Perfectly performed push-ups are one of the most powerful exercises you can do. Forget the "I want to work a single muscle" approach; this movement can strengthen your abdominal muscles, triceps, deltoids, serratus anterior, pecs, lats, and more. They're also great for your upper back, and are about the most shoulder-safe push you can do.
In addition to helping you build muscle mass, push-ups can help you build a sustainable approach to fitness by setting goals. After all, you can do push-ups anytime and anywhere! And if one version is too easy, well, I've got plenty of ideas about how to make them harder.
Being able to do more push-ups with proper form than you can now is a worthy goal, and I've got just the approach to help you achieve it.
So loosen up your muscles and get ready; it's going to be push-ups and more push-ups for the next 21 days straight!
Learn Push-Up Basics and Protect Your Body
Before you start the challenge, make sure you know the difference between a "yikes" push-up and a "wow" push-up. One is an injury waiting to happen; the other is an exercise worth doing every day.
Here's what's wrong with most people's push-ups—in a word, everything.
- Hands are too wide
- Lower back sags
- Elbows flare out
- Zero lat engagement
- Neck and shoulders take over
- Abs completely shut off and not functioning
- Leading with the head and neck
- Glutes not engaged
Now here's the good news: If your push-ups look like this on the floor, you don't have to suffer through them and hope they get better. That's just asking for injury. You have options!
Hold On a Second. I Can't Seem to Do Even One Perfect Push-Up!
As with all exercises, improving your ability to do perfect push-ups takes some time. This is especially true after giving birth, suffering from diastasis recti, or undergoing any sort of abdominal surgery. To attain the perfect push-up, you may need to retrain your brain to properly hold the plank position. Remember, sloppy form, especially when you're doing floor push-ups, can lead to injury.
To make sure you're using the right form, I've put together a couple of quick videos. The first one shows you what a proper push-up should look like and provides a few easy progressions. I designed the video for women who've had kids or experienced abdominals issues, but it works for everyone. I've helped plenty of people become push-up masters. With practice, you can become one too!
The second video shows you how to use bands to do push-ups. Even if you know what a proper push-up looks like, you might need to increase your core activation, trunk stability, and overall core strength before you're able to perform one on the floor. Using bands can help you get there.
I'm Already a Push-Up Master. How Can I Challenge Myself?
Congratulations on having a perfect push-up on the floor! If traditional push-ups are too easy for you, you can make them harder in many ways! For instance:
- Feet on an elevated surface
- Hands on a suspension trainer
- Hands on a ball or kettlebells of various heights or widths
- A clap at the top of each rep
- Single-arm push-ups or progressions
The 21-Day Perfect Push-Up Challenge
Find the position or surface that allows you to perform a perfect push up for your level. Break up the reps into as many sets as you need to maintain perfect—and I mean perfect—alignment and form. I recommend using relatively low reps in this challenge, so that you can move toward your push-up goals safely.
Remember, if your lower back sags and your neck and traps are doing the work, then it isn't considered a proper push-up. If you use this kind of form, you're teaching yourself a pattern that will hurt you more than help you down the road. These kinds of reps do not count! Find someone who will give you honest feedback on your form, and don't be afraid to listen to the hard truth.
As you begin to feel stronger and can complete your push-ups perfectly, try lowering your surface, or find a more challenging push-up progression that forces you to practice several perfect reps at a time. Just like my popular 21-Day Goblet Squat Challenge, you can break up the reps into as many sets as you need.
Week 1: "Easy" Push-up Progression Week
Example: Use higher surface or thick band
- Day 1: 4/3/3/2=12
- Day 2: 5/4/3/2=14
- Day 3: 5/5/4/2=16
- Day 4: Rest
- Day 5: 6/5/5/3=19
- Day 6: 7/6/5/3=21
- Day 7: Rest
Week 2: Intermediate Push-Up Progression Week
Example: Use lower surface, thinner band, or more difficult advanced variation
- Day 8: 4/3/3/2=12
- Day 9: 5/4/3/2=14
- Day 10: 5/5/4/2=16
- Day 11: Rest
- Day 12: 5/5/5/4=19
- Day 13: 6/5/5/4=20
- Day 14: Rest
Week 3: Challenging Progression Push-Up Week
Example: Use flat surface, no band, or most difficult variation
- Day 15: 4/3/2/1=10
- Day 16: 4/3/2/2=11
- Day 17: 4/3/3/2=12
- Day 18: Rest
- Day 19: 5/4/3/2=14
- Day 20: Rest
- Day 21: Test your push-up rep goal against what you started with, or see if you can hit your progression goal. For example: 30 push-ups in a row, or 1-2 single-arm push-ups per side.
Get your reps in, and get them in perfectly, and this approach will make it second nature for you to perform rock-solid push-ups time and time again. Let me know how you do or if you have any questions!