THE PUSH-UP PROGRESSION LADDER

I hate it when people talk about how many push-ups they can do. As you'll see in this ladder, it's all about the nuance. Two different folks will always have two very different styles of push-ups. From now on, tell me what level you're on the Push Up ladder...and obey the form criteria!

LET'S TALK ABOUT IT...

Welcome to the Push-Up Progression Ladder. Push Ups are a no-brainer to include in most programmes as they are what we would call a 'real compound exercise', and they are really rather convenient -- and we are all about that here. Unfortunatley, most people don't do them well. This sees many females put off trying to do them as they don't learn properly and try to do too many in silly gym classes, and many guys turn away from Push-Ups as the think they need more force...but use the proper technique, and strive to master the Push-Up Progression Ladder and most people will find they can get years of very productive training out of the humble Push-Up.

You don't have to do Push-Ups all the time in order to master this ladder. In The Strength Sessions Programme we train Push-Ups directly in three months out of four, varying the style in each month. We also practice Bent-Arm Planche and Bent-Arm Handstand, as well as the Tuck Planche and Handstand strength moves, all of which will boost your Push-Up Strength as a welcome side-effect.

IT'S ABOUT CHEST, SHOULDERS AND TRICEPS -- So if you manage to master the Push Up Progression Ladder, by default, you're going to have great arms and chest, and you won't be able to carry any excess body fat.

YOU CAN DO IT ANYWHERE -- Making it an automatic ladder to strive to master for nearly everyone.

ONE-ARM PUSH UPS ARE COOL -- Most folks can't even think about doing them, and most who can, can't do them well. Mastering them will set you apart from the masses. Are you going to strive to 'get tired' in the gym, or are you going to master cool stuff like this?!

PROGRESSION 1: AIR PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA: 

--> Elbows must not splay out. 

--> Chest must lift and stretch

--> You have to put a game face on

--> You must imagine you're doing real Push-Ups and feel the chest lifting, moving and stretching.

WAFFLE

OK, I do admit this may be a little bit over-easy, but I popped it first on this progression ladder as a helpful reminder of the usefullness of 'Air Sets'. Just by moving your arms and imagining you are doing a tough set, you can really improve your technique and mind-muscle connection. So if you're really weak on a move like the Push-Up, or if you just want to get a feel for better technique, practice a few Air-Sets before you start your set or move up a progression.

PROGRESSION 2: ELEVATED HAND PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank.

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

–> Breast Plate must go as low as your hands.

Notes:

Many of you may still have a few months of strength work to do before you even get to work on Push-Ups on the floor. Tough luck! You’ll get there, and when you do, you'll look back fondly on how far you've come.

PROGRESSION 3: WIDE-LEG PARTIAL PUSH UPS

CRITERIA: 

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

–> Chest must go half-way to the floor

Notes:

Practicing Push-Ups with your legs spread wide (straddled) is easier than with them together, as there is a shorter lever to control as far as the core is concerned, and -- in theory -- slightly less weight on your arms. You may notice the difference, you may not.

Regardless, this is the second rung on the ladder. I prefer this to the dreaded Kneeling Push-Ups (or worse still kneeling Push-Ups while calling them ‘girly’ ones). It’s both a mindset and a technique thing. If you start here, with partials, it’s like a declaration of intent: “watch out real Push-Ups, I’m coming for you”. Kneeling Push-Ups are like admitting defeat before you start -- avoid them if you can.

Technique wise, kneeling Push Ups make it virtually impossible to learn to control your core. The dreaded ‘stripper back’ is an inevitability. Maybe I’m being a bit pedantic, but hey, I’m sticking with it. It doesn't matter how short your range of motion is, if you can control your body and maintain a good position in your arms and shoulders, you'll be stronger in no time at all, and then you can (and will) increase your range of motion...

PROGRESSION 4: WIDE LEG, DEEP PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

–> Chest must go three-quarters of the way to the floor.

Notes:

A logical next step. You can control for a partial rep; now control most of the way to the floor. The chest doesn’t have to hit the floor yet, but soon it will.

PROGRESSION 5: FEET TOGETHER PARTIAL PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA: 

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Feet must be together.

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

–> Chest must go three-quarters of the way to the floor

Notes:

This is slightly harder than with straddled legs, but this is only a subtle shift, it shouldn’t take too long to move from wide-leg to feet together.

PROGRESSION 6: MOST OF THE WAY PUSH UPS

CRITERIA:

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Feet together

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout. No rounding forwards.

–> Chest must go three-quarters of the way to the floor.

Notes:

Once you can control your push up for a partial rep, it won't be long until you can control most of the way to the floor. The chest doesn’t have to hit the floor yet, but soon it will.

PROGRESSION 7: CHEST TO FLOOR PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA: 

–> Chest must touch the floor at the bottom of every rep.

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Feet together

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

Notes:

For some strong folks, ‘close-to-the-floor’ and ‘to-the-floor’ seem no different at all. But for many other folks, there’s a significant difference in difficulty. If you're used to banging out 15-20 Push-Ups and finding it no problem, you may not notice the difference, but when you find it tough to knock out 3-5 decent Push Ups, the difference between ‘close-to-the-floor’ and ‘to-the-floor’ is a pretty big deal. Knowing that should help you stay patient with these.

