If you’re looking for a pushup progression to help you achieve your first pushup (and beyond), then this post is for you.
Pushups are the most basic of calisthenics exercises. Just about everyone has heard of or seen someone perform a pushup.
From high school gym class to the military, pushups are used as a training exercise for one simple reason: they work.
Simply put: If you aren’t performing pushups in your routine, then you’re missing out on serious strength gains.
The Anatomy Of A Pushup
Pushups by definition are a “push” exercise. They work many of the major pushing muscles of the upper body:
- Upper chest
- Front shoulder
There are many other stabilizer muscles involved, including your core, biceps, and quadriceps.
Because pushups work so many muscle groups at once, they can be considered a compound exercise.
How To Do A Pushup With Perfect Form
Many people who perform pushups do them with incorrect form. The major culprits are a sagging body or sticking your butt too high in the air.
When you perform a pushup, you want your body to be as straight as an arrow.
If you take a photo of yourself in the pushup position, you should be able to draw a straight line from the back of your head to your heels.
To maintain a straight line, you must engage your core muscles. People who perform pushups with improper form oftentimes lack the core strength needed to perform pushups properly.
If this is you, go back to an easier variation of the pushup (see below) until you can perform pushups with correct form.
Here are a few other points to keep in mind when performing pushups:
- Locked arms in the top position
- Protracted shoulder blades in the top position
- Keep the elbows close to your body throughout the movement
- Use a full range of motion (your chest should nearly touch the ground)
- Keep your core tight the entire time
Remember, perfect form should be prioritized above all else. If you cannot perform one of the below pushup variations without perfect form, go back to the previous step and work there until you can.
Where To Do Pushup Progression Exercises
Unlike some other bodyweight exercises such as pull ups (which require somewhere to hang from) and dips (which require two parallel surfaces), pushups can be performed anywhere.
As long as there is a floor or earth beneath your feet, you can perform pushups.
For some pushup progression exercises, you may need a wall or elevated surface, which can be found almost anywhere.
There is no excuse not to do pushups!
Step 1: Wall Pushups
The first step in the pushup progression are wall pushups. Wall pushups offer an excellent starting point for even the most out of shape individual.
Because your body is vertical, most of your bodyweight is transferred through your feet instead of your arms. This makes the exercise easier.
To perform this exercise, stand a step or two away from a flat wall with your feet together. Place your hands flat against the wall approximately shoulder width apart.
Bend at the elbows as your body moves towards the wall. Lower yourself until your head touches the wall.
Pause for a brief second before pushing yourself back to the start position.
Wall pushups offer a gentle place to start for just about anyone. Once you can perform 30 or so wall pushups in a single set, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Incline Pushups
Incline pushups are similar to wall pushups except that your body is placed at a more severe angle.
This angle shifts more of your bodyweight onto your arms, making the exercise harder.
Find an elevated surface between knee and hip height. The higher the surface, the easier the exercise will be.
Place your hands flat on the surface about shoulder width apart. Lower yourself until your chest almost touches the surface before pushing yourself back to the start position.
Incline pushups pick up right where wall pushups leave off. You can play with the height of the surface to adjust the difficulty.
Once you can comfortably perform 20 or so incline pushups in a row, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Knee Pushups
Next in the pushup progression are knee pushups.
Knee pushups are performed on the ground similar to regular pushups. The only difference is that your knees touch ground, which lessens the amount of weight transferred through your arms.
I’m not a huge fan of knee pushups because they don’t require you to engage your core muscles like you should with normal pushups.
However, they have their place because they help to bridge the gap between elevated pushups and full pushups on the ground.
To perform knee pushups, get into the pushup position on the ground. Bend at the knees to allow them to touch the ground.
From here, simply perform normal pushups.
Once you can perform about 20 knee pushups, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Eccentric Pushups
After knee pushups comes eccentric pushups.
If you are familiar with eccentric training, you know that it involves the lowering or “negative” portion of an exercise.
In the case of pushups, this is the portion of the exercise where you are lowering your chest towards the ground.
Get into the normal pushup position on the ground. Engage your core to maintain a straight body.
Begin bending your elbows and slowly lower your chest towards the ground. Work your way up to a full 10 second eccentric.
Once at the bottom you can either reset and perform another eccentric, or you can perform a knee pushup (Step 3) to get back to the top position.
Once you can perform several sets of 10 second eccentric pushups, you should be ready for full pushups.
Step 5: Full Pushups
Lastly comes the full pushup. If you followed all of the previous steps closely, you should be ready for full pushups.
Get into the top position of a pushup, similar to Step 4. Bend at the elbows to lower your chest towards the floor (you can go quicker than you did in Step 4).
Once at the bottom, push yourself back up to the start position.
Remember to engage your core and keep your body in a straight line throughout the entire movement.
If you don’t have a training partner, it can be helpful to video yourself during your first few attempts to ensure that you are using proper form.
Oftentimes I think I’m using proper form, but when I video myself I realize I’m not. This allows me to make corrections in future sets.
If you reached this step, congratulations! Be sure to build up your reps with full pushups before moving onto more advanced variations.
Once you master full pushups, you have many options:
- Take your pushups to the rings
- Work on explosive (clapping) pushup variations
- Try close grip or archer pushups
- Work towards one arm pushups
- Begin working the planche progression
- Give handstand pushups a shot
Where you go from here depends on your individual goals. Having a solid foundation in full pushups will take you far.
Pushups are an extremely effective calisthenics exercise for building mass and strength in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Mastering this exercise will open up many doors in your training.
It’s important to execute pushups with proper form. Many people fail to maintain a straight line from head to toe during pushups.
If that’s you, you probably lack core strength. Go back to an easier variation and work there until you can execute each step with perfect form.
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