Pushup Progressions: Beginner To Advanced

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Pushups are one of the most popular bodyweight exercises. With the right progressions, you can work up to your first repetition or make the exercise harder.

To do a pushup you start in a high plank position, lower yourself to the ground by slowly folding yourself to the ground, and raise yourself back up.

For many people, a pushup is currently too hard, even with the right technique. In that case, you can start with easier pushup progressions to build up your strength.

On the other hand, individuals more experienced with resistance training may not see any muscle growth or strength progress with regular bodyweight pushups. In that case, there are plenty of harder variations available.

Important general guidelines

Before learning all the pushup progressions, it is important to keep a few important guidelines in mind. These are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to pushup technique and resistance training in general.

First of all, you want to keep your body straight from your heels to your shoulders during pushups. This will help you avoid injuries from lowering your hips too much.

If you are not yet able to get into and hold into a plank position you want to progress to this exercise first.

Next, you want to keep your upper arms at about 45-degree angles to your sides. The more you put them outward the higher your shoulder injury risk. You can use smaller angles but this will make the pushups mainly focus on your triceps.

There are also more general guidelines when it comes to resistance training.

You want to give your muscles at least a day of rest in between pushup progression sessions. This means you can train 3-4 times a week in total. Additionally, you want to rest around 2 minutes in between sets.

Lastly, make sure you give your body enough nutrients and sleep to repair and grow your muscles when working on these pushup progressions.

How long does it take to see progress from pushups?

Many people want to know how long it will take for them to see progress from doing the pushup progression they are currently at.

Unfortunately, there is no one right answer for everyone. Some of the factors that influence this include age, genes, how much/what you eat, how well you rest, how hard you push yourself, exactly how many repetitions you do, etc.

One individual could be stuck on a progression level for months, a different person could pass this same level in 2 weeks.

Beginner pushup progressions

First of all, many people are interested in pushup progressions because they are not able to do a full pushup that. Luckily, this goal is very achievable if you follow the right steps and training.

Pushup progression level 1

The first level of getting to a full pushup is more for individuals who have never learned the right pushup technique or have not done pushups in a long time.

If this sounds like you, wall pushups can be the right choice. This is a pushup variation where you put your hands on a wall at about shoulder width, move your feet back a bit, and do pushups.

The main attention points for wall pushups are similar to regular pushups but worth repeating in this first level. Keep your body straight from your heels to the top of your head and your upper arms at about 45-degree angles to your side.

For this first level, the main goal is getting used to the pushup technique. Wall pushups can help you strengthen your muscles a small amount but this will soon stop due to the lack of challenge.

You can check whether you are implementing the right technique by asking a friend or filming yourself. If you can do about 20 wall pushups with the right technique without too much mental strain, you can go to the next level.

How to do a wall pushup

Pushup progression level 2

In the second pushup progression level you can choose two exercises. Both can help you get strong enough for a full regular pushup. These two exercises are incline pushups and knee pushups.

Incline pushups are a pushup variation where you put your hands on a sturdy, elevated platform. By doing this less weight rests on your arms and core and the exercise becomes easier. Even within this single exercise you can have different progression levels.

You can start by doing 3-6 sets of as many incline pushups as you can (with 2 minutes rest between each set) with a surface at hip height per session until you are able to do about 15 good repetitions in a row. Make sure this surface is stable and sturdy.

Next, you can transition to the same numbers but for incline pushups with an elevated surface at about knee height. Once you can do 15 good repetitions in a row of these you should be able to go to the next level.

How to do an incline pushup

Knee pushups, also known as modified pushups, are another option for this level. In general, incline pushups are recommended since they teach you the “real” pushup technique.

That being said, knee pushups can also be an option because of personal preference or a lack of sturdy elevated surfaces for incline pushups.

To do a knee pushup you preferably have a soft surface for your knees.

Besides that, this exercise is very similar to real pushups except that you lean on your knees instead of your feet. That means you should be in a straight line from your knees to the top of your head.

You can do as many knee pushups as possible for 3-6 sets (with 2 minutes of rest in between). Once you are able to do 20 knee pushups you should be able to do at least one full pushup as long as your core is strong enough.

How to do a modified pushup

The regular pushup

If you can do the exercises above for the mentioned number of repetitions you can likely do (your first) regular pushups. These can help you grow and strengthen your chest, tricep, and shoulder muscles for a while.

How to do a pushup

Advanced pushup progressions

Regular pushups are such a popular exercise for a reason. They are a convenient way to see a nice amount of muscle growth and strengthening.

However, you will have to make the bodyweight version more challenging to keep seeing progress (if you are eating, resting, and sleeping well) at some point. When this is the case, you can choose one of the advanced pushup progressions.

The three main advanced progressions in this article are weighted pushups, bodyweight strength progressions, and bodyweight power progressions. There is also a tricep-focused pushup progression but this is less popular.

Which one of these three is the best for you depends on your personal preferences, personal situation, training goals, equipment available, etc.

Most people can consider the easiest levels of these advanced progressions once they are able to do about 20-30 good regular pushups in a row.

Even if you just want to progress to 100 regular pushups in a row these advanced variations can help you get there faster than the regular version.

Weighted pushups

The main reason why regular pushups become too easy is that your muscles get strong enough for the weight (your bodyweight) they have to lift.

