Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 Feb

Push-ups: The Perfect Primal Exercise

Push up1This is a guest post from Al Kavadlo of AlKavadlo.com.

Push-ups are one of the oldest and most widely known strength exercises on Earth. They’ve been a staple in military fitness, martial arts and just about every other type of exercise program that’s ever existed. Anyone who has even the slightest interest in working out has probably tried to do a push-up at least once in their life.

Funny thing is, amongst many modern fitness enthusiasts, the push-up is often overlooked due to its simplicity. A lot of people are under the misconception that something so basic couldn’t possibly be the best overall upper-body exercise out there. Even members of the primal community who know better than to buy into mainstream hype are often skeptical of my claim that the humble push-up is nature’s perfect exercise.

I hope you’re at least willing to hear me out.

Perfect Push-up

Push up2

Push-ups are as close to a perfect exercise as you can get. They work your entire upper-body (including your abs), and can be modified in an infinite number of ways to suit any fitness level. Push-ups emphasize the chest, shoulders and triceps but every muscle in the body has to do its part for a proper push-up to take place. Your lats, traps and abs must stabilize your pushing muscles, while your lower back, legs and glutes need to stay engaged to keep your hips from sagging or piking up too high. Like many calisthenics exercises, push-ups teach your muscles to work in harmony with one another.

But my favorite thing about push-ups is that they don’t require anything more than a floor, so you can do them anywhere. And as I always say, If you don’t have a floor, you’ve got much bigger problems!

Wall Push-up

WallPush up

Everyone knows strength training is great for your muscles, but a lot of people don’t realize that working out also does a lot for your bones, tendons and other connective tissue. It’s true though; strength training makes the entire body strong. It’s obvious when you really think about it – your connective tissue needs to be strong to support those muscles! Sometimes people are so concerned with aesthetic goals that they overlook the changes that can’t visibly be seen.

If you have bad shoulders, wrists or elbows, in time your joints can be restored with lower intensity variants like the wall push-up. The body can only be as strong as its weakest link, and connective tissue tends to be slower to adapt than muscle. A novice or an injured person should start with the wall push-up, working to 20 and eventually 50 consecutive reps in each set before moving on. To perform this variant, simply lean against a wall with your toes a few feet away and do the push-up movement from this semi-upright position.

Incline Push-up

InclinePush up

If wall push-ups have gotten too easy for you, but full push-ups are still out of reach, incline push-ups can be a nice intermediate step. In fact, they can be several intermediate steps. The higher your incline, the easier the push-up will be, the lower the incline, the harder it becomes. A high incline eventually becomes a wall push-up and a low incline eventually becomes a regular push-up but there are many levels in between. You can experiment with various household objects or things you may come across outdoors to find ways to incrementally lower yourself toward the floor.

Full Push-up

Brickpush up

When doing push-ups, I recommend placing your hands just wider than your shoulders (your thumbs should wind up right beneath your armpits). Keep your elbows fairly close to your body and point them back; do not flare them out to the sides. Lower until your chest is just above the floor, pause for a split second and then press yourself back up.

Many beginners have trouble going low enough on their push-ups. Sometimes this is also the case for people who’ve practiced for years. Your arms should bend past 90 degrees as measured along the outside of your elbow for the rep to count; the lower the better. You may find it helpful to place a tennis ball, brick or other object on the ground under your chest in order to have a reference point for how low to go. You could even try to touch your chest to the floor if you want to extend the range of motion. The ability to do clean chest-to-floor push-ups with proper alignment demonstrates excellent strength and mobility in the upper-body. You might not be here yet, but it should be an eventual milestone. If you don’t get in the habit of performing your push-ups with a full range of motion, you will not get the most out of them.

Diamond Push-up

CloseHandPosition

Generally speaking, the closer you keep your hands during push-ups, the harder the exercise is going to be, it’s simply a matter of leverage. The classic “diamond push-up” is probably the most well known of the close grip push-up variations. Before you start working on these, make sure you can do at least twenty standard push-ups.

A diamond push-up involves keeping your hands close enough to touch the tips of your index fingers and thumbs to each other, making a diamond-like shape of those four digits. Be careful not to flare your elbows out when you perform diamond push-ups, as doing so can be troublesome for your joints and less effective for your muscles. You’ve gotta keep your elbows right by your sides. I actually find it preferable to keep my hands in more of an arrowhead shape with my thumbs tucked in, rather than a traditional diamond. This makes angling my elbows closer to my torso more natural.

