Many newcomers to strength training find it difficult to progress their pushups.
After weeks of performing longer and longer sets of knee pushups, they’re often disappointed when they finally attempt and are unable to perform even a single pushup on their toes. (Of course, sometimes progress takes longer than we think it should; make sure your expectations are reasonable… ).
This isn’t surprising, given that a standard toe pushup requires you to be able to press approximately 65% of your body weight; more than double the 30% required by a knee pushup.
When we progress our squats and shoulder presses, we rarely increase the load by more than 10% at a time. How then does one get from knee pushups to toe pushups? Below, I share my tips for progressing your pushups.
Tips for progressing your pushups
- work on depth (or range of motion) before increasing the difficulty. I’d rather my clients be able to perform 5, chest to the floor toe pushups than 15 shallow, elbow bends.
- add one or two reps of a more challenging version to the beginning of each and every set. If you can perform 10 or 12 deep, chest-to-the-floor knee pushups, try beginning each set with one or two toe pushups, then dropping back to your knees to complete the remainder of your reps. Increase the number of toe pushups gradually over time, until your entire set can be performed on your toes.
- use ‘negatives’ to increase strength and endurance. Starting on hands and toes, bend your elbows to slowly lower your body to the floor. As you do so, you’ll reach a ‘sticking’ point; the point at which your muscles are no longer strong enough to support your weight. Let yourself collapse to the ground from this point, rest and try again. With negatives, the slower you go, the more challenging the exercise. Try adding one or two ‘negative’ pushups to the beginning of your regular set.
- vary the position of your hands to challenge different aspects of the muscle. A wider hand placement will emphasize the medial chest (as well as the front of your shoulders). A narrowed hand placement will emphasize the triceps. Staggering your hands (one slightly forward of the other) will force the top-most portion of the chest muscles to work a little harder on one side than the other.
- elevate your toes to increase the load you’re pressing and encourage greater participation of the upper pectorals. Toes can be placed on a phone book, low step, or even a weight bench. The higher they’re elevated, the more challenging the pushup.
- add some extra core involvement by performing your pushups on an unstable surface. For example, place your feet on a Bosu or stability ball. Or in the handles of a TRX suspension trainer. Ensure that you keep your core and gluteals muscles contracted throughout to protect the lower back.
- rest adequately between pushups workouts. Practicing your pushups daily is counterproductive. Like any other muscle, the pectorals need time to repair and recover before they’re challenged again. Try waiting 48 to 72 hours between pushups workouts; use those days to train the opposing back muscles for improved posture, muscular balance and functionality!
Watch the video below for an explanation of three techniques that I use with my clients to get them from knees to toes!
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Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.