“I hate doing push-ups”.
It’s one of the most common laments I hear when working with new clients. As efficient and effective as the mighty push-up can be, it’s also one of the most avoided exercises in the calisthenics toolbox.
Maybe you had a bad experience with them back in gym class, or perhaps they were used as punishment for running late to practice. Whatever your history with them, these tips will help you make friends with one of the most beneficial bodyweight exercises ever.
#1 Use progressive or regressive techniques to match your fitness level.
Most people attempt to do push-ups the same way via the classic military-style “drop-and-give-me-twenty” version of the exercise. There’s nothing wrong with the classic push-up technique, but it’s not the proper technique for most people. Progressive calisthenics is all about adjusting your technique to accommodate your fitness level. Using one push-up technique is like telling everything they have to lift the same weight on the bench press.
The classic push-up is either too easy or too much resistance in most cases. You get bored counting endless reps or feel overwhelmed and frustrated as you struggle through the exercise.
Using progressive or regressive techniques allows you to dial in the resistance to what you need. You won’t be underloaded or overloaded; instead, work in that perfect Goldilocks zone that’s just right.
#2 Stop rep chasing.
Push-up training can quickly become a game of seeing how many reps you can do. You may start off doing 10, and then it’s 20, 30, or 40 reps. Before you know it, you’re doing countless reps daily and stuck on a never-ending treadmill of having to do more work to get ahead.
Adding reps is a great progression strategy, but it’s not the only or even the best one much of the time. Plus, adding volume will only help you so much before the law of diminishing returns makes you work twice as hard for a small amount of progress.
Again, a progressive technique can help you break out of the rep-chasing trap by adding resistance. You can also improve your technique and speed, and range of motion. You want to get better at doing push-ups as the skillful exercise they are rather than just doing more of the same work day in and day out.
#3 Employ a stable technique.
Stability is the foundation of any effective exercise, and push-ups are no exception. Unfortunately, few people are taught how to do push-ups properly and stably; The result is using a wobbly technique that not only robs you of strength but also doesn’t feel very good as you slog through your reps.
Keeping a strict technique with a tight core and packed shoulders not only goes a long way toward improving your results but it also makes the exercise look and feel far more satisfying.
#4 Change things up.
Variety is the spice of life, and the simple push-up is a technique with a million variations. You can change your speed, tempo, and range of motion, employ tools like rings, or change your programming. There’s no reason to stick to one push-up style and continue doing the same workout day in and day out. Changing things up, even in small ways, helps you explore more of your training potential while making your push-up training fun and engaging.
If the push-up is good enough for elite military training, it’s certainly good enough for common exercise enthusiasts. But just because it’s a staple exercise doesn’t mean it needs to be dull. Push-ups have been a training staple in my workouts for over 15 years now, and I’m still learning and growing from them. All it takes is a little creativity, effort, and the know-how to turn this gym-class punishment into one of the most rewarding exercises you’ll ever practice.