The Push-Up: Part 2 – Progressions

Alliteration aside, progressing beyond the push-up is something all youth athletes and fitness enthusiasts want to do, yet most haven’t primed their bodies from a physical point of view. I wanted to start doing some REALLY cool stuff as soon as possible.

But, my body simply wasn’t ready. I was competing with breakdancers and gymnasts who have been prepping their bodies for YEARS for this type of overhead activity when I was only 14. So what did I do? I had to learn how to progress the difficulty of the standard push-up without totally flipping over and falling on my head.

In this second portion of the push-up series, I’ll go over the various ways to progress past the initial movement itself.

[To learn about common faults and mistakes in the push-up, read the first post of the push-up series HERE where I go over those in detail.]


Going back to your high school physics class (or for those of you “breezed” your way through…)


If I can increase the number on the right side of the equation, then I can increase the amount of work produced in a single effort, set, or training session, or (the left side of the equation).

Getting right into it, here are 5 simplistic ways to progress using this equation from the classroom:

  1. Alter the loading vectors through accommodating resistance.
  2. Create a larger mechanical disadvantage by increasing the distance of the push-up
  3. Increase the stability demands of your postural musculature.
  4. Perform pause or eccentric variations.
  5. Perform a plyometric push-up (in an explosive manner).

I. Altering the loading vectors.

One simple way to progress your push-up is to add direct weight to the movement – whether it is found through a weighted vest, weight plate on the back, or chains – because chains automatically make everything more badass – the idea is to increase the demand through physical weight added.

In reality the chains are deloaded as you reach the bottom of the movement, making the push-up easier as you go down, and they pick up the slack when at the top.

Courtesy of Mike Robertson

Another way to increase the loading of the push-up is to introduce band resistance – just twist a huge rubber band around your hands and back, and have at it. It is similar to the chains in the way it deloads at the bottom and picks up tension at the top of the movement.

II. Create a larger mechanical disadvantage.

Placing your feet higher up will increase the amount of “work done” by increasing the physical distance required to travel in order to complete the push-up, as opposed to the original variation with the feet on the floor.


(This is one manner in which I will utilize elevating the feet to exclusively progress to an overhead push-up, or handstand, in the last part of this series.)

III. Increase the stability demands of your postural musculature (ie rotator cuff and abdominal muscles).

There are a few ways to increase the stability demands of the postural musculature involved with the push-up. This is achieved through two methods: either increase the demands from a distal setting by performing the movement on medicine balls, a suspension training system, or stability balls, which is the most common mindset – it challenges the musculature at the shoulder joint.

Another way to increase the demands of the push-up movement is to perform it with a different type of instability – through perturbations. [If your mind went straight to the gutter when you read the word perturbations, I assure you the word sounds dirtier when you say it out loud.] So an easy way to understand what a perturbation is when performed in a push-up, you can have a partner or friend lightly tap you in various areas during the bottom portion of the push-up, or even during the movement itself. The idea is that YOU have to resist any extraneous movement using extra force within your postural musculature!


IV. Perform pause or eccentric push-ups.

The stretch shortening cycle can be found within the push-up movement by observing the “bounce” seen when reaching the bottom of the movement. If you were to interfere with this phenomena, you can increase the difficulty by requiring a greater force production when you add a pause or stop in the bottom position of the push-up.

This principle can also be manipulated through the addition of a tempo during the eccentric portion of the movement, as there is simply less for you to “bounce” off of – or in more physiological terms, there is less myoelectrical activity and less central nervous system activity involved, as you will literally need to control the whole movement (with good posture and mechanics as well!).

V. Perform a plyometric push-up.

One of the final ways to increase the force demands is to rapidly push away from the floor and literally have your hands and body leave the floor, and subsequently catch yourself afterwards. Initially begin with a simple “push and catch” method, but you can progress to increasing the distance your hands are, and subsequently decrease the reaction time that your hands experience during the movement. This increases the potentiation of the muscles by increasing the stored elastic energy of the musculature during the push-up. (1) 

This is better described in this DOUBLE CLAP PUSH-UP that I demonstrate here, as I lower myself (the eccentric) and push away rapidly to take advantage of the stored energy in the triceps and shoulder musculature.

Likewise, utilizing a combination of any of these methods increases the difficulty of a “normal” push-up dramatically – imagine doing a Single Leg Feet Elevated Hands on Slideboard Push-Up with Chains and 2 second Pause. Certainly a difficult exercise to imagine – even more difficult to say out loud.

However, before you go all willy nilly and do push-ups til the cows come home, I advocate utilizing one or two variations for a few weeks before progressing onto the next variation. Reason being is more often than not you simply need to get stronger before advancing yourself – and sticking with one or two solid exercises is key to advancing yourself further!

In the next installment of this series I will cover a movement that is near and dear to my heart – handstand push-ups and how to progress towards achieving it!


1 – Effect of Potentiation and Stretching on Maximal Force Development and Range of Motion

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