To make them even stronger you have to challenge your muscles more (again if you are eating, resting, sleeping well). One of the most straightforward ways to do this is by putting external weights on your upper back.

Doing pushups with a weighted vest is convenient since the weight can’t fall off your back. You could also put something like a weight plate on your back but this can fall off and be less comfortable.

Another option you can consider if you want to keep strengthening and growing your chest, tricep, and shoulder muscles is the bench press. This is an exercise where you basically do the pushup motion but upside down with extra weights.

Bodyweight strength pushup progressions

Some people don’t want to invest in extra weights or simply prefer to keep things bodyweight. For these individuals, there are also plenty of pushup progressions to choose from.

Level 1

The first level of this advanced pushup progression road has two exercise options, side to side pushups and decline pushups.

Side to side pushups will be slightly more focused on your tricep muscles, decline pushups slightly more on your shoulder muscles.

If you are progressing with the goal of doing a one-handed pushup, side to side pushups will generally be the better choice. In other cases, it is a matter of personal preference and training goals.

To do a side to side pushup you lean slightly more on one arm with your upper body. Switch what side you lean towards between each repetition.

The farther you stretch one arm, the harder the exercise will be. Do 3-6 sets (with 2 minutes of rest in between) at a certain distance until you can do about 15 repetitions. After that, stretch your arm slightly farther.

How to do a side to side pushup

Decline pushups are a variation where you do the exercise with your feet on an elevated, sturdy surface. This puts more weight on your arms and in turn, makes the exercise harder and focuses more on your shoulder muscles.

Similar to incline pushups you can progress by elevating the surface as you get stronger. One downside of decline pushups is that they don’t prepare you as well for the other advanced pushup progressions as side to side pushups.

How to do a decline pushup

Level 2

The main exercise of this level is the archer pushup. This is basically a side to side pushup with a fully stretched arm.

You can get to this progression by either doing side to side pushups while extending your arms more and more as you get stronger or doing incline archer pushups.

Once you can do about 15-20 archer pushups on each side (so 30-40 in total) per set, you can progress to the next level.

How to do an archer pushup

Level 3

The next step is doing incline one-handed pushups. If you can do the described number of repetitions of archer pushups you should be able to do these with your hand on a relatively low surface.

If one surface at for example knee height is currently too challenging, you can switch to a surface at hip height. Again, make sure these surfaces are stable and sturdy.

Do 3-6 sets of as many incline one-handed pushups as you can (with 2 minutes rest between each set) until you are able to do about 15 good repetitions in a row on each side.

After that, implement a similar schedule with a lower surface (or the ground).

Level 4

A natural progression from the previous step is doing one-handed pushups. These are not only challenging for your chest, tricep, and shoulder muscles but also your balance. If needed, you can put your feet farther apart.

Similar to many of the other pushup progressions, you want to do 3-6 sets of as many one-handed pushups as you can on each side (with 2 minutes rest between each set) until you are able to do about 15 good repetitions in a row.

Level 5

For the few individuals that find one-handed pushups too easy, there are even more challenging progressions.

In the first option, you need a slightly elevated surface or a piece of pushup equipment called pushup bars. By putting your hand on one of these you can lower yourself more.

This bigger range of motion will make the one-handed pushup harder.

Another option is doing decline one-handed pushups. Because your feet are on an elevated surface, more of your weight rests on your arm.

Bodyweight power pushup progressions

The way you train your muscles influences what fitness component you improve. Regular pushups at a slower pace will train either muscle endurance or muscle strength.

You can also choose to train your muscle power, how much force you can generate in a short amount of time, by following the advanced bodyweight power pushup progressions below.

Level 1

Plyometric pushups are the first way to progress after regular pushups if you want to train muscle power. These are an option relatively fast. If you can do 12-15 regular pushups in a row you can consider plyometric pushups.

Before you give plyometric pushups a try you need to know that these can be hard on your wrists and elbows. You can reduce this to some extent by doing plyometric pushups with your hands on a soft surface.

However, even then, individuals with any wrist or elbow issues generally want to stay away from plyometric pushups.

That being said, plyometric pushups are simply pushups where you push yourself up fast enough so that you do a little jump at the top of the movement. Make sure you land with slightly bent arms and keep your back straight throughout the exercise.

The difference between this variation and the next progression step is not that big. Once you can do 5 plyometric pushups you should be able to go to the next step.

How to do a plyometric pushup

Level 2

The second level consists of plyometric pushups where you do some type of movement with your hands while in the air and return them to a regular pushup position in time to land.

A typical example is clapping pushups where you clap your hands in the air but other examples include touching your hips or knees.

You can add also jumping with your legs to these variations. This will prepare you for the next advanced bodyweight power pushup progression step.

How to do a clapping pushup

Level 3

One of the most advanced pushup variations when it comes to muscle power is the Aztec pushup.

In this exercise, you push yourself up fast and jump high enough with your hands and feet so that you can touch your feet with your hands in the air and move these back in a pushup position before you reach the ground.

Similar to side to side pushups, the progression to Aztec pushups happens gradually. You start with clapping pushups and when you feel you can move your hands more before landing you try to touch your hips, knees, etc.

Keep in mind that this is a challenging exercise for both a variety of muscles and coordination. Make sure your skill level is up for this pushup variation before committing to it.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.