When performing diamonds (or arrowheads), make sure to go all the way down until your hands touch your chest with your forearms grazing your ribs at the bottom. It’s also important to stay aware of your alignment. It’s common for people to leave their hips too low when performing this exercise. Remember to keep your abs, legs and glutes tight.

Knuckle Push-up

KnucklePush up

Doing push-ups on your fists is totally badass, plus knuckle push-ups allow for a bigger range of motion than flat palm push-ups. That extra few inches of depth can make repping out a lot more challenging.

While some people’s wrists may need time to acclimate to the extra work required to maintain stability during a knuckle push-up, for others, the neutral wrist position can actually make the push-up less stressful than having the wrists bent back. The skin on your hands may be sensitive when starting out, so the simple discomfort of supporting your weight on your knuckles might be an additional obstacle. You may want to start out practicing on a soft surface for this reason.

Plyometric Push-up

PlyoPush up

The term “plyometrics” is just a fancy way of talking about explosive movements. Anytime you get airborne while doing an exercise, it’s a plyo. There are many different types of plyometric push-ups, and you need to be very strong to do any of them. (Remember how I said the push-up can be modified to suit any fitness level?)

The most common type of plyometric push-up is the clap push-up. As the name implies, the objective is to clap your hands in the air at the top of your push-up and return them to the ground before you fall on your face. But just in case, you might want to practice on a soft surface when starting out. Also be mindful to absorb the impact during the lowering phase and avoid landing with your elbows extended.

When performing plyo push-ups, aim to be as explosive as possible. Your objective should be to push your body as far away from the ground as you can. While speed is an important part of performing a clap push-up, getting your body high enough is what will eventually allow you to perform a behind-the-back clap, double clap or superman push-up.

Push Yourself

The push-up is one exercise that can continually be adapted to suit your needs; the variations I’ve discussed here are barely the tip of the iceberg. There are many other two-arm push-up variants you can experiment with – and when those cease to be a challenge, there are also plenty of one-arm options. Watch the video below for a demonstration of progressively harder push-up modifications, from the beginner’s incline push-up all the up through some pretty intense single-arm variations.

Nobody’s Perfect

I’m the first to admit that nothing can ever be truly perfect, but the push-up is about as close as it gets. We as humans are constantly looking for a better way to do things, but sometimes the way we’ve already been doing it is the best way. I’ve tried just about every type of workout under the sun and the push-up is as good of an exercise as there will ever be. But don’t take my word for it, give some of these variations a shot and see for yourself!

This post contains excerpts from Al’s new book, Pushing The Limits! – Total Body Strength With No Equipment.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m nowhere near – yet! For the time being I’m on planks, but one day….

    Grokesque wrote on February 7th, 2013
  2. Once again the overlooked basics are where it’s at. The age old “drop and give me 20″ says a lot.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I tried that “drop and give me twenty” on my husband when he was sniggering about my push up attempts.

      He immediately fell to his knees and pulled out his wallet.

      Cindy wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Classic. +1

        Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • +1… clever guy! I hope you took his money for his vain attempt to escape exercise

        Patrice wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Love it!! (Smart man!)

        Elenor wrote on February 8th, 2013
      • I’ll have to try that on my husband, but with “drop and give me 100″!

        Cindy wrote on February 8th, 2013
  3. What about the common adaptation of knee pushups for people who can’t do pushups?

    Robin wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I was wondering about this as well. Is the incline pushup a better option?

      Alyssa wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Al includes knee push-ups in the book, as a possible intermediate step between wall and lower inclines.

        Mark wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • I think part of the problem with knee push ups is people tend to disengage the legs and core a lot more. So if someone can progressively lower the incline to eventually get a full push up without doing knee push ups it will probably be better.

        daniel wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • it will depend on the incline. you could find the knee push up harder or easier than the incline push up depending how high or low your hands are from the ground. an excellent book for bodyweight strength progressions is ‘convict conditioning’. bad name but excellent book. bodyweight is an amazing way to train but people don’t know how to progress, convict conditioning is a very good tool to learn from.

        greg wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • also incline also teaches you to hold the core because you hold your body straight, where as knee doesnt engage the core much.

