Making progress with push-ups

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The push-up is the mother of all bodyweight exercises. You can do it anywhere and anytime and it targets many muscle groups. But how do you make progress with push-ups, so that you can achieve muscle growth? After all, gaining weight yourself is not the most efficient method. Seven options.


You may already be able to do dozens of push-ups in a row and the exercise has actually become much too easy from an overload perspective. But before you opt for more difficult push-up variations (see below), it’s a good idea to take a closer look at your performance.

The correct execution is to say, with the elbows to the back, the high hips, the muscles aanspannend, the chest to falling back on the floor, in the bottom position for one second pausing, and yourself earlier to pinching the top than oppressive. All this in a relatively slow, controlled movement.

Such a strictly performed push-up may be a lot heavier than the push-ups you’ve done to date. As a result, you will initially have to sacrifice repetitions. Yet you are actually already making progress, because the exercise is so much more effective and each repetition creates much more overload.


This way of making progress is obvious: gradually do more repetitions. In any case, make sure you can do a decent number of correctly performed push-ups in a row. 15 push-ups for men and 10 push-ups for women seems to us a minimum goal.

You may soon be able to do a lot more push-ups. Great, but if muscle growth is your goal, doing 30 or 40 push-ups in a row won’t do you much good. After all, the growth stimulus mainly resides in the roughly last five repetitions before muscle failure (the so-called effective repetitions), because only then there is sufficient of the mechanical tension necessary for muscle growth .

Moreover, with higher repetitions it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve muscle failure, because cardiovascular fatigue takes over and it ‘wins’ over local fatigue (muscle exhaustion).

Remember that with more push-ups from a certain point you mainly train your strength endurance. As a bodybuilder that’s not your goal. After all, you don’t try to do as many repetitions as possible with the bench press, but you try to press as much weight as possible with a limited number of repetitions.

When doing pushups, try to stay in the range of 10 to 20 reps. If you can do (much) more, make the exercise harder, as explained in the following points.


As mentioned, with push-ups, your body weight acts as the resistance. That weight remains about the same, but how much of your body weight you have to push up depends on the execution. In this you can consciously process gradations and gradually throw more and more of your body weight into the battle.

As an absolute beginner, you can do knee push-ups. According to research, you only press 53 percent of your body weight. The next step is the regular push-ups, in which you use 66 percent of your body weight, according to the same study. If this exercise is too easy for you, place your hands more back. As a result, you have to press even more body weight: 73 percent.

Throw in more and more of your body weight. (Source: YouTube/Jeremy Ethier)


You can also make pushups harder by increasing the range of motion. You do this by placing your hands on elevations, which allow you to sink deeper.

Those elevations can be boxes, dumbbells, but also real push-up grips. With your hands raised, lower your chest between the raises, creating a greater stretch. That makes these push-ups considerably heavier than regular ones.

With this version, pay extra attention that your elbows do not protrude too much and that they therefore continue to point backwards.

An extra advantage of (some) push-up grips is that you can place your hands more back than normal, so that you can make the exercise a little harder (see also point 2).

Also, some people find push-ups with push-up grips feel more comfortable in their wrists.


Another way or next step to make progress is to add weight, on top of your body weight (literally or not). You do this by wearing a backpack during the exercise, in which you have put books and/or bottles, for example.

An alternative is to do the exercise with a resistance band. In this way, the push-up could even be equivalent to the bench press, at least based on EMG research.

Extra resistance with the help of a filled backpack or a resistance band. (Source: YouTube/Jeremy Ethier)


In the decline push-up, you place your feet on an elevation. According to research, the push-up becomes 9 percent heavier by putting your feet on an elevation of about thirty centimeters and 15 percent heavier with an increase of about sixty centimeters.

Please note, with the decline push-up you use the top of your pectoral muscle a little more instead of the muscle in total. So you not only make the exercise more difficult, you also change it a bit.

With decline push-ups, be extra careful not to ‘slump’.


You can make decline push-ups harder by placing your arms more back (see point 2) and/or by putting on a backpack (point 3).


There are countless variations on the regular push-up. These make push-ups even harder and with some you emphasize certain muscle groups, such as the chest. You can find these variants here.

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