Push up progression

Overview: Push ups target the muscles in your chest (pectorals), in the back of your arm (triceps), and in your shoulders (anterior deltoids). Different variations and hand placements will affect to what degree these muscles come into play.

Form: To perform a standard push up with good form, place your weight on your hands and feet, with your spine and head in alignement with your legs, and your hands just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart (palm flat on the floor). Lower your upper body to the floor, flexing the elbows, then rise back to the start position. Keep your head still, and keep your eyes looking down. Breathe in on the way down, and out on the way up, and pull the abdominal muscles tight throughout the exercise.

Notes: Push-ups which are performed with your elbows in (closer to your body) put more emphasis on the triceps. Wide arm push ups with arms at a 90 degrees angle to your body focus more on your chest. To avoid shoulder problems, it is recommended your perform push ups with your upper arms at a 45 degree angle with your torso.

Choose one of the following variations as a starting point and perform 3 sets of between 4 and 8 repetitions with periods of between 1 and 2 min of rest between each set. When you can do 3 sets of 8, move on to the next exercise in the progression. 

1. Wall push ups. Performed against a wall. To find the starting position, stand away from the wall and extend your arms in front of you till the tips of your fingers come in contact with the wall. If you find the exercise too hard, come a little closer to the wall.
2. Box push ups. Performed on your knees, with your spine and upper legs at a 90 degrees angle.
 3. Three quarter push ups. On your knees, with your spine and thighs in line.
 4. Three quarters push ups + 5s eccentric push up. 3/4 push ups on the way up, then get on the balls of your feet and perform the lowering phase of a standard push up to the count of 5 seconds.
 5. Push ups. Your upper arms should form a 45 degree angle with your torso, hands shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself with good form through the whole range of motion untill your chest and your nose almost come into contact with the floor.
6. Elbows in push ups. Same as a push up, but with your elbows remaining in contact with your sides.
7. Diamond push ups. Thumb touching thumb, and index to index. Your elbows should brush against your sides. These put proportionally more of an emphasis on your triceps.
 8. Uneven push ups. One hand resting on an object such as a bench, a basket ball, etc. The higher the object, the more the other arm will have to work, and the harder the exercise.
9. Decline push ups. Feet on a raised platform.
 10. Decline elbows in push ups.
11. Decline diamond push ups.
 12. Wall one arm push ups (the wall should be one arm's length away from you). Just stand facing the wall and reach forward, until you can touch it with your fingertips, then rest your hand against the wall by leaning forward, and perform a push up).
13. Incline one arm push ups. Place one hand under your breastbone, and lower yourself until your chest comes into contact with the bench.
 14. One arm push ups.
 15. Decline one arm push ups.

30 comments:

  1. Hey, Army Reservist here.
    For the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), one has two minutes to do as many pushups as possible. For me (male, 36 years old), I have to get a minimum of 36, and a max of 75. This is clearly getting into muscular endurance territory.
    How would I adjust my sets? Instead of 3 x 8, do maybe 3 X 12 or 3 X 15?

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    1. You'd be better off with a program such as one hundred push ups ( http://hundredpushups.com/ ) for this purpose.

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  2. For the one-arm progressions, what counts as one set of 8 reps? Is it 4 on each hand? 8 on each hand?

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  3. sir, what are your thoughts on single bar/straight bar dips? i'm currently doing them, about 6-7 reps for 3 sets. very challenging yet rewarding and fun to do! is it something that can be incorporated in the newbie program?

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    1. Yea, these are fine, and a good way to train for muscle ups. I would suggest you include them before the 'modified russian dips', in the dips progression.

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    2. does the pushup help you transition towards the planche/planche pushup or the tucked in planche/tucked in planche pushup? is the elbows in push up the same as the lean-forward pushup? sorry, i'm a newbie in terms of bodyweight training...appreciate any reply thanks.

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    3. Yes and no... Push ups have no direct carry over towards the planche, but they are however part of the progression towards planche push ups. I suspect what you call 'lean forward push ups' are actually what are generally known as pseudo planche push ups (it would help if you found me a video ; a google search returns nothing for 'lean forward push ups'). In which case, elbows in push ups are quite different.

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    4. sorry for the late reply. i meant the hip pushup. can the hip pushup be accommodated in the push up progression?

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  4. Hey, what foot placement should be used for the one-armed variants? Awesome site, thanks!

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    1. Just slightly wider than shoulder-wirth apart. Whatever feels stable. Once you feel comfortable, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise by reducing the distance between your feet.

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  5. When doing any of the one armed push-ups if my torso isn't parallel to the floor/surface should I regress a progression?

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  6. I'm having trouble transitioning between wall one arm pushups (I can do them all day) and incline one arm pushups (I can't even do one). Is there an intermediate exercise you can recommend?

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    Replies
    1. Try using the reddit Start Bodyweight group for your questions: http://www.reddit.com/r/startbodyweight/
      Perform your one arm push ups on a staircase: get gradually lower and lower by moving down one step at a time.

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  7. Hey El Diablo, thanks to your progression I finally managed the one arm push up yesterday! It took me quite a while but that off course made the accomplishment only sweeter. Now I’m wondering what your thought are on proper technique for the one arm push up. For example, I’ve read that foot placement can influence the strength required. This article off course already has a great introduction regarding good form, but are there specific pointers for the one arm variant to take into consideration?
    Again thanks for your efforts on this!
    Kind regards, Albert

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    Replies
    1. Try using the reddit Start Bodyweight group for your questions: http://www.reddit.com/r/startbodyweight/

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  8. Hi there great website I am 14 years old and trying to stick to calisthenics I struggle with normal push ups. I am trying 3/4 push Ups and doing okay (not making much process) how many reps and sets do you recommend for the 3/4 push ups?

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    Replies
    1. Try using the reddit Start Bodyweight group for your questions: http://www.reddit.com/r/startbodyweight/

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  9. Thanks. I have a goal of being able to do 10 push ups by the end of this summer. I wasn't really clear on how to progress up to it, and now I am. This was very helpful!

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  10. Thanks for this article! It was really helpful!

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  11. Do the decline push ups really work?

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    Replies
    1. They'll increase the shoulder workload relative to the chest but the angle puts more of your weight in the upper body so they're definitely more of a workout.

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  12. Question about uneven push-ups if you have the time:

    When doing them, should I be using my elevated arm arm be used only as a guide/balance, or should that arm be used to "push" some of the weight?


    Hope that makes sense.

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  13. Are the uneven push ups considered a one handed exercised and therefore should be performed 8 on each side?

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  14. Do reptile push ups fit anywhere in this progression?

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  15. Why are your elbows always flared out? Internally rotating shoulders severely increases the risk injury from impingement.

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  16. Hello! Thanks for this! One question though: I find one arm wall push up easier than diamond push up. Is it normal?

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  17. Hi, i would like to know how many sets and reps i have to do in the wall push up, and how do i know i have to add more. Thanks you so much.

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  18. How many times do you do this a week? every day? every other day? thanks!

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