Let me start by saying that I love Push Ups.
There I said it! Not the coolest exercise in the world to confess your love for but hey, it’s out there now.
The Push Up is an incredible exercise that is often forgotten or underutilised in favour of Bench Pressing Variations for a multitude of reasons but usually because people either can’t do them, they don’t understand how to progress them or they believe that an exercise you add weight to is superior.
So why am I such a fan of Push Ups?
Well they have a lot of things going for them that Bench Pressing Variations doesn’t:
- They require more core engagement (think of them like a moving plank)
- They are a better option for sustaining shoulder health
- They help to increase Relative Strength (Strength to Bodyweight Ratio)
When people do attempt Push Ups they tend to quit on them because they can’t do them or believe the only way to progress them is to just do more reps which couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s so many variations and ways to challenge the movement that allow us to progress the exercise.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with progressions just yet. Let’s focus on getting you strong enough to do your first full Push Up.
So where do we start?
I love the power of Eccentric Training so I start with Eccentric Only Push Ups.
If Eccentric is a foreign word to you it basically means the lowering of the load in an exercise.
So why are Eccentrics so great?
- The eccentric phase of an exercise is 20-50% stronger and produces up to 45% more force than our concentric phase (more fancy terminology – means the lifting load part of an exercise).
- Eccentric Push Ups teach us how to create full body tension from Head to Toe
- They increase Kinaesthetic awareness of the full movement pattern, mimicking how your body moves in space the same as the full variation.
The above factors can lead to a great transfer of training skill speeding up our progress to the full Push Up.
So I’ve hyped it up. Now it’s time to show you how to do them and how to programme them.
Ever seen a Giant on camera? You’re about to.
I like to programme Eccentric Only Push Ups twice per Week for Clients using the format below.
Week 1: 4 sets of 3-4 reps
Week 2: 4 sets of 3-4 reps
Week 3: 3 sets of 4-5 reps
Week 4: 5 sets of 4-5 reps
*Each rep has a 3-5s Eccentric
Ok, so with Eccentrics nailed it’s time for Phase 2, Rack Push Ups.
Rack Push Ups are a simple way to incrementally progress and improve your Push Up strength whilst dialling in that Full Push Up Technique.
The Rack Push Up phase duration will be different for everyone depending where you start and how fast you progress – the finish line of this phase is you being able to perform Push Ups on the floor.
Just like the Eccentric Only Push Up I like to have clients train the Rack Push Up twice per week also.
Week 1: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
Week 2: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
Week 3: 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps
Week 4: 4-5 sets of 4-6 reps
*Remember we’re trying to drop the bar height in the rack every 1-2 weeks.
**Repeat the above 4 week structure until you’re hitting those reps from the Floor
Let’s fast track forward and you’ve just hit that elusive first full Push Up. If your goal is just to hit one feel free to ignore what follows but if one has just wetted your appetite for more then keep reading because I’m about to help you take that one and multiply it so you’ll be repping Push Ups out like a Boss.
I’ve always found that bodyweight movements such as Push Ups respond well to a slightly higher volume approach. This means that if you can only do 3 Push Ups we need to get a bit creative with the methods we use to train them to allow us to achieve enough volume to fast track our progress.
Here are my 3 go-to methods.
Cluster Sets utilise short intra-set rest periods to allow us to achieve a higher volume of work at a high intensity.
Let’s say you can currently do 3 Push Ups we can use cluster sets in this fashion.
4-5 sets of a 2+2+1 Cluster Set (+ = 20s rest)
You would perform 2 reps, rest 20s, perform 2 reps, rest 20s then perform 1 rep and this would be 1 set.
This approach means you’ll get 20-25 quality reps performed.
Timed Cluster Sets
These use the same principle as the above method to allow us to achieve a higher volume and intensity of work. The difference with Timed clusters is that you’ll perform 1 rep then take 15s rest and repeat for an allotted amount of time.
If you perform a 10 minute Timed Cluster Set you’ll probably achieve around 30 quality Push Ups in those 10 minutes.
Rep totals are a great approach as they allow you to spread the training volume for the day out over an entire workout allowing us to handle more volume than if we just performed traditional sets and reps.
To use the method you set yourself a reasonable rep target for the workout to achieve and perform the reps during the rest periods between other exercises will the sole focus of just getting the target done during the session.
Best advice when using this approach is to not take any set to failure. Always leave 1-2 reps in the tank. If you go to failure in early sets you may struggle to get all the required reps done.
A great place to start with this method if you can only do 3-5 Push Ups is to aim to achieve a total of 30 reps in Week 1 and then look to progress by 5 reps each week.
So there you have it.
Show some love for the King (or Queen) of Bodyweight Pushing movements and take yourself from Push Up infancy to Push Up Mastery.