          greg wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • skinny wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Kelly Starrett actually advises against the knee push-ups, because it’s not actually helping you with muscle memory, your mechanics, and in general there is no progression to a full push up. Instead, he recommends a worming motion where you begin and end in the same position as a standard push up, complete with your core tight and back flat. It makes a lot of sense if you look at it from the aspect of motor patterning.

      http://www.mobilitywod.com/2013/01/pressing-mechanics-and-the-knee-pushup-up-disasterfroning-and-bailey-edition.html

      Hal wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Check out mobilitywod.com for K-Starr’s opinion on this. In short, he says knee pushups require such a different movement pattern, they teach bad form for moving to an on-the-toes pushup. The forearms are not perpendicular to the ground, the core is not engaged, etc. A better option is to work on the lowering half of an on-the-toes pushup and eventually progress to the “real” thing.

      Dave wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • I don’t know – I did knee pushups until I could full. I still them when tired (aka after a full) — I don’t really think my form suffered either way.

        Amy wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • As a professional, I’m not a big fan of these. Too many issues with keeping the body in a straight line with a stabile spine. Just re-enforces bad habits in my experiences. Specificity is key in strength training, I’d rather have the body positioning the exact same and manipulate the leverage to fit he trainees’ ability.

      Russ wrote on February 7th, 2013
  4. Push ups are a great exercise but the standard ones stop being a challenge pretty quickly.

    Wayne Atwell wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Whatever…

      Mary wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Depends how many you do.

        Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • There are always variations you can do to step it up. You can also increase the time under tension by slowing them down dramatically.

      Alexander wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Ha! No they don’t I can only do 5! LOL

      mamab wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • For you, perhaps. For some, this might not be the case. Please keep that in mind.

      Jessica wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Ever try them with highly elevated feet, almost handstand? Or how about one armed push ups? If you dare, try planche push ups… tell me how easy those are. ;)

      David wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Or full handstand pushups. You’re only limited by your imagination — and your particular physique.

        I’ve seen a mountaineer drop and do a rapid set of fingertip pushups in a straight-armed crucifix position. I’m still wondering if my eyes were playing tricks…?! Has anyone else ever seen this type of pushup, or was this fellow just an anomaly?

        Helga wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • he spoke about standard pushups. he is right about them being no challenge for most fit folks. handstand pushups are a different story though. i am not yet there either :-)

        einstein wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • Handstand pushups are much harder because they approximate a shoulder pressing movement rather than a bench pressing movement. It is harder to lift things with smaller muscle groups obviously. For the standard pushup moving from wide to narrow stance will make the triceps and deltoids do more of the work and they are smaller than the pecs. But for a strength trained individual a normal pushup is not very useful for developing the chest compared to benching because the weight is too low.

          johnnyv wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • Headstand push ups come before handstand push ups. Head stand push ups are where the top of your head comes level with your hands. Hand stand push ups are where your hands are elavated so your hands become level with your shoulders. Not much difference in movement but a big difference in strength required.
          I recently became able to do what i thought (and are commonly thought of) were handstand pushups. I was very happy! Then i read some gymnastics books and they pointed out to me that i couldnt yet do a handstand pushup, i’m doing a headstand push up. My ego deflated!!!
          In bodyweight there’s always another progression and it doesnt matter what ability level you start from. About a year and half ago i could do about 6 reps max of standard push ups. Consistency, hard work, patience and understanding of when and how to progress helps people progress through bodyweight movement.

          greg wrote on February 8th, 2013
      • Remember the movie Marathon Man? Roy Scheider does pushups with his feet on the bed and hands on the floor. I went home from that movie and tried a few. Tough!

        Jim Haas wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • I do about 10 pushups every Mon, Wed, & Fri at work. I put my feet on a short, 2-drawer filing cabinet.

          Some day I’ll work up to putting my feet on my desk, ’cause it’s a standing workstation. :)

          Tom wrote on February 8th, 2013
    • I would try going for extreme rep counts if a standard push up is becoming easy. I think you will find doing 100 in a single set to be sufficiently challenging.

      Kevin T wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • depending from your fitness goals. looking for great endurance? go for the 100 reps. want to get strong and big? keep reps low but gradually increase the load Berkhan style.

        einstein wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Oh I wish…

      Gydle wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • So how many standard pushups in perfect form can you do in one set then pray tell Wayne?

      George wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Yes they can. That’s when you start doing the plyometric, diamond, uneven, one-arm and my favourite…dive-bombers.

      Anthony wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Please describe or post a link to a video of these “dive-bombers.” I am now very, very curious!

        Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • markkuto wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • I’m curious too; maybe “dive bombers” are the same to “Tiger Bend” pushups. A Tiger Bend has your feet about shoulder width apart, hand positioned like a normal push up, but your legs are straight so that your rump is highest point in the air. (Like a cat stretching). Think that there is a fence with a hole beneath it. Using a cat like wave motion you go under the fence.

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • Hi . If you have an iphone or android phone i’d really encourage you to get an app called ‘you are your own gym’. It’s by a guy called mark lauren and the app is amazing bodyweight tool. It has video of loads of different excercises as well as different bodyweight programs. I started bodyweight training about 2 years ago and got his book and he used that. he then brought out the app and its excellent. it’s got dive bombers (very hard unless oyu have decent stregnth levels) .

          greg wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • If you’re familiar with yoga, it’s like going from down dog to up dog and you bend your arms while moving through the position. Try to hit 90 degrees (or less) with your arms as your chest is at its lowest point. When you’re going back to down dog do the move in reverse.

          Emily wrote on February 8th, 2013
    • I kinda went through something similar..
      Pushups got boring. I could do 75.
      then at crossfit they made me do “chest to deck”.
      wow, I could only do 15-20. So it was like starting over.

      Lars T. wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • yeah… most people are not near the push-up gods they think they are. Even consistently going to true 90 degree bent arms takes peoples reps down VERY significantly. Most people “cheat” horrendously on form.

        qwbet wrote on February 9th, 2013
        • I learned to do push-ups in the Army and work for the Army Guard. In the Army, it doesn’t count as a push-up until you “break the plane” (at least hit the 90 degree arm bend)….. It never occured to me that other people might not being going as far down, and still counting it as a push-up. That info, combinded with my shoulder problems, makes me much feel better about my slow progress.

          b2curious wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • So stop doing the standard ones and step up to feet-elevated pushups, weight vests and chains, and progressing towards un-even and one-armed pushups.

      Russ wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I’d have to agree. Once you go above 20 reps it’s more about stamina than strength.

      There are however plenty of variations that you can incorporate if you want to increase the challenge.

      I’m currently working towards a one-arm push up for example. Google One Arm Push Up Progressions for ideas.

      Rich wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • search planche pushups. They will never not be a challenge.

      James wrote on February 8th, 2013
  5. Awesome …. you’ve inspired me….the upper body strength has always eluded me. I have never been able to do a push up or chin up in my life. I’m starting on the wall today.

    Judy wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Go Judy, Go! I’m still working on an unassisted pull-up myself. I’m going to make it someday.

      Amy wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Maybe it would be worth holding a bar and jumping in order to complete a pull-up. Keep doing that until your arms are tired and you’ll be getting a good plyometric leg workout too.
        There’s under-the-table (or whatever) pull-ups with your feet supported on the floor or something. Those are easier.
        To climb through my window/door to a derelict trailer I was staying in I’d put my hands on the ledge and jump and push down. That’s also how I get over fences and other obstacles sometimes. Doing reps of that would also be useful conditioning.

        Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • I’ve done wall pushups forever. I didn’t know there actually was such a thing until I read this article. I always thought of them as a lazy person’s pushup, but they really do help if you’re sort of fitness challenged.

      Shary wrote on February 8th, 2013
    • I’m with you Judy. I’ve never successfully done a pullup either. My brother even installed a pullup bar in his doorway and I would work on just holding myself up, which I never was really able to do. Might be able to do one pushup. Going to start the wall ones, or maybe kitchen counter ones tonight!

      Cindy wrote on February 8th, 2013
  6. Nice post indeed. More of this type would be good, mark. It’s not like your busy or anything.

    Oliver wrote on February 7th, 2013
  7. Dude’s tattoos are sweet! Don’t forget kids on the back and weight vests, both add a little more challenge.

    MattyT wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Right on! “Bodyweight” can be someone else’s bodyweight too!! Yesterday’s workout: 2 wrestling sessions with the kids and sledding…

      Tom B-D wrote on February 7th, 2013
  8. I’m up to 40 pushups, 50 deep squats and 2 minute plank every morning. I’m turning 57 in a couple months. If old farts can do it, we all can.

    Kirk Fredericks wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Damn Kirk that’s beastly haha. I hope I’m as fit as you when I hit 57!!

      Alexander wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I’m right next to ya. 50 pushups, 50 squats and 10 pullups. I’m 56. I need to work on some of these different pushups. The diamond looks tough!

      Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
  9. “We’re working out!” Big fan! Love ya Al!

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 7th, 2013
  10. Just got down on the floor and did TWO, count ‘em, TWO pushups. Thanks, Al!

    I know people tell you this all of the time, but you are probably the coolest dude on the planet.

    Siobhan wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Paul Chek is pretty bad ass too. I’d love to see Chek and Kavaldo collaborate.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 7th, 2013
  11. “knuckle pushups are totally badass” Love it, Al! Thanks to your inspiration, I’m working up to 1-arm pushups (incline about knee height) and am amazed how much it requires out of the core. That’s what I like about all the bodyweight stuff, whether on the floor or bar, it seems like the benefits to the whole body are so underrated, so I’m glad you’re getting people to take it seriously. See you in Tompkins Square Park!

    Tom B-D wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • One leg pushups work the core well too especially the farther out you hold the leg you’re not using.

      Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
  12. Do all the pushups!!! I think I’m going to steal this drill tonight along with flips.

    Joss wrote on February 7th, 2013
  13. I only do knuckle push-ups. My hands just don’t bend back far enough for regular ones. The wrist pain is severe. :-(

    michael wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Me too. I went to physical therapy and increased my range of motion; however, I’m convinced my pain is due to an unhappy nerve in my wrist joint. Not sure how to address that, I’m looking into “rolfing”.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Would building up the muscles in around your wrists (specifically) possibly help protect the nerve/tissue? (If it’s not painful?)

        I ask that because my husband has an irregular knee joint. He has to keep the muscles around the joint at a certain level to be pain free. He did a few sessions of PT and then figured out what he needed to do to continue to build/protect muscle.

        Amy wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • Wrist pain is one of the things that always kept me away from pushups. I’m hyper-mobile and things come out of joint way too easily (Like my knee last night doing pilates…OUCH ). Plus I broke my left wrist as a kid, and it’s always been painful since. Good to know there’s hope if I start slow.

          Cindy wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • I used to do wrist curls excessively and I definitely increased my wrist strength and overall upper-body strength once my forearms got stronger but after a while started to lose a little mobility. I felt a bit like a golem or the tin man. Flexibility and agility can be a trade-off for strength.

          Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
      • Did rolfing Bon. Pretty good. But the scenar on the spine has fixed more issues, more quickly, for the same outlay.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • As I type I do not know what that means, but I will research it when I have more free time. Much appreciated Madama Butterfry.

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 8th, 2013
  14. Al is my hero! I owe my one pull up so far to him, gonna have to work harder on push ups!

    Stacy wrote on February 7th, 2013
  15. Nice reminder to stick with basics! I love the multijoint movements. Some favorites: push-up (of course), pullup, seated row, pulldown (this one is killer), pullover, shoulder press. And I focus on time under load. As previously noted, slowing things down greatly increases the difficulty when you keep the muscle in tension (no resting at top or bottom of movement).

    Pulldowns(palms UP grip) are great using door-anchored strength bands or using resistance machines/cable crossover stations, where on the negative, instead of letting the weight pull you straight back up the way you brought it down to chest level, you focus on fighting the vertical direction of force and going horizontal/away from the body, as the bar slowly rises back up. This horizontal movement really loads up the lats. Best to you all!

    Steve Gardner wrote on February 7th, 2013
  16. GrEAT to see Al Kavadlo on such a wonderful site.
    “Start where you are, use what you have, DO what you can..
    All of Al’s books are easy to follow and progressions are the best.. If u you think visual is better to follow , buy is DVD raising the bar.. Very informative as well. Thanks again Al..

    Joy wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Sounds good! Sounds like you have experience with all his material. So, if you had to choose one of those resources as “the best” one, what would you suggest?

