Everything You Need to Become a Perfect Pushup Pro

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.
·4 mins read

From Men's Health

The pushup is more than the gold standard of anytime, anywhere bodyweight training. It’s a move with plenty of level-ups that can build serious pec, shoulder, triceps, and core strength.

Tighten the Screws

To recruit your lats, “screw” your palms into the floor, rotating the right palm clockwise, left palm counter clock-wise. This will turn on your lats.

Straight Line!

Keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor to maximize pushing power. Align your hands next to your lower chest, not your shoulders, at the start of a set.

Perfect Plank

Learn the pushup-position plank. Hold the “up” position of a pushup for 30 seconds, squeezing your abs. Your core should feel this tense on every pushup rep.

Photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing
Photo credit: Kathryn Wirsing

Bust Out the Blades

Squeeze your shoulder blades tightly at the start of every set, as if holding a pencil between them. Doing so will protect your shoulders from injury.

Glutes Alive!

Squeezing your glutes will prevent you from“breaking” at the waist. Tighten them at the start of every set, and squeeze them extra hard when you press up.

Finish the Rep

Press all the way up to maximize strength gains. Straighten your arms fully at the top
of every rep, actively squeezing your triceps and chest.

Hit the Box for Basics

What’s the best way to build up to a pushup? Not the way you think.Plenty of trainers suggest that novice gymgoers start with pushups on their knees. But that’s not ideal, says David Otey, C.S.C.S., an Equinox trainer.

“Pushups from the knee limit the stress on the anterior core and shoulders,” he says. That means your core doesn’t learn to stabilize you in standard reps.

Your better option: Start by placing your hands on a chair or box. Doing so will lighten the amount of bodyweight you have to press upward. But you’ll still get to tighten your abs and glutes, forming a straight line from shoulders through feet,
just as you would during a traditional pushup.

As you improve, use shorter boxes and chairs until eventually you’re doing pushups with your hands on the floor.

The 40 Rep Challenge

It’s not easy to do 40 consecutive pushups, especially if you’re chasing good form. But you’ll accomplish that by month’s end if you stick to this progression, which will take only a few minutes each day. Get ready to enjoy the chest pump!

Week 1

Pick 5 days. Each day, do 25 perfect pushups, following the chart below for reps and rest periods.

  • DAY 1 - 15 reps - 10 seconds rest - 10 reps

  • DAY 2 - 15 reps - 8 seconds rest - 10 reps

  • DAY 3 - 20 reps - 10 seconds rest - 5 reps

  • DAY 4 - 20 reps - 8 seconds rest - 5 reps

  • DAY 5 - 20 reps - 5 seconds rest - 5 reps

Week 2

Train 5 days again, doing 2 sets of 20 pushups each day. Follow the chart below for rest periods.

  • DAY 1 - 20 reps - 20 seconds rest - 20 reps

  • DAY 2 - 20 reps - 20 seconds rest - 20 reps

  • DAY 3 - 20 reps - 15 seconds rest - 20 reps

  • DAY 4 - 20 reps - 15 seconds rest - 20 reps

  • DAY 5 - 20 reps - 10 seconds rest - 20 reps

Week 3

Train 5 days. On days 1, 3, and 5, do paused reps. Days 2 and 4, do regular reps. Follow the chart below.

  • DAY 1 - 15 reps - 5 seconds rest - 10 reps

  • DAY 2 - 20 - 5 seconds rest - 10 reps

  • DAY 3 - 20 - 5 seconds rest - 5 reps

  • DAY 4 - 25 - 5 seconds rest - 5 reps

  • DAY 5 - 25 reps

Week 4

Train 5 days. Do 30 pushups the first day. Each day, add 2 pushups, until the final day, when you do 40.

  • DAY 1 - 30 reps

  • DAY 2 - 32 reps

  • DAY 3 - 34 reps

  • DAY 4 - 36 reps

  • DAY 5 - 40 reps

The Spectrum

Master the pushup with this progression—and then take it to the next level.

Box Pushup

Photo credit: Kyle Hilton
Photo credit: Kyle Hilton

Can’t do pushups yet? Here’s the best way to start. Complete 3 sets of 12 reps, then move on.

Hand-Release Pushup

Photo credit: Kyle Hilton
Photo credit: Kyle Hilton

Lower to the floor, lift your hands, then press up. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12.

Clapping Pushup

Photo credit: Kyle Hilton
Photo credit: Kyle Hilton

Power out of the bottom with explosion, clapping your hands at the top. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Archer Pushup

Photo credit: Kyle Hilton
Photo credit: Kyle Hilton

Set your hands up wider than usual. Keep your right arm straight as you lower to the left; do 3 sets of 8 to 10.

Typewriter Pushup

Photo credit: Kyle Hilton
Photo credit: Kyle Hilton

Lower into a left-arm archer. Slide your chest across to the right arm, straightening your left. Press up. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

A version of this story originally appears in the September issue of Men's Health, with the title "Own Your Pushups."

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