Pushups are one of the most fundamental 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 some variation of pushups in your routine, then you’re missing out on serious gains.
Pushups are an important exercise to master before moving on to advanced exercises such as clapping pushups, planche, and the like.
In fact, I recommend setting a goal of performing 30 perfect pushups at a relatively slow tempo before even thinking about the fancy stuff.
But don’t worry if you struggle with pushups. In this post you’ll start with an easy variation of the pushup (wall pushups) and work your way up to the full pushup (gaining a heck of a lot of strength and muscle along the way).
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when performing pushups:
- Straight arms in the top position.
- Straight line from the back of your head to your feet.
- Keep the elbows close to your body throughout the movement (don’t let them flare out).
- Use a full range of motion (your chest should nearly touch the ground).
- Keep your core tight and engaged the entire time.
- Breathe in as you lower yourself and out as you push yourself back up.
- Keep your feet together or relatively close together.
Perfect form should be prioritized above all else. If you cannot perform the below pushup variations with perfect form, go back to the previous step and work there until you can.
Step 1: Wall Pushups
The first step in the pushup progression is wall pushups. Wall pushups offer an excellent starting point for even the most out-of-shape individual.
Because your body is nearly 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 wall (other flat surfaces work too – get creative!) with your feet together. Place your hands flat against the surface approximately shoulder width apart and at chest height.
This is the start position.
Bend at the elbows as your body moves towards the wall. Lower yourself until your forehead gently 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. Be sure to take your time and use a slow tempo. Pausing at the top and bottom positions is good practice to remove any type of help from momentum.
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. This is the start position.
Lower yourself until your chest gently 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.
Try a chest high surface to make the exercise easier, or a knee high surface to make the exercise harder.
Step 3: Knee Pushups
Next in the pushup progression are knee pushups. This exercise forms an excellent bridge between incline pushups and the full pushup.
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.
They are the only step in this pushup progression in which you don’t need to maintain your entire body in a straight line.
To perform knee pushups, get into the pushup position on the ground. Bend at the knees to allow them to touch the ground.
This is the the start position.
Using your knees as a pivot point, bend the elbows as you lower your upper body towards the floor. Keep going until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause briefly before pushing yourself back to the start position.
Spend some time here, and you’ll be more than ready for full pushups.
Step 4: Full Pushups
Last comes the full pushup. If you followed all of the previous steps slowly, you should be ready for full pushups.
Get into the top position of a pushup. Make sure your body is in a straight line. This is the start position.
Bend at the elbows to lower your chest towards the floor. Pause for a brief second before pushing yourself back up to the starting 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.
If you’re struggling to bridge the gap between knee pushups and full pushups, here are a couple tips:
- Go back and build up more reps with knee pushups or incline pushups with a knee high surface.
- Do negative pushups (i.e. only focus on the lowering portion of the pushup).
- Use only a half range of motion (i.e. only go down halfway before pushing yourself back up). Over time continue going lower.
Be sure to build up your reps with full pushups (I recommend 30 perfect reps at a slow tempo) before moving onto more advanced variations.
Advanced Pushup Training
After you can do 30 perfect pushups in a single set, you’re probably ready to progress beyond full pushups.
Where you go from here is up to you. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
- 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 pushup progression
- Start working handstand pushups in conjunction with pushups
- Increase your forward lean to work towards pseudo planche pushups
Many people think one arm pushups are the ultimate pushup exercise. And while they are to be admired, I personally feel the planche pushup is the ultimate pushup exercise.
Imagine doing a full pushup without your feet touching the ground. Sounds brutal, right?
I’m nowhere near doing this exercise. But that’s what makes calisthenics so fun. It is endlessly progressive.
Pushups are a basic calisthenics exercise that should be mastered by all who embark on a career in bodyweight training.
Not only do pushups build mammoth-like strength and size in your chest, triceps, and shoulders, they also set the stage for you to begin experimenting with advanced pushing techniques.
If you have any comments, slap them down below and let me know what you think.