      Paul Mirek wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • To jump in on your question I’ve one Al K book, raising the bar, and its very specific, errrr… to bar work, pull ups, muscle ups etc. Not tried his other books but for bodyweight progressions i used ‘convict conditioning’ and i’d recommend that for a starter or intermediate. It outlines progressions very well, from beginner to advanced. Half the problem with bodyweight is people have little idea how to progress. CC also covers a lot of different exercises such as back bridges, squats (up to 1 leg squats), pull ups etc.
        Bodyweight is not like weight training where you can just add a little weight to progress, you need to understand leverage and how to use that leverage to progress gradually and patiently.
        I’m passionate about Bodyweight and i’d really recommend CC but i reckon anything by Al K would be pretty awesome too. But i can ionly comment on what i know and have learned from and CC covers lower and upper body progressions in good detail from beginner (wall push ups) to adavanced (1 arm push ups, 1 arm pull ups)).
        18 months ago i could do about 6 push ups, max, nowt i’m popping out headstand push ups, 1 arm push ups, pistols, full inverted push ups by following the progressions laid out in CC.

        greg wrote on February 8th, 2013
  17. Timely and much appreciated. My workouts need a reboot, and I’ve been stymied by pushups. At 48, my fitness journey has had some success and some stalls: I run frequently, can do 50 squats no problem, have good upper body strength. But core strength (abs, lower back) make doing standard pushups problematic.

    I had an all-or-nothing approach to pushups before, but I think I’ll try some transitional pushups (inclined). Thanks, Al! This is just the KISS advice I needed to read to get back to trying pushups again.

    Finnegans Wake wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • in addition to Al’s info, you might also look into You Are Your Own Gym–it has some progressions for working your way up through bodyweight exercises. Not selling here–it just worked for me.

      Tom B-D wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Finnegan, sounds like you should work more with the planks/core exercises to get ‘em up to speed. This will allow you to strengthen from the inside and iot will help your lower back/abs.

      Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Running and losing weight has helped the core, but you are 100% right. This is what I need to focus on…

        Finnegans Wake wrote on February 7th, 2013
  18. For those that think push ups become too easy too quickly, I say… ever tried planche push ups? Probably not… lol

    David wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • What is a “planche” push up?

      Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Jon wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • markkuto wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Kinda like Like a push up but with only your hands making contact with the floor. Yep, no feet! Advanced to say the least.
        Once you master that your not far from being able to float :)

        greg wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • I wonder if someone is able to get fit enough they can fly (or at least extend their jumping range) just by flipping repeatedly, using their momentum (think Samus in Metroid). Can people get that strong? I guess it would take a whole life devoted to training.

          Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
  19. Try “frictionless” pushups. Hang a pair of handles from a chin-up bar by long ropes. You want the handles just above the floor. Do pushups on the handles. You have to really fight to keep them under you, because they’ll move around wildly if you don’t stay perfectly aligned. A pillow on the floor below your face is a good safety precaution. Then try one-handed.

    Accipitor wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • very cool, thanks

      Tom B-D wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • lol I pictured doing this in my head, but as a planche. Then you said to try it one-handed…

      bubbajank wrote on February 8th, 2013
  20. 16 years ago when I was in the army I could crank out about 80 pushups in 2 minutes – chest to ground. I’ve just now worked my way up to 10 having been soft and lazy for the past several years. I generally do my pushups as part of burpees now. It’s kind of amazing how much you can feel it in your glutes just from doing a handful of burpees, and of course there is no rule that says you have to do only 1 pushup per burpee rep, so you can get in a lot if you so desired.

    Todd S. wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Multiple push-ups per burpee…Great idea :) I always run out of burpee before I do push-ups. I will try this.

      Anthony wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • What is a burpee? I’ve heard of the Burpee Seed Company but am pretty sure that’s not what you are talking about…

        Cindy wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • Cindy -

          Burpees are a combination of a push-up, jump, and squat.

          Start with a push-up. At the top, bring your feet forward to your hands with a jumping motion. Squat (lightly) and then jump. (Some people clap with the hands over their head.) Return quickly to the push-up position by lunging your feet out. Do a push-up and repeat.

          (There are variations that leave out the jump, etc. At it’s most basic, it’s returning to vertical before doing another pushup)

          These are less tiring directly the chest/shoulder because those muscles get a break. But the rest of your system – wow. If trapped in a prison cell, burpees and pull-ups would keep me reasonably fit.

          Amy wrote on February 8th, 2013
        • See this link for a description, with a link to a video that demonstrates a burpee. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/wow-dash-lug-and-burp/#axzz2KKlJEOZ2 (I’m assuming the link to the video works, because it’s blocked by my firewall at work.)

          b2curious wrote on February 8th, 2013
  21. Well, I was going to go to the gym tomorrow and lift some weights. Now I’m thinking I’ll just stay home and do push-ups. Thanks for the reminder!

    P.S. The first time I did a lot of push-ups I was surprised at how much my abs hurt the next day. I had been expecting the pain in my arms and shoulders but the core took me by surprise!

