You may not have weights, you may not have resistance bands, and you may not have a gym. But you will always have pushups.
Ahh, the good, old-fashioned pushup. Among exercises, it’s one of those gold-standard moves, a proven strength-builder that blasts chest, triceps, and shoulders, and hits your core more than you think, too. It’s a move you always have on a road trip, too, because wherever you can take your bodyweight (aka, everywhere), you can take the pushup.
It’s a move that has more versatility than you think, too. Everyone thinks they can do a pushup, but if you want to really build muscle and blast fat with it, you need to master the right ways to do it. And once you have that down, you need to use the right variations to level the move up even more (and yes, trust us: The pushup can be leveled up majorly).
How to Do the Pushup
You know the basics of how to do the pushup, but it’s the little things that make it work. Learn the now.
The pushup starts with the perfect plank. You need to own the plank position for every moment of every pushup, and that’s harder than you may think. Most people “break” at the waist a bit when they do pushups, and when you create a lever at the waist, you let your chest push a little less load. You never want to do that. Avoid it by actively squeezing your glutes when you do pushups, and squeeze your abs, too.
All the Way Up, All the Way Down
Ever see those guys banging out 60 pushups in 60 seconds? Watch how high they press up, and how low they go down. Are the cutting that short? Likely. And in doing so, they’re missing out on the triceps benefits of the pushup. When you do pushups, lower your chest to within an inch of the ground, getting true range on the motion. Then when you press up, press up until your arms are fully straight. That doesn’t mean locking out your elbows, but it does mean making your arms fully straight, maximizing the triceps squeeze on each rep. Twenty to thirty quality reps in 60 seconds is better than a pushup world record, if you actually want muscle and strength.
Arm position is key in the pushup. Start with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, then here’s the key: Try to turn the pits of your elbow so they face forward. This will place your shoulders in external rotation. It’ll do something else, too, turning on your lats. Putting those back muscles into the pushup saves your shoulders, and goes that much farther toward making the pushup a full-body movement.
And Now the Level-Ups
Once you master those pushup cues, then you can start to level up the pushup. Try these challenging pushup variations to add oomph to your workouts.
This is an explosive favorite with some versatility to it, attacking chest and triceps. Do a standard pushup rep, and as you press up, jump your hands off the ground, and shift them to a close-grip. Do your next rep here, then, as you press up, jump your hands off the ground to standard position. Aim for 10 to 12 total reps if you’re starting out. Do 3 sets.
Need to hit your upper chest? This’ll do it. Place your feet on a chair or box, and your hands on the ground. Make sure your shoulders are still directly above your hands, and keep your core and glutes tight. You’ll press down with a little less range of motion, but the angle will force your upper chest to drive the motion. Think 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Challenge yourself to exercise more body control and to dominate the challenging bottom position of a pushup with paused pushups. You’re in standard pushup position for these, but when you lower down, pause for 2 seconds. Then press up. This will erase the stretch reflex your muscles produce when you do reps faster, and it will also force you to own the bottom position of a pushup. Those lots-of-pushups-in-60-seconds fellas won’t fair well with this variation.
This is essentially challenging one side of your chest to do most of the pressing, loading that side of your chest with the majority of your bodyweight. Set up in standard pushup position, but place your arms slightly wider and let your fingers face outward. Lower into a pushup, but shift your weight to the left side and bend only your left elbow; keep your right arm straight and look toward your right hand. Press up. Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps to start, and expect a challenge here.