Push ups are one of the most fundamental horizontal pressing movement that we do in the gym. Yet they can be frustrating when trying to improve them, especially when striving towards your first repetition. In this article I will outline 6 techniques you can use to improve your push ups. Applying these 6 techniques over time will allow you to ensure your progress.
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Sometimes pulling back the intensity of an exercise you are finding difficult can be a great way to build volume, hopefully build some extra muscle mass and also relieve the frustration of the feeling of lacking progression. I coach a lot of general population female clients who are striving towards push ups and can often get frustrated with a lot of progression. That is why I will often pull back the intensity of exercise selection regularly and focus on performing high repetitions.
An example of this might be a client who is able to perform push ups on a bench for 3-5 repetitions, so in this scenario I would pull back to something like a medium bar push up and perform it for 8-15 repetitions. This allows the client to perform higher volumes inducing hypertrophy adaptations and also not feeling frustrated with themselve for performing 3-5 repetitions (which is obviously very effective strength work and needs to be done also).
This is the inverse of using regressions we saw in the previous example, here we make the exercise very intense, to induce strength adaptation in the muscles performing the movement. Often times increases in strength will be essential to see improvement in your press ups. People often lack ideas of how to make a press up more challenging, but there are multiple ways to achieve this.
For this example I will use myself, i can perform 40+ push ups in a row and therefore when I perform push ups I am working muscular endurance. In order to add intensity I often perform exercises such as:
Static holds do not get enough use in traditional strength training programmes for the general public, they are extremely effective at building strength in different positions. They are particularly effective at isolating a part of the movement you might find difficult and focusing on that. This is why the bottom of press up hold is my favourite when it comes to static holds for improving push ups, as it isolates the most difficult part of the exercise. However this will be far too challenging for a lot of people, it can be made doable by performing it on a bench or on rings.
Using strength training to increase the strength of the muscles used in press ups is also a very effective way to improve your press up capabilities. This could be done through a barbell, with the bench press, a dumbbell with the DB bench press or a kettlebell, with a kettlebell floor press. We have a huge variety of horizontal pressing movement in our library that you can use to guide you through this process. Using a mixture of both strength training and hypertrophy training with weights will make improving your push ups a very achievable goal.
In order to continue to progress over time we sometimes need to increase the training frequency of a movement pattern (in this instance the horizontal press) or a specific movement like the push up. Moving from four sets a week of horizontal pressing to twelve will help you see a dramatic increase in your push up performance. Imagine a week where you work a regression for high volume, you perform a strength training session with weights and a third session where you perform a progression for strength. This will ensure your success at improving your press ups. The only point to consider is if you are capable to recover from this amount of volume, which for many beginners will be too challenging.
Core strength can be a limiting factor in the push up, and therefore progressing it can be very beneficial. The push up is like a moving plank, meaning the the core needs to be engaged at all times, keeping the hips high throughout. If nothing else, improving core strength can remove the difficulty of the core during press ups. Have a look through our anterior core movement library to see some exercises you can use to develop your core musculature to improve your press ups.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.