    Susie wrote on February 7th, 2013
  22. I’ve recently started doing 3 sets of 10 pushups. Anyone have any thoughts on this sort of setup?

    Jyouket wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Aim for 2 sets of 20 next, and of course don’t forget the rest of your body. ;)

      Cal wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I love doing 3 sets of my bodyweight exercises. First pushups, then squats, then planks/core, and then pullups. Sometimes it’s good to do just one set and do as many as you can to failure. So maybe try 25 pushups or go until failure.

      Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • you can also do time trials. Today I did a workout of 20 seconds on and 10 off, 8 rounds. The pushup cycle was brutal. Do as many as you can during the 20 seconds, and towards the end you are doing less than half of what you started.

      jrVegantoPrimal wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • A gym teacher had me doing what he called the 24 workout. It’s 24 minutes of all out body weight exercises, one minute on, 30 seconds off. The exercises were mountain-climbers, push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, pull-ups, bench jumps from what I recall. It was brutal.

        Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
    • What is the most push ups you can do in 1 set? If you can do 2 sets of 20 push ups i’d say move to next progression, so raise your feet off the ground by 12 -24 inches (highger the harder) or do the diamond push up. Then when you get to point where you can do 2 x 15 – 20 reps in the diamond or feet raised then try half 1 arm push ups: Set yourself for a push up but in 1 hand have a basketball (directly under your shoulder), swap between sets. Then once you can do 2 x 15 try lever push ups, put 1 arm out to the side. Bodyweight prgression is about increasing the difficulty of the leverage, not about doing the same excercise and increasing the reps. If you can do 50 push ups in a set deosnt mean you can do a 1 arm push up, if you can do a 1 arm push up you can probably do 50 push ups.
      Check out a book called ‘convict conditioning’.

      greg wrote on February 8th, 2013
  23. Pushups are great, but no exercise beats sprinting. That is the perfect primal exercise. Just move, quickly, to strengthen the heart, work every muscle in the body, get lean.

    Ben wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Worked out with a guy who would have us sprint then hit the ground and do pushups, jump up and sprint back to where we started, then do squat thrusts. He’d have us do several rounds of that, my lungs and every fibre in my body would be burning at the end of that.

      George wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • That’s what I am having the baseball team I coach do. Wipes them right out.

        Anthony wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • I have my snow-day workout, now!

        Shoveling is usually my snow-day workout, but it looks like it will be snowing ALL DAY here, so that’s for Saturday.

        Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
  24. Don’t forget to stretch! In high school I did too many push-ups (thanks, JROTC) without stretching my chest properly, and my posture has suffered greatly. Luckily, pull-ups work the back nicely, so now, every time I do a set of push-ups, I do as many pull-ups as I can. Talk about a great workout! Especially for the abs!

    Nikki wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • throw a few sets of bridges in with that as well. done properly, you’ll get the stretch you need as well as attention to spinal flexibility. al kavadlo has some bridge vids to help.

      rhoneyman wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • If you really want to work your abs during pull-ups a good way is to do a knee-up at the same time or try to keep your body straight with your feet out as far as you can hold them.

      Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
  25. I have started doing 10 wall pushups every time I visit the loo at work (plenty of room in the disabled loo) and by the end of the day I’ve done 40-50 without even thinking about it.

    Tracy wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • That is brilliant! I teach and do not want to get caught doing squats or pushups in my classroom or office (yet). The bathroom floor never entered my mind for obvious reasons, but the wall is a whole other story! Thanks! Now I’m looking forward to school Monday so I can see how many I can crank out in a day. Thank you!

      Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
  26. Love this post! Very inspiring! I’m gonna work on my pushups now.

    Liesel wrote on February 7th, 2013
  27. Great article and absolutely incredibly video, Al! Thanks for outlining all of the variety. I’m going to save the video and pass it along to my susbscribers :)

    That’s exactly why the push-up is also one of my most favorite exercises. There are so many different ways to perform them that it’s easy to switch things up to make it “less boring”.

    Bryan Hufford wrote on February 7th, 2013
  28. I’ve read that regardless of all the other factors, you’re deemed ‘fit’ if you can do 30 push-ups and 30 sit-ups. Don’t know if that’s true or not. But, 30 of each isn’t an easy task.

    Bryan wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • I’d add 5-10 pullups to this list…

      Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • Definitely have to agree with you here. Pull-ups are extremely underrated.