PROGRESSION 8: ONE SECOND PAUSE PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> Chest must touch the floor, then be held there for a full second with body in perfect shape and all the mechanical stress held. No relaxing.

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Feet together

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

Notes:

This takes another lever of strength for two reasons: first the pause increases the mechanical work you gotta do. Second, it takes out the elastic rebound you get from your muscle fibres on traditional reps, so we need ‘dead-start strength’.

PROGRESSION 9: EXTRA DEEP PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> You must go clearly below the level of where the floor would be if you were doing push-ups on the floor.

–> You must hold your body straight. Like a plank. A human Plank. All the way from tail to head.

–> Feet together

–> Shoulders must stay in a good position throughout.

Notes:

As with any exercise, if you increase the range of motion and you’ll need to be stronger to execute. Just because most people do Push-Ups on the floor, that doesn’t mean that’s the only range of motion the body is designed to use for Push-Ups.

These raise the strength required from the chest, arms and shoulders (the primary movers here), but also from your core. Watch out for loss of pelvis control and an arching back...remember, it’s only a pass if the body stays plank-like!

PROGRESSION 10: GYMNASTIC STYLE PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> Ones shoulder blades must fully protracted at the top

–> Elbows must be tucked into body as you move

–> Chest must hit the floor at the bottom

–> Elbows must lockout and at the top, with Biceps spun forward

–> Pelvis MUST be held in a posterior tilt throughout.

Notes:

To master these, you need another level of strength again. The elbows are tucked in close to the body now, which is a little harder, especialy for the triceps. Then you need extra chest and tricep strength to be able to hit the top position, which requires a greater range of motion than a standard Push-Up.

Plus, now that we are in the gymnastics realm, you need greater lower abdominal strength and coordination in order to control the posterior pelvis tilt and maintain it throughout the move. If you can't do that, you can't climb any higher on this ladder.

PROGRESSION 10: EXTRA-DEEP GYMNASTIC STYLE PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> Shoulder blades must fully protract at the top

–> Elbows must be tucked into body as you move

–> Chest must hit the floor at the bottom

–> Elbows must lockout at the top, with Biceps spun forward

–> Pelvis held in a posterior tilt throughout.

–> Chest must go clearly below where the floor would be if you were doing them on the flat

Notes:

This is exactly as the Gymnastic Push-Up above, but we add range of motion. To go all the way down to the floor, then all the way up to a protracted shoulder blade, locked-out arm position takes serious strength. We are getting towards the realm of the very strong and athletic now.

PROGRESSION 11: ADDED LOAD PUSH-UPS (10% EXTRA)

CRITERIA:

–> Must use weight plate or vest increasing body weight by 10%
–> Shoulder blades must fully protract at the top
–> Elbows must lockout at the top, with Biceps spun forward
–> Pelvis held in a posterior tilt.
–> Chest must go clearly below where the floor would be if you were doing them on the flat

Notes:

A weight vest or plate on your back will do nicely for these. It’s a simple, but challenging progression, but you know you’re cool when it's time to do Push-Ups and you have to ask for added weight.

PROGRESSION 12: ADDED LOAD PUSH-UPS (20% EXTRA)

CRITERIA:

–> Must use weight plate or vest increasing body weight by 20%
–> Shoulder blades must fully protract at the top
–> Chest must hit the floor at the bottom
–> Elbows must lockout at the top, with Biceps spun forward
–> Pelvis held in a posterior tilt.
–> Chest must go clearly below where the floor would be if you were doing them on the flat

Notes:

Once you can do this, you’ll have some real transferable strength that you can unleash on plenty of other cool moves. Plus you might as well take down the final two rungs of this ladder and start doing your Push-Ups one arm at a time.

PROGRESSION 13: TYPEWRITER PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> Your Chest must hit your hand at either end of the move
–> There must be no visible signs of being hurried
–> You must press back up without sliding back towards the middle
–> One on each arm = 1 rep. Both arms must achieve required reps for it to count.
–> The grounded palm must be off floor for rep to count

Notes:

These ones are a little subjective to score. But that’s OK, if they were all absolutely cut and dry then there wouldn’t be any scope for argument and that would be no fun at all.

Any two reps of these could be quite different in difficulty level, so we must remember their purpose. Of course you just want a tick on the progression ladder, but really, your using them to prepare yourself for the actual One-Arm Push-up thing.

So, keep it super strict when you’re training these, mentally ‘switch off’ the arm that you’ve moved away from and see it as a one-arm press on the way back up, before long, that will be your only option anyway...

PROGRESSION 14: SINGLE-ARM PUSH-UPS

CRITERIA:

–> Chest must hit floor

–> Arm must lockout at the top

–> Some body rotation allowed, but excess will be penalised with a red flag

Notes:

Most folks (including myself at the time of writing) can’t do these well. You need massive chest, arm and shoulder strength (relative to bodyweight). Plus you need the anti-rotation core strength to hold your body in a good position.

Master these, be able to do them, and make them look good, and you’ll be the proud owner of quite the physique and quite the iconic strength skill.

You’ll also have destroyed this progression ladder, mastered this part of The Strength Sessions. Well done.

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