Elderly people can learn to do “real” pushups instead of limiting themselves to wall presses. But–you should start out with wall presses.
Of course, if a person starts serious strength training in younger adulthood (“younger” is relative; this could mean age 50 to a 65-year-old), then the likelihood of being able to perform military style pushups in old age is greatly increased.
However, a person of elderly age (usually considered age 65 and over) who does not have painful shoulder issues can learn how to do floor pushups—the real kind, rather than the wall version.
Pushups Are Not a Natural Motion
“Pushups are difficult to perform correctly and could be hazardous if they are not executed using proper form,” says Monica Charlton, certified personal trainer and Silver Sneakers certified trainer at All Inclusive Health, a personal training studio in New Orleans.
Even a young novice strength trainer cannot do a full, correct pushup.
They are inherently difficult, which is why young, lightweight sedentary adults simply cannot do them.
When I was a personal trainer, few of my clients were able to do them on their first session. The ones who could had already been strength training for a while.
Watch a beginner’s karate class, where floor pushups are often the mainstay of warm-up drills. Even thin kids and teens will struggle.
Observe a typical group fitness class that includes pushups. Most of the women will be on their knees or, if not, many will not be able to lower all the way. Even some of the men will be struggling.
Pushups are inherently tricky. And being over age 65 will add to the inherent difficulty. And with bad form, a person of any age can hurt a shoulder tendon.
Wall Presses As a Stepping Stone
“Wall presses are a great way to modify pushups,” says Charlton.
“Wall pushups offer an excellent opportunity to strengthen core muscles while reducing the force of gravity that can make it difficult to perform a regular pushup.”
Contrary to myth, a “weakling” does NOT have to start off with floor pushups in order to become strong enough to do them.
- Start with wall presses.
- Graduate to countertop presses.
- Progress to presses off a low height such as a gym bench.
- Progress to the floor.
- Supplement your training with other chest exercises all the while!
But if you start off with a bang — floor pushups — despite being out of shape and weak — you will have to face a psychological component.
It’s either going to be defeating to the older person that they’re nowhere near able to do a regular pushup, or — it’ll be amazingly motivating. It’ll more likely be the former.
At least with a wall press, you CAN do that right from the very start even if you’re very de-conditioned.
Core Strength Required for a Floor Pushup
One of the requirements for doing pushups on the floor with good form is that of a fit core (lower back and abs).
A weak core will make standard pushups difficult. Wall and countertop presses will help strengthen the core.
Exercises for a Strong Core so that Older Men AND Women Can Do Pushups
- Lat pull-down
- Yoga classes
- Bench press
- Kettlebell swing
- Standing overhead barbell or dumbbell press
All Inclusive Health’s training services include fitness/body composition assessments, nutrition planning, running programs and customized programs for clients with disabilities or injuries.—
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.