The first important thing to do for better push-ups is to make sure that you’re performing them correctly, with proper form.
I know this may sound like common sense. But you wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve worked with that think they know, but actually don’t, how to perform push-ups properly.
One of the most common mistakes that I’ve seen is not bracing the core. That causes your spine to round either up or down, rather than stay in a neutral position.
Not only can this lead to a lower back injury, but it can also make the exercise easier when you drop your hips, or harder when you raise them.
Another common mistake is flaring your elbows out too far. You want them at about a 45-degree angle from your body.
A good tip to prevent your elbows from flaring out is to slightly rotate your hands outward before planting them on the ground for push-ups.
This will naturally rotate your elbows inward.
One last mistake that you might make if you’re a beginner is positioning your hands too narrow.
This is great for overloading the triceps. But it will reduce the overall number of reps that you can do.
So, the way to do push-ups correctly is as follows.
First, get down on all fours, with your hands slightly rotated outward, and spread them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Then, plant your toes into the ground behind you. Get into a push-up position while squeezing your core and glutes so that the back of your head, your hips, and your heels end up in a relatively straight line.
Then bend your elbows and lower your body down until your chest is right above the ground.
Finally, push yourself back up until your elbows are straightened.
This tip for better push-ups is many times overlooked, even though it’s the lowest hanging fruit. I’m talking about losing body fat.
There are a couple of reasons why gymnasts and people that are good at calisthenics have low body fat percentages.
One of the most obvious benefits is that they have to overcome less resistance when moving their bodies.
The same is true for the push-up. The more you weigh, the harder it’ll be. Conversely, the less you weigh, the easier it’ll be.
This is actually contrary to the bench press, where people are generally stronger the heavier they are.
This is because, unlike push-ups, bench pressing doesn’t force you to lift your body weight.
To get a better idea we can look at a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
It found that, on average, you have to push up about 64% of your body weight when doing push-ups. (1)
So, if you weigh, say 200 pounds, you’ll have to push through 128lbs of resistance.
Meanwhile, if you weigh 150 pounds you’ll only have to overcome 96 pounds of resistance.
So, it’s obvious – if you want to do more push-ups, lose excess body fat.
#3 Start with kneeling and incline push-ups…
Another tip that can help advanced and beginners alike is to use kneeling and incline push-ups.
As just mentioned, you have to press up about 64% of your body weight when doing a regular push-up.
But a lot of that weight will be taken off when performing push-ups from your knees or with your hands placed on higher inclines.
Specifically, the same study found that during kneeling push-ups you’re only lifting about 49% of your body weight.
During elevated push-ups, it can drop to 41% or even lower. So, it’s pretty obvious how this can help beginners.
If you can’t do a regular push-up yet, you could get started with kneeling or incline push-ups and progress from there.
But even if you’re advanced, when you push yourself to failure it’s very effective to drop to your knees and squeeze out a few additional reps.
This is especially true if you haven’t hit your rep target before giving out.
It’s very similar to performing a drop set when lifting weights. Drop sets are very effective for gaining strength and size.
#4 …then try more advanced variations
Once you’re able to do more than 15 push-ups you’ll want to overload your push-ups with more advanced variations.
A major factor that determines how many push-ups you can do is how much maximal push strength your upper body has.
Naturally, the more maximal strength you have the easier it’ll be to do one regular push-up.
This is why more advanced push-up variations should be used in your routine. They’ll help you improve your maximal pressing strength.
One simple way to do this is by elevating your feet for push-ups. This will cause more of your weight to be transferred to your upper body.
To be exact, that same study from before found that elevating your feet just two feet off the ground will increase the amount of resistance from 64% to 74%. (1)
So, I recommend starting your workout with the more difficult push-up variations, where your feet are elevated.
Then, as you do more sets and begin to feel fatigued, you can switch to regular push-ups, and start doing drop sets even to kneeling push-ups.
Here’s an article that’ll demonstrate all the best push-up variations that you can do incorporate into your routine.
#5 Overload with resistance bands
Aside from variations, you can also use resistance bands for extra overload.
Studies show that bench pressing with resistance bands leads to more strength gains compared to doing the same bench press volume with just regular weights. (2)
Unfortunately, there are no studies available on whether the same applies to band-resisted push-ups.
But when you have built up a solid strength foundation, it does make sense to add these to your workout routine.
This is because it allows you to overload the movement and gain more upper body strength, making regular push-ups feel easier.
Moreover, using bands improves the strength curve of the movement. I’ll explain.
