In the New Year, I challenge you to up the ante with your pushups!
Being good at pushups is a worthy goal that deserves some of your time because they build a sculpted, strong upper body. But more importantly, being able to do pushups on your toes – or more difficult full pushups – makes you feel good about yourself. It means you worked towards something important, followed through, and achieved it.
Pushups primarily use your pectorals, triceps, and anterior and medial deltoids to push your upper body up from the floor. However, your entire body is engaged, including your abs, rhomboids, quads, and glutes. Thus, pushups are a full-body exercises and a good test of upper body endurance and strength.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to master full pushups (barring injury, etc.), and if you haven’t yet it’s because you haven’t been training correctly. If you can already do full pushups, it’s time to bring them to the next level! Doing high reps of the same kind of pushup is only increasing your endurance, not strength or muscle. I’ll show you how to add challenge, no matter how advanced you are.
As a trainer, I see firsthand that very few women can do full pushups. Yet I think all would like to. So let’s go about seeing how you can attain that in short order.
Get on Your Toes
Modified pushups support nearly 62 percent of your own bodyweight in the down position; full pushups support 75 percent of your own bodyweight . That may not seem like much of a difference, but it’s a significant step up. No matter; even if you can do just 3 pushups at the end of 6 or 8 weeks you have broken past the barrier.
As I alluded to above, you have to train for pushups, and there are a lot of ways to do this. How long it will take will depend on your current level of fitness. If you’re carrying extra weight and haven’t been training your upper body at all, you might need 10 to 12 weeks. If you’re relatively fit but lack upper body strength, if might take 6 to 8 weeks (or less). Set a realistic goal and train your chest 1 to 2 times per week with at least 2 to 3 rest days in between. Then take these steps:
- Determine your level. The progression for pushups, from least to most difficult, is hands on wall -> hands on bench -> hands on floor, on knees -> hands on floor, on toes. There are shades of gray between each of these, of course, and you should use them.
- Know proper pushup form. The most common form issue I see is sagging torso and head. If you can’t keep your body in a straight line you need to work on your core and pectoral strength first (see techniques below). Also, do not let your elbows flare out.
- Ensure you can do a straight-arm plank for at least 30 seconds. If you can’t, you don’t have the proper trunk stability to do a pushup correctly yet. Practice this until you can.
- Set small goals and have patience. For example, if you’re doing pushups with your hands elevated on a bar or bench, strive to lower the bar a little more each session.
- Do barbell bench presses and incline presses (see this cool plan). If you’ve been doing chest presses with the same weight or just slightly more weight for months (years?), this partially explains why you still can’t do full pushups.
- Do isometric/eccentric/negative pushups. All different names that mean the same thing: lowering your body very slowly to the ground to build endurance and strength.
- Follow a systematic plan. Check out the 100 Pushups program or these effective techniques for progressing. Set small goals that will actually progress you each week instead of keeping you in the same place. Please note: The 100 Pushups program is good and I recommend it. However, you do not have to use it to get to 100 pushups – you can use it simply to increase the number, then move on to more difficult versions.
Be forewarned that if you stop pushups training, you’ll be back on your knees in no time.
Once you can do 10 pushups on your toes, it’s time to add in different variations, which I’ll discuss next.
Take it Up a Notch
Figuring out new ways to make pushups harder is one of my favorite past times (I know, I’m peculiar). If you can already do pushups, commit to going to the next level. If you’re still doing only traditional pushups on the floor then your body has adapted and needs additional challenge to progress.
There’s value in being able to do many pushups because you’re increasing your endurance. But if you want to increase your strength and size you need to increase the difficulty. More difficult versions rely on different angles of the muscles and use more of your own strength.
Take a look at where you are compared to others and then commit to doing but more difficult pushups. Obviously, you won’t be able to do as many at first, but you can work your way up.
TIP: Don’t stop doing traditional pushups. Integrate these into your training a few times a month to keep up your endurance.
Killer Pushup Variations
- Scorpion pushup
- Spiderman pushup
- Single-leg pushup
- Leg swing pushup
- Resistance band pushup
- Feet elevated pushup
- One hand elevated pushup
- Pushup with rotation
- Plyo/Clap pushup
- Single-arm pushup
- Handstand pushup
Keep me posted on your progress! I want to hear how you’re doing.