5 Pushup Progressions

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The pushup seems to be one of the most common exercises. The military uses them, physical education classes use them, and they are used for training purposes.

First and foremost, people need to know how to do a proper pushup to get the benefits from them. Some people, on the other hand, are really good at pushups.

It might not seem like an exercise that can be loaded like a squat or a bench press, but there are tons of ways that you can make a pushup harder.

When it comes to variations of the exercise, I do not typically like to change how it is performed. Sometimes getting too fancy with the pushup actually changes the angles at which it is performed.

My top 5 progressions all incorporate different ways to manipulate intensity in order to further challenge the exercise, while keeping true to the movement.

1.      Plate loaded

This is accomplished by placing a weight on your back and a partner may be needed. Using barbell plates is probably the safest and most accessible way to do this. You can also stack weights on top of each other if needed.

It also gives feedback in regards to the torso. If the weight is teetering back and forth, your hips are most likely too high.  Conversely, a gap exists between the low back and the plate is an indicator that the hips are starting to sag.

Just make sure that the weight is realistic and you are not about to collapse and get stuck under a few plates.


2.      Band resisted

Throwing a resistance band around your back uses accommodating resistance to make progress a pushup harder. Accommodating resistance is a fancy way to say that the resistance changes throughout the movement.

The band has the least slack at the bottom of the pushup and the most at the top. The exercise is harder the closer you come to lockout.

3.      Med Ball

I like using an uneven med ball pushup because it encompasses some core stability. Start with one hand on the ground and one on a hard medicine ball. Do a pushup, the roll the ball to the other hand while keeping the torso in line.

Performing 5 on each side not only increases the difficulty of the pushup, but works on creating a strong core.

4.      Explosive

This variation incorporates speed/power in the pushup. In the explosive pushup, the hands are pushed off of the ground at the top position. The feet stay on the ground but, otherwise, try to push yourself through the ceiling.

I tend to keep the reps lower on this because it is much harder. Start out with sets of 6 and focus on keeping the body in a straight line.

I have used this exercise personally to break a bench press plateau. The increased recruitment and firing rate of muscle fibers can help increase performance in that lift.

5.      Slideboard

The slideboard is a great tool to decrease stability in any exercise. Since it is almost like moving on ice, it takes more muscles to work together.

Sliding one arm straight ahead is very difficult due to the increased stability needs that the exercise requires. Try 6 per arm and you will never think that a pushup is easy again.

This can be done without a slideboard as well. All it takes is a wood, tile, or any floor that a towel will slide on. Put your hand on the towel and slide away. You might need to Pledge the floor if you are not sliding correctly.

The pushup progressions above are all used to make a simple exercise harder. Pushups are great for many reasons but some people need to increase the level of difficulty.

Try these out and see how your bench press improves, shoulders feel, or just to get more out of your training.