How To Do Push Ups
The push up (or press up to some) is, along with squats, a classic bodyweight exercise that everyone has tried at some time of their life!
It’s a fantastic exercise that can be used anywhere and has so many variations that you should never get bored of it.
However, not only do many people struggle to progress to doing sets of full push ups (i.e. chest to the floor and knees of the ground) but many people think they can do push ups but show one or more of the following:
– Lack of strength or mobility to get full depth
– Poor arm positioning increasing risk of shoulder injury
– Weak core stability resulting in something akin to the worm at an old school disco.
– ‘Hen pecking’ where they appear to be pecking at grain on the floor as they bob their head up and down with each rep!
In my opinion, the push up should be mastered before doing exercises such as tricep extensions, bicep curls, chest presses, bench presses or, God forbid, machine based options to get a stronger, more muscular upper body.
If you can perform 20 full depth push ups under control, you will be well on your way to an athletic looking physique and will be in a much better position to get results from other ‘weight based’ exercises.
And yes, that applies to both men and women!
This step-by-step guide will show you how to start from the very basics of building upper body pushing strength to being able to complete a full set of 10 push ups.
I’ve used this on a range of male and female clients, and with consistent practice you’ll find that you can master it within a few months if not weeks.
Before getting into the juicy technical work, I should point out what should be pretty obvious!
If you want to be able to push your own body off the floor, you need excellent ‘relative’ strength.
In other words, your strength levels relative to how much you weigh must be at a certain level.
I am going to show you how to work on the strength side of things, but it should be obvious that if you can shed as much body fat as possible, this challenge becomes a lot easier, so make sure you’re following one of my nutrition plans for fast fat loss such as the Turbo Transformation.
I am going to assume you are quite literally a complete beginner and show you the step-by-step push up blueprint from the start.
If you are further up the ladder, jump in at the appropriate level.
The biggest error in approaching push ups is believing that ‘my arms are too weak’.
More often than not, the problem lies not in missing tricep strength but in a lack of…
…correct arm positioning / angle
…scapula mobility and movement
Few people give attention to the downward phase of the movement in which we can get a lot of work done by the muscles of the upper back as well making it a truly complete upper body exercise.
Requirements of a pull up
Strong core to prevent back arching and injury as well as loss of strength through inefficient movement
Freely moving scapulae (shoulder blades)
Essentially, what is often the problem in trying to progress with push ups is simply a lack of attention to the details which make all the difference and stop you going around in circles wondering why you can’t get any better!
Push Up Progressions
This is the progression from very basic upper body strength work to full push ups.
The reps given indicate how many of a particular exercise you should be able to complete before progressing up the ladder to harder exercises.
You should perform 3-4 sets twice per week of the hardest exercise you can perform with excellent technique.
Alternatively, do a couple of really high quality sets every day, avoiding muscular fatigue and simply focussing on getting all the finer points right in order to train the movement pattern and your nervous system rather than just counting reps.
HAVE PATIENCE! It won’t happen over night, but it will happen!
Simply build the reps up by adding 1-2 at each training session.
Push ups on knees (full depth) 15
Eccentric push up 10 x 4 second eccentric
Start on your feet then descend from the top to the floor ON YOUR FEET over 4 seconds. At first you might not manage a full 4 seconds – that’s fine just build up to it.
Once you get to the floor, put your knees down, push back up as you did on the previous exercise and repeat so it’s up on your knees, down on your feet.
3 point push up on feet 5 x 5-5-5 seconds
Perform as the last progression but this time you are going to perform a 5 second static hold ALMOST at the top of the push up, 5 seconds at the middle and 5 seconds at the bottom with your face, chest, tummy and groin just off the floor.
This requires immense concentration on maintaining tension in the right muscles.
Again build up to 5 x 5-5-5. You may only manage 2 second holds at first.
Push ups on feet (partial depth) 15
Full push up 10 (3 secs down, 1 sec up)
Now you should be ready to start building up your reps of full push ups!
Performing push ups is not just about going up and down.
Here are some fairly obvious and some sneaky tips to improve your technique fast!
1) Maintain a rock solid core throughout. Imagine someone is going to kick you in the stomach as you are doing your push ups, forcing you to brace your abs hard.
2) Maintain a straight line from head to feet (or knees at first)
3) If you have to stick your bum in the air, it’s because your body doesn’t trust your core strength – go work on it with planks and similar.
4) Look 2-3 inches in front of the imaginary line between your finger tips. Don’t drop your head but don’t look forward either.
5) Angle your elbows about 45 degrees behind you. If you flare your elbows out to the side at 90 degrees, you increase your risk of shoulder issues due to impingement in the joint.
6) As you push up, turn your elbows in and deliberately contract your pecs. Don’t just think about pushing up – make sure you are using your chest for better development in that area and to avoid collapsing too soon because your arms tire from all the work.
7) As you descend, maintain control and keep the tension on your chest muscles
Key Assistance Exercises
There are certain exercises that will aid your attempts at a full set of pull ups.
All of these are great exercises in their own right and are only labelled ‘assistance’ exercises because we are using them to bring up strength to help your push ups.
Lying Overhead Pullover
Done correctly, this is a great exercise for building strength in the serratus anterior which aids stabilisation and correct movement of your shoulder blades.
Ensure that you drive your shoulder blade down into the floor before easing the dumbbell to the floor over 4 seconds.
Contract the muscles around your shoulder blade to bring the dumbbell back over your face.
In the dynamic portion of your session after the heavy strength work but before conditioning.
Plank and variations
All ‘anti-movement’ core exercises are great for building stability around the lumbar spine. This will improve your push ups from the centre outwards.
Remember, if you can’t perform a solid plank for 45-60 seconds you shouldn’t be trying full push ups.
After all, a push is just a plank with vertical movement!
Examples include, planks, side planks, wheel roll outs, Pallof presses on a cable machine and renegade push ups.
If it’s your weak area, do at the start of your session, avoiding technical failure so that you are still strong for the rest of your session.
Can also be done at the end of the session.