Push Your Way to a Bigger, Stronger Upper Body


After yesterday’s post on the importance of bodyweight exercises in any well organized program designed to build a stronger, more aesthetically pleasing body, I decided to write this post outlining what I consider to be some basic guidelines for an intelligent progression with the simple push-up.

The push-up is one of the most basic, and well-known calisthenic movements in existence. It is probably one of the first exercises that you learned to perform as a child, and remains one of the single most effective movements that you can perform if you want to build muscle and increase your strength and muscular endurance. As I described in yesterday’s post “Assistance Work: Are You Getting it All Wrong” however, the simple push-up is probably one of the most neglected, ultra effective movements in existence as well.

I don’t know whether it is because of the painfully basic nature of the movement, or because it’s just not as “sexy” as something like an incline bench press with a percentage based, overly complex rep scheme, but whatever it is, most guys just plain don’t do pushups once they start training “for real”. This is a horrible mistake, and leaves much potential for growth and increases in strength lying cold on the side of the road.

The push-up allows for much in the way of variation as your strength, and proficiency in the movement increases. Many will attempt more difficult variations, or worse, will progress to dips or (shudders) even ring dips before they are even close to ready to move on from the most basic incarnation of the movement.

Here is what I consider to be an intelligently designed outline for a progression from the basic movement.

The Basic Push-Up

This movement should be built up using the frequency method (sub maximal sets performed throughout the day as outlined in “The Greyskull LP: Second Edition”) until you can knock out a no-bullshit set of one hundred reps on command. This is what I consider to be the minimum standard of push-up strength that you should initially work towards.

The Close-Grip Push-Up

This is performed just like the basic push-up with the exception of you hand placement. In this version, your thumbs should be touching (your hands may stay parallel to each other or can form the traditional “diamond” shape that is often associated with this variation. After you can knock out your one hundred reps of the conventional push-up, you can switch your frequency work to close-grip reps, and should continue to do so until you can knock out a no-bullshit set of fifty reps under any conditions, at any time of day.

The Elevated Push-Up

This version returns the hands to the basic push-up configuration, but differs in that your feet are elevated on an object that sits roughly eighteen inches or so off of the ground. Stick with this version in your frequency work until you can bust out fifty of these without breaking a sweat.

The Elevated Close-Grip Push-Up

Catching on yet? This one is predictably just like the close-grip push-up, but with your feet up on something eighteen inches or so off of the ground. Again, you should stick with this variation until you can knock out fifty with ease.

Once you’ve reached this point, THEN you can/should consider moving on to more difficult variations, as well as bar dips. This progression should keep you busy for a while.

Trust me, if you stick with this progression you will see some serious change in the mirror long before you exhaust my recommendations here. You will also notice a significant carry over to your pressing movements in the gym.

If you want to give your upper body a low-cost, high-effect makeover in a relatively short period of time, I highly encourage you to begin taking on this progression ASAP. Be honest with yourself, bury your ego, and get to it.

And for the love of God, please do not email or comment me asking me my recommendations on how to structure something like this for handstand push-ups or ring dips unless you’re prepared to submit to me a video of you knocking out fifty easy parallel bar dips while reciting the Gettysburg address and not slowing down at all during your set.

Throw dirt over your ego once and for all, and prepare to be reborn a monster in this world.



2 Responses

  1. Kevin


    For the pushup, I am very weak and would rather do the frequency method with sets spread throughout the day unlike the band assisted chin ups where I am gonna do ladders once every other night. My question is, A few days per week I can`t do pushups a good part of the day due to my mail carrier job, will this method yield good results If I spread it out with one set upon wakening, one set early evening, one after dinner say 8ish, and then one before bed between 10-11pm so a total of 4 sets spread out part of the time by only 2-3 hours. My volume rep wise would be very low to start cause I suck ass at pushups.



    October 30, 2014 at 9:15 am

    • Roberto

      I say this will work very well. am actually going to start the same progression, 4 sets spread through out the day.I have done the 100 push up progressions that are common for several weeks but I never get past a couple months or so.

      May 10, 2015 at 10:08 pm

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