push-ups is harder for tall people, anecdotal evidence indicates that this is the case.
Body Weight and Push-Ups
Although there haven't been any clinical studies that specifically address whether tall people have it harder than short people while doing push-ups, there is a noteworthy study that was published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which evaluated how much of your body mass you lift during each phase of a traditional push-up or a knees-down modified push-up.
If you're doing full push-ups, you support about 69 percent of your body weight in the up position, and about 75 percent in the down position. If you're doing modified knee push-ups, you support about 54 percent of your body weight in the up position, and about 62 percent in the down position.
The Cooper Institute builds on those statistics, extrapolating that a 190-pound person doing full push-ups would be supporting about 131 pounds of body weight in the up position and about 142 pounds in the down position.
Neither institute controlled its results for height. However, this is a great illustration of why push-ups can be challenging for people of any height — especially if you're carrying a little extra fluff anywhere on your body, because the more you weigh, the more you end up lifting.
On the other hand, physical challenges are good for you, as long as they're appropriate to your current fitness level. So just because push-ups are hard doesn't mean you should skip them — as long as you're able to maintain proper form.
Although push-ups are an excellent exercise for your chest, shoulders and arms, don't forget to work all your major muscle groups — even those that aren't as easy to see in the mirror. That means adding exercises for your legs, core, back, shoulders and arms to your workouts as well.
Consider Modified Push-Ups
If doing push-ups really is more difficult for tall people, what's a long-bodied man or woman to do? More push-ups, of course — using one of these modifications, if necessary, so that you can do a full set with good form. As you build strength and endurance, start incorporating one or two reps of a more difficult variation, gradually increasing that number until you're doing full sets of that harder version.
Move 1: Knee Push-Ups
- Assume the usual hands-and-feet push-up position; then bend your knees so that they rest on the ground.
- Check your body position: Instead of being straight from head to heels as for a full push-up, your body should now be straight from head to knees.
- Squeeze your core to keep your body straight as you bend your arms, lowering your body to the ground.
- Press yourself back up, keeping your knees on the ground, to complete the repetition.
Move 2: Counter Push-Ups
- Place both hands on a sturdy counter at about hip-height.
- Walk your feet back until your body forms a straight line from head to heels. You'll be tilted toward the counter, with your arms holding up most of your weight.
- Squeeze your core muscles to stabilize your body in that straight line; then bend your arms and lower your chest toward the counter.
- Straighten your arms, pushing yourself away from the counter to complete the repetition.
No need to worry about touching your chest to the counter; stick to a pain-free range of motion. The higher the counter, the easier the exercise will be. When you're ready for a new challenge, switch to a lower surface, such as a weight bench or entryway bench, as long as it's sturdy enough to hold your weight.
Move 3: Planks for Core Strength
Holding a full push-up position can really challenge your core; doing planks helps build the isometric strength you need to maintain that position during push-ups.
- Position yourself on your hands and your toes, as if you were doing full push-ups.
- Using a mirror or a friend's feedback, check your body position: Your hips should be in line with your shoulders and your heels. If your hips are piked too far up or sagging down below the line of your body, adjust them.
- Squeeze your core muscles and continue breathing normally as you test how long you can hold the plank. Try to hold it a little longer every time you do this exercise, even if it's just by a fraction of a second.
If doing the plank on your hands is too difficult, consider resting on your forearms instead. You can also practice doing planks with your hands on an elevated surface to make it a little easier — or do planks from a knee push-up position, then gradually work up to full planks on your hands and toes.
Other Chest Exercises
Tall people can do push-ups — but unless you're trying to meet work or military standards that require a certain number of push-ups, or prepping for that inevitable bar bet to see who can crank out the most push-ups on a beer- and sawdust-laden floor, you don't have to. You have plenty of other chest and arm exercises to choose from.
According to a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, the best exercise for working your chest is the barbell bench press — which works your arms and shoulders too, much like a push-up. If you don't have access to barbells or aren't comfortable using them, you can do a dumbbell bench press instead.
Two other chest exercises in that study — the pec deck machine and bent-forward cable crossovers — were deemed almost as effective as the bench press for recruiting chest involvement. But these two exercises focus almost solely on the chest, so if you really want to approximate the effects of push-ups you'll need to add in shoulder and arm exercises too, like overhead presses and dips or triceps extensions.
- Cooper Institute: "How Much Weight Is Really Lifted During a Push-Up?"
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE-Sponsored Research: "Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push-Up Variants"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"