Progressions to hep you improve your push ups, plus a couple of cool advanced variations to try out if you can.
Push ups are a massively underrated bodyweight exercise, mostly because they are butchered on a regular basis in gym across the land.
The push up is basically a moving plank position. You keep your hips tucked slightly, abs “on”, and lower yourself down gracefully, then drive the floor away to come back up. The issue is that you have to have a good amount of strength in your abs, glutes, chest, shoulders and triceps, not to mention your back, in order to perform these well.
Push up position plank
The first stage of push ups is simply holding the push up plank position. This can be a challenge for many new trainees as they have yet to build the prerequisite strength in their abs, shoulders and glutes to hold a solid position.
Build to 3-4 sets of 30s.
Incline push ups
Starting out, if you don’t have the pre-requisite strength to go straight into doing pushups on the floor, you should start with the incline variation. These are significantly better than the version you often see people do from their knees as it teaches you the proper full body bracing you need.
By elevating your hands, you move some of the load towards your feet and make it easier. Then, as you increase your strength, you gradually lower yourself closer to the floor, effectively adding some more load with each small progression you make.
- Set up so your arms make a 90º angle with your torso.
- Lower your self so the middle/ bottom of your chest tracks towards the bar/ edge of the box or bench. This helps you keep your elbows in around 45º from your sides and prtects your shoulders.
- Push back up hard, finish high, but maintain the plank position throughout.
- Build to sets of 8-10 at each height before lowering slightly and building your reps back up.
By the time you can do 2-3 sets of 8-10 on a 12-15 inch box, you’re ready to progress to the floor.
Standard push up
The classic. Set up with your hands around 1.5x shoulder width apart, with them in line with the middle of your chest. Lower youself, then push back up. Simple.
Keeping your elbows from flaring out wide will save your shoulder a world of ache. Tuck them in to around 45º (the same position you’d use on a DB/BB bench) and spare your shoulders some pain.
Once again, the push up is basically a plank that moves. Keep your body in a straight line from ankles, through your hips to your shoulders. Don’t dip your bits to the floor, and don’t strain your neck trying to nose boop the floor with minimal elbow bend.
Here is my client Rachel cranking out a few perfect reps:
Good push ups take full body strength and plenty of practice. Simply adding in one of the above variations a couple of times per week, doing 2 to 3 x max -2 (max -2 is going to as many push ups as you can and stopping when you think you have 2 good reps left) will help build quality volume. Once you are getting around 10 reps consistently on an incline, lower the incline a little and build up again. If you are hitting that number on the floor, you might want to try one of the following advanced versions…
Banded push up
The problem with bodyweight exercises is you are naturally limited by load. Unless you pack on a few extra kilos, you aren’t adding much in the way of resistance. And I don’t know anyone committed to improving their push up who wants to get heavier to get stronger.
Adding a band or chains if you are more badass, adds accommodating resistance. This means that at the bottom of the push up the resistance is low and as you push up, the band tightens and increases the load making you work harder to finish the rep.
Feet elevated push up
If having your hands above your feet makes the push up easier, then the opposite will add an extra challenge. Having your feet up on a box or bench shifts more weight to your arms and shoulders and does 2 things:
- Increases load, and
- Effectively has you pressing slightly upward out of the bottom position, making it more shoulder targetted.
Chaos push up
Nothing adds challenge quite like taking some stability away. The chaos push up does this by having you grip on to a band looped between 2 supports. I’ve found the safety bars on a
curl squat rack. The band creates a whole load of chaos in your shoulders and abs as you try to stabilise enough to move through the movement.
If you have problems with your push up, feel free to send me a message and I’ll do my best to help.