With regular push-ups, most people have a clear sticking point, when they’re about 1/3 of the way up. That’s when they get stuck.
But when you use bands, this sticking point becomes less of an issue or it might even disappear altogether.
That’s because the bands will make it more challenging as your press yourself up, keeping the same difficulty throughout the entire range of motion.
Next is a tip that most people don’t think about and that’s to make sure that you have enough core strength.
You simply can’t perform a proper push-up if you have a weak core. It would be like shooting a cannon from a canoe.
Your core is your base and if it’s weak your base will be too unstable.
That’s why it can be beneficial to implement core stabilization exercises into your workout routine. These include exercises like planks and ab-wheel roll-outs.
These movements train your core in a static position. This has more carry-over to your push-up strength than doing more dynamic ab exercises like crunches or leg raises.
#7 Apply progressive overload
Technically, this tip should be at the top of the list. I’m talking about applying progressive overload.
In other words, you need to gradually increase the stimulus you place on your muscles and your body.
For example, let’s say you did four sets of ten push-ups one time.
Next time, you could aim to do something like four sets of eleven push-ups each.
Alternatively, you can do five sets of ten push-ups instead of four sets.
Increasing the stimulus placed on your upper body gives those push muscles an actual reason to grow and get stronger.
If you do the same reps and sets every week your body will be fine staying the way it currently is.
There are many ways for you to apply progressive overload. But the most useful and effective way is by either using more weight or doing more reps.
To increase the weight, you can do some of the things we’ve talked about like raising your feet or using a resistance band.
But you can also simply put a weight on your upper back. Or wear a book bag filled with weight and increase that weight load over time.
When you get used to training with the extra weight and then finally remove the weight, you should be able to do a lot more regular push-ups than before.
If adding weight isn’t an option, simply trying to squeeze out one or two extra push-ups per set over the weeks that you train can add up significantly over time.
#8 Practice and resilience make perfect
The next big tip is simply to do push-ups more often.
Like any exercise, mastering the push-up requires time. When you do an exercise more often, your body becomes more efficient at the exercise, leading to an increase in strength and performance.
After a lot of practice, your body will learn exactly how to coordinate the movement in such a way that you can perform it very efficiently.
This is, for example, why Olympic weightlifters practice their lifts every day.
Putting in those repetitions increases neurological efficiency for the movement, which is crucial for gaining strength.
Research also shows that training volume is important for building muscle. (3)
So, if you want to quickly improve the number of push-ups you can do, doing a couple of sets once per week isn’t going to lead to very fast results.
You’ll need to do more training volume. The nice thing about the push-up is that it’s an exercise you can do anywhere.
So, practicing push-ups 3 or 4 times a week will help you improve a lot faster than doing them once or twice a week.
#9 Don’t neglect other gym-based exercises
Now even though you can perform push-ups at home, another thing that helped me accelerate my push-up strength rapidly was to lift weights at the gym.
Doing push-ups and performing exercises like the bench press don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They can work together to your benefit.
Lifting heavier and heavier weights on the bench press and dumbbell press can make push-ups a million times easier.
You can train with heavier weights and even use lower-rep ranges more effectively with weights and increase your maximal strength.
You can increase the amount of resistance you use in small increments. As small as two and a half pounds.
This isn’t as easy to achieve with regular bodyweight push-ups, even when factoring in variations.
That’s why I still recommend that you supplement with weight training exercises instead of relying only on bodyweight exercises.
This is true even if your only goal is to do as many push-ups as possible and you don’t really care for bench pressing or building up muscle mass.
As an added benefit, weight training will also allow you to train lagging muscle groups like your chest with isolation exercises which should also carry over to push-ups.
#10 Be consistent with your workouts
Last but not least, you have to stay consistent with your workouts.
As with everything in life, consistency is key. You’re not going to get from zero push-ups to doing dozens upon dozens of them after just one workout session.
So, create a plan, give yourself enough time, and stick to it.
Most people overestimate what can be accomplished in the short term, but they also underestimate what can be done in the long term.
There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t be able to work yourself up to doing more and more push-ups.
But I’ll repeat – above all else, one of the biggest factors will be consistency.
That about wraps it up. One last thing that I want to mention is, if your goal is to solely improve your push-ups, make it a priority within your workout routine.
Don’t leave push-ups to the end of your workout when you’re already fatigued and exhausted. Instead, start off with them.
On the other hand, if this is a side goal, you’ll want to start with your heaviest exercises, like bench press, and then move on to push-ups later.
If you’d like to learn the 12 best push-up variations you can click here.
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