Pushups are very difficult for obese people, but if you’re plus size and want to strengthen your chest, shoulders and arms, there are substitutes you can do instead of pushups.

Pushups are not the be-all, end-all exercise for fat-burning, toning or strengthening.

When I was a personal trainer, every so often a plus-sized client would anticipate — with worry — that I’d be making them attempt pushups.

And though some trainers do this, I see no reason for it, when there are so many other ways for a plus size person to increase upper body strength, build lean upper body mass and tone the upper body.

Pushups are a very handy, convenient exercise because they can be done anywhere.

And they’re associated with fitness because they are commonly done in military training as well as other athletic endeavors.

But standard pushups are very difficult for the obese individual to master for reps.

Pushups for obese men and women are impractical and can cause injury to shoulder tendons.

Though there ARE very heavy people who can perform standard pushups for reps, this movement is not practical for the average woman or man of considerable overweight who simply wants to tone, strengthen and lose excess body fat.

So what kind of exercises substitute for pushups, that would be more practical for the obese man or woman?

First off, a modified pushup is always an option for those who are enthusiastic about developing the strength to do a full standard pushup.


In addition to the modified version, a pushup that’s rotated 90 degrees would be ideal for the extra heavy person: a seated chest press using equipment.

The seated chest press is actually a pushup rotated 90 degrees upward, except that you are sitting rather than standing.

Instead of attempting to push against your body weight, you are pushing against a more realistic poundage; that which you have set the equipment for.



Seated chest press equipment comes in many varieties. Some types require that you load the apparatus with weight plates.

And other types have weight stacks with “pins” that you place in the stack. Other types are hydraulic based.

A large gym will typically have several makes and models of the seated chest press, so choose the one that feels most comfortable, then set the resistance for whatever makes it challenging to complete 8-14 repetitions.

The next substitute for pushups, that the obese exerciser should try, is the flat bench and incline bench dumbbell press.

Shutterstock/Catalin Petolea

Simply take a few dumbbells, lie on the bench, and push the weights straight up.

This will work your chest primarily, and then secondarily, the shoulders and triceps.

Like the seated chest press, dumbbell presses are very realistic and practical for obese people, because your body weight will not interfere with how much dumbbell weight you can press upward.

Another pushup replacement exercise for obese men and women is the bench press.

But I must also point out that a super-sized person’s belly will cut short the range of motion of the barbell by blocking it.

You’l end up doing an incomplete range of motion in that you won’t be able to lower the bar down as far as you would if your midsection wasn’t blocking it.

As a result, you will be pushing the bar back up from a point that’s higher than what it should be.

Nevertheless, you can still benefit from the bench press. However, make sure to do other chest exercises in which you can perform full range of motion.

The last exercise for a pushup replacement is the “pec deck.” A variety of machines deliver this particular motion.


You are seated upright and raise bent arms to your sides to lean your forearms against pads, then bring your forearms towards each other.

This exercise is also known as the butterfly. Just about every gym has a peck deck.

Some peck deck machines don’t have pads; you grab handles that are out to the sides, then, with arms slightly bent, bring arms towards each other.

If you’re obese, there is no practicality in struggling with pushups, when instead, you can more safely get much better, faster results with the exercises described here, that substitute for pushups.

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. 


Top image: Shutterstock/Reshetnikov_art