        Bryan Hufford wrote on February 7th, 2013
        • +1

          Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
  29. Is it okay to do push-ups every day? Or is there a recovery period, like 48 hours?

    Becky wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • If you’re doing a few pushups for fun (whenever you feel like it) it shouldn’t be a problem every day.

      If you’re doing seriously exhausting pushup workouts (that make you sore on the days after) simply don’t start again till the soreness has gone.

      Cal wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • +1

        Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Stretch! I mentioned in another comment that too many push-ups without the proper balance of pullups (or other back exercise) and stretching resulted in my posture being pulled forward by too-tight muscles in my chest and shoulders. I like the two-arms-on-the-door-jam-and-lean-forward-stretch. Every time I do a set of push ups, I do a set of pullups for balance and then stretch.

      Nicole wrote on February 7th, 2013
  30. I’ve done all of these variations and more in my younger days, never was awesome but got up to 50 standard pushups and 30 knuckle pushups on a hard floor, but the diamond pushups always put unbearable pressure on the outside bottom of my hands for some reason, had to leave them alone. At almost 60 years old, tried some the other day and could only do 22 standard pushups, that’s embarrassing, I’m going to start hitting them hard again.

    George wrote on February 7th, 2013
  31. There is also a good amount of variations of pushups found in this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=POdzasJklxw

    Karma wrote on February 7th, 2013
  32. My problem is that I can’t even do one push-up. My arms tremble and give out before I can lower down all the way!

    Tasha wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Start with wall push-ups, then move to knees (or high incline), then inclines, then the floor. Per Mark’s Primal Blueprint Fitness, on my self-assesment, I could do 5 push-ups (I had been doing weight machines at the gym), so I started with wall push-ups. I’m still on the wall.

      b2curious wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • planks are also an often overlooked progression to full push-ups. Also, hand walk-outs with negative only pushups have worked wonderfully with many of my female clients. You are much stronger and lowering yourself than pushing up so it’s a nice bridge between the two.

      Russ wrote on February 7th, 2013
      • I agree. I couldn’t do a push up this fall and stumbled across this “100 push ups” website. I started by doing as many knee push ups as I could and then adding one per day. When I got to 20, I could do a full push up — but only later did I realize that I really, badly needed to plank to really get my abs ready. I suspect all the comments about going wall to incline to full v. knee are correct. Good luck, I can do 6 full and getting my nose to the floor nearly kills me. It’s fun to improve!

        Juli wrote on February 8th, 2013
    • The other posters have great suggestions. I couldn’t do one either until I was like 32 and started to try in earnest. Did knee pushups to get to true push-ups.

      Also, my push ups are literally the first thing that seems to weaken. (Might be the female factor. :( ) I incorporate burpees in my workout warm up so I don’t lose the ability now that I have it.

      Amy wrote on February 7th, 2013
  33. Glad to hear this. Push-ups are a huge part of my workouts. There are so many different variations that make doing them fun…jack push-ups, moving push-ups, squat push-ups, hindu push-ups…love em all.

    Dr. Mark wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • Great idea Doc. I just looked up a Hindu pushup and will add them to my workout! Thanks.

      Nocona wrote on February 7th, 2013
  34. “And as I always say, If you don’t have a floor, you’ve got much bigger problems!”
    Love that!

    Joe wrote on February 7th, 2013
  35. Love push-ups. 2 sets of 50 every other day for me.

    James wrote on February 7th, 2013
  36. Going to try the knuckle ones. My tiny wrists often are super sore and sometimes my pinky fingers will lose feeling during a set of normal pushups.

    katieCHI wrote on February 7th, 2013
  37. Regarding fist pushups… that’s how basketball Kevin Love broke one of his metacarpals… ever since seeing that.. my enthusiasm for it has been tempered…

    bjjcaveman wrote on February 7th, 2013
    • A soft surface can make them a lot less harsh. I prefer doing knuckle push-ups outside on spongy grass.

      Animanarchy wrote on February 11th, 2013
  38. Perfect timing… did Tabata pushups this morning… felt great when I was done!
    Love pushups!

    Lars T. wrote on February 7th, 2013
  39. V inspiring. Cheers.

    Sonia wrote on February 7th, 2013
  40. For those who have progressed beyond these standard push ups and think it’s “too easy”–grab a pair of furniture sliders and get on the floor to do some fly push ups!

    Gene F wrote on February 7th, 2013

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