Pumping up your push up

pushup position

Almost without fail, new clients say one of their performance targets is to get 1 full push up. Assuming, of course, they can’t already do one. Of course, once they get that first rep out cleanly, they always want more. But initially, they want that elusive first rep.

Let’s break down the push up and get you a plan to help you get your first full rep. And if you can already do one or 2, let’s get you more.

First off, let’s look at what a push up isn’t.

not a push up
This is not a push up.

That tipping from the hip, kinda, maybe “push up” is not going to pass muster my friends. There is limited carryover to doing an actual push up, given there is minimal core strength requirement or full body tension required to tip from the hips and lower your face to the floor.

 What is a push up then?

It’s a plank. Honestly, that is what it is. If you look at the top position of the push up:

  • Straight torso
  • Slight pelvic tuck
  • Glute “on”
  • Ribs locked down

Sounds plank-y to me.

Now all you have to do is move your perfect plank through space towards the floor and back to full arm extension. Simple.

Not necessarily easy right enough, but simple.

You’ll need the necessary planking ability, a strong upper back to help support your shoulder blades and strong enough chest and arm muscles to provide the necessary push.

The plank part is pretty obvious from the description above, but upper back? In order to push the ground away, you need a solid platform to push from, this is where that strong upper back comes in. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the clients that have the best deadlift in relation to body weight, and who can do the most pull-ups and heavy rows, are also the ones that can crank out 15-20+ pushups in a set.

These exercises all require a strong back to execute them well, or at all. Building that strength will help with stabilising the shoulder and help with improving good posture. Something that most people need, particularly if you’re stuck at a desk all day.

The arm and chest strength are also kinda self-evident. The chest pulls the upper arm in towards the midline of the chest, and the triceps, on the back of the upper arm, straighten the elbow. Both actions are required to move you from the bottom position back to the top.

Getting you from push up zero to push up hero will require targetting these areas, then rounding out the program to make sure you don’t neglect the other 80% of your musculature.


Starting with the push up position plank, through incline push ups to full push ups and on to advanced variations. Pick the correct starting point for you and aim to progress to the next.

Push up position plank

This is a great option for learning the full body tension required for progressing the pushup. Go here to learn how to supercharge your plank!

Incline push up

By raising the hands up off the floor, anything from 12 to 36 inches (30-90cm) biases more weight towards the feet. This makes the pushup movement easier to handle. Lowering the height gradually over time is progressive resistance for the push up allowing you to build strength as you have to handle more of your bodyweight through your arms.

Push up 

Progressing to the floor for full push ups.

Paused push ups

Adding a pause at the bottom position challenges you to maintain a stable enough shoulder to allow you to push back up.

Feet elevated push up

Raising the feet up 6 to 12 inches shifts more weight toward your arms increasing the loading on your upper body.

TRX push up

Creating an unstable hand position due to the movement of the straps. This forces you to work harder ot stabilise through your shoulders and abs. This can be progressed along the same lines of the incline pushup, the more upright you are, the lower the loading on your arms.

Chaos push up

I first saw this option on Tony Gentilcores website, using a thick band looped between the safety bars on a squat rack, making the hand position even more unstable and allowing the progression from the TRX version.


Your program

Here is a 3 day full body program with a slight emphasis on upper body pushing. I’ve left the details fairly vague in as much as I have no idea what the hell you are doing in training right now so I’ve left it up to you to add in your deadlifty and squatty variations as you see fit. The condition being that you have to do these too. Otherwise, you become a bit of a Dorito…

Train your damned legs too people!

Day 1

A1.Pushup 4 AMRAP-2 (leave 2 reps in the tank on the first 3 sets, last set go to technical failure)

A2. TRX row 4×12

Rest 90-120s seconds

B1. Deadlift variation 3×5

B2. Plank 3×30-45s

Rest 2-3 minutes

C1. Walking lunge 4×8

C2. 1 arm cable row 4×10/ side (let your shoulder slide forward on the extension, retract on the pull)

Rest 60-120s

D. Triceps press down 3×12-15 using the slightly angled bar

Rest 60-90s

Day 2

A1.DB press 4x20s Use a weight you can handle for about 10 reps. When you get all 4 sets with at least 10 reps, go up a weight

A2. Bench supp wide row 4×12 Face down on a bench set at 45 deg. Palms facing toward your feet, row out to a wide elbow position.

Rest 90-120s seconds

B1. Seated row 3×8

B2. Hollow body 3×30-45s

Rest 2 minutes

C1. Step up 4×8

C2. Db row 4×10/ side (let your shoulder slide forward on the extension, retract on the pull)

Rest 60-120s

D. Push up pop press 3×4-6 per side. Use an incline if you need to.

Rest 60-90s


Day 3

A1.Close grip DB press 4x 8-10 Elbows come down close to your ribs.

A2. DB bentover row 4×12

Rest 90-120s seconds

B1. Heavy squat variation 4×4

B2. Plank 3×30-45s

Rest 2-3 minutes

C1. Sl Rdl 4×8 (Here are 3 variations to try on the single leg RDL)

C2. Facepull with a lean 4×12

Rest 60-120s

D. TRX T 3×10-12

Rest 60-90s

Give this program a go for the next 4-6 weeks and see how your push ups improve!

Stay strong,


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