3 Steps for better push-ups
The quest for perfect - perhaps, better - push-ups is on the mind of just about every gym-goer. Everyone wants to be able to do push-ups.
And with good reason.
It's a fantastic upper body exercise which showcases a set of strong arms and a tight core.
But the fact of the matter is, more often than not, people are expecting the push-up to be a walk in the park and see it as an exercise which is 'easy' - due to it *just* being a bodyweight exercise.
If you think that, drop and give me 5 good, tight, 'moving plank' push-ups.
On the other side, if you struggle with push-ups, but sincerely want to practice and develop them, this article is for you.
I'd like to spend some time educating you on proper push-up mechanics (technique) and 3 steps which can help you get better at push-ups.
Step 1 - Lose fat
This is the most important part of getting better at push-ups.
The goal is to reduce the total amount of fat mass which you hold - ideally, you want to preserve your muscle mass, because that is what will be performing the movement.
80kg is less than 100kg and moving 80kg of mass is easier than 100kg. We can all agree on that.
With that in mind, if you can decrease your body-weight - and remember, we're talking specifically about fat - then you don't have as much weight to move.
Here is your blueprint to help you lose some weight, so you don't have so much fluff to move when you exercise.
Track your weight
Jump on a set of scales and record your body-weight.
Do this each fortnight at roughly the same time of day and wearing similar clothing, to minimise any potential variables or fluctuations in weight.
Slightly reduce your portion size
This step is a simple one. Don't make it complicated by using measuring cups, scales or calorie counting.
Simply look at the size of the meals you currently have - or take a photo of them if you need, as a reference - and reduce the size of the meal by 10-20%.
This will bring your daily calorie intake down and over time, help you strip away some excess body-fat.
Maintain adequate protein intake
Again, this step doesn't (and shouldn't) be a complex affair.
The goal of this step is to maintain - and possibly, even build - lean muscle mass as that is the primary mechanism for moving your body, muscle.
Aim to consume roughly 1-2 palms of a protein source in each and every meal. This will prioritise your recovery from training and help build muscle in the right areas which are required for push-ups.
Here is a good guide for serving sizes and some sources so you can select good protein options to get your weight moving in the right direction.
2) Get stronger
This concept is pretty straightforward. At least, I hope it is.
"Everything is easier when you are stronger."
Every single thing you do will become easier when you are stronger.
You will exert less effort/force to do the same task simply by increasing your strength levels.
After understanding and accepting this notion, people generally want to know, "Which area(s) do I need to strengthen?"
For the push-up, you need to work on developing two main areas.
1. Your pushing muscles - Chest, shoulders and triceps
2. Your core muscles - Abdominals and glutes
The best way I know to get people stronger is by using a progressive overload system.
Gradually increasing the weight of an exercise, performing more repetitions of the same weight or progressively making something 'harder' for you to overcome.
This entails performing exercises which mimic the one you want to specifically improve (push-ups) and/or exercises which carry-over to that, such as 'push' movements and 'anti-movement' core exercises - like these.
Some of the exercises I would advise you to perform are;
- Bench Press
- Dumbbell Chest Pressing
- Overhead Press
- Band-assisted / Hand-elevated Push-ups
- Tricep Pushdowns
- Planks (multiple variations)
Give them a try and use a progressive overload system. The exercises which you select should become more challenging over time.
I have gone away from and no longer prescribe knee push-ups to my clients.
This might sound controversial, but here's my rationale for this decision.
If I was coaching a group of 20 people and asked them "how many people can do knee push-ups?", almost everyone would raise their hand.
Then, if I followed up with "who can do strict, toe push-ups?", the response is almost nobody.
When you do knee push-ups, you essentially disconnect the core and it doesn't get a chance to increase and improve its strength due to the lever length of the exercise.
It no longer has to support the weight of your lower body and hips. That is a huge disadvantage for improving your push-ups.
This is why I tend to favour hand-elevated and band-assisted variations, as the core can be trained to deal with and support your midsection and lower body.
3) Practice, practice, practice
The last piece of the puzzle comes down to what is known as 'specificity'.
The majority of the article so far has discussed how to develop all the other areas which will make the push-up easier - now you need to actually do the task and practice what you want to improve.
Training for overall strength is known as 'general' training.
You improve general qualities to get better at a 'specific' task. Does that make sense?
Technique on the push-up now needs to be practiced, refined and tweaked to become the most efficient as possible.
This is how I teach the toe push-up.
Regular, consistent doses of push-ups is what will see you progress. If you currently have 0 push-ups, work on using the hand-elevated or band-assisted options we discussed earlier and practice them every day.
Yes. I said every day.
"If it's important, you'll find a way. If it's not, you'll find an excuse."
Here is a sample programme to help you get better at your push-ups over the next 4 weeks.
- Wk 1 - 10 push-ups/day
- Wk 2 - 20 push-ups/day
- Wk 3 - 30 push-ups/day
- Wk 4 - 40 push-ups/day
You can break them down as needed, until you reach your target.
- It might be 5 sets of 2 the first week. (10)
- Then 5 sets of 4. (20)
- Week 3 you might decide to try 6 sets of 5. (30)
- The last week you might work on 5 sets of 8. (40)
Play around with the format. There is no hard and fast rule, or one-size-fits-all approach.
Do what works for you and you feel comfortable with.
Remember: It should challenge you, but your technique should still be solid, even as you near your total reps for the day.
Getting good at push-ups won't happen overnight.
It will take weeks, maybe even months for you to become proficient at performing strict push-ups.
But if you stay consistent, you will achieve them.
I hope that can give you some clear direction and actionable items to work on so you can master the push-up and show it off whenever called upon.
Until next time,
Get strong(er) and lean(er).