Push-Ups Tips for Max Strength Gains
Video by TJ O’Brien

Push-ups anyone? Seemingly simple and too easy, it can be one of the most fundamental movements you do. Whether you have a diverse fitness background, a love-hate relationship with fitness, are limited to a certain community in fitness, or have no fitness background at all, the push-up can be a very effective tool for your tool box when done correctly.

Benefits of Doing Push-Ups

The push-up is an incredibly simple movement, yet provides a very effective tool for your fitness, especially overall strength. The benefits of doing push-ups include increased chest and shoulder strength, core stability and strength, increased upper back strength, and improved muscle size and definition. 

All of these benefits directly translate to other areas of strength and fitness. Want to be able to squat more? Increase your core and upper body strength? Want to be able to do more pull-ups? Increase your upper back and shoulder strength? Want to be able to press more weight either overhead or on the bench? Do more push-ups.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Push-Ups

Never neglect the fundamentals and stick to things that are simple and effective like push-ups. Here’s how to get the most out of your reps as far as strength gains and hypertrophy.

Full Range of Motion (ROM)

Hypertrophy is the increase and growth in muscle cells and to accomplish this, you must break down the muscle fibers so that they rebuild and get stronger. 

Strength is gained in the range it is trained. If you want hypertrophy, it is important you maintain the same range of motion (ROM) throughout your reps. Using push-ups as the example, when you change your ROM or lose tension in your midline, you are no longer stressing out the muscle(s) you are trying to target, as others jump in to help compensate. 

Hypertrophy only happens when those fibers get tired and you are forced to recruit into action other fibers that you normally wouldn’t recruit under other circumstances. So if you want to get stronger, you have to strain those ranges.

More Mechanical Tension = More Hypertrophy

Mechanical tension is the force you place on your muscles when you contract them against resistance. Muscles have receptors called mechanosensors that sense how much force the muscle is under and the length of time it sustains that tension i.e. time under tension (TUT). Once these sensors detect tension, a series of chemical reactions are set into motion that ultimately cause the muscle to grow.

Eccentric contractions stimulate mechanosensors more than concentric or isometric contractions. This is one of the main reasons you’ll see us prescribe a training tempo to push-ups – and other movements – in your strength work. The other two are improved quality of movement and injury prevention. Read more about why we love tempo training and how to decipher those tempo prescriptions here. 

Mechanical tension is inverse to the speed of your movement. For example, when you are grinding out your reps of push-ups with your full ROM but you are forced by fatigue to go slowly to hold this form, that’s actually beneficial to gaining hypertrophy because you are spending a greater amount of TUT.

Practice for Purpose 

Practicing perfect form and complete ROM provides better transference to competition or real world use. If you are not practicing push-ups with “honor” then you can’t expect to do them to that highest standard on the competition floor, leading to no-reps and quicker fatigue for having to repeat those reps.

How to Adjust When Your Push-Ups Break Down

Most of us can tell where our form tends to break down during our high-rep push-ups. Once you identify your problem area, you’ll know where to turn when your reps start getting sloppy or less than ideal in form so you can make adjustments (modifications). Remember that modifications are NOT a sign of weakness! They will – in the long run – make you stronger because they will allow you to maintain TUT and full ROM, both of which are necessary for increased strength and muscle growth.

Midline Breakdown in Push-Ups

Frequently it’s in the midline for most people and they tend to “snake” up their reps – meaning they push their chest off the floor before their hips – once they get tired. If this happens to you at any point during your set, you have a couple of options to help you maintain midline integrity. 

Cues for Midline Breakdown in Push-Ups

Midline Cue #1: Slow Down!

If you find your midline failing you during your push-ups, first try slowing down your speed to see if you can maintain your form and your ROM. Remember that going slower will provide you with longer TUT and therefore more strength gains. So let go of the ego! You might not finish first today but going slower will give you greater payoffs in the long run.

Midline Cue #2: Squeeze Your Legs Together

Make sure your feet and inner thighs are touching each other and SQUEEZE them together while driving your heels away from your body. Doing this creates tension from shoulder to heel, helping you keep your midline tight and aligned. 

Modifications for Midline Breakdown in Push-Ups

Modification #1: Raise the Bar

If you are doing your push-ups on the floor and lose midline integrity, move your hands to a higher position than your feet. This can be done by elevating them on a box or on a barbell that is placed on a rack. 

Modification #2: Band Assisted

The banded push-up helps support the hips and belly where most of us tend to break into a jeopardizing swayed (hyperextended) back position. You still have to do the work, but the band gives you feedback and a little assistance to achieve your goal. You’re also less likely to put your shoulders into an incorrect position because form won’t deteriorate so quickly.

Modification #3: Knees to the Floor

This modification allows you to take some of the weight of your legs out of the equation and is great for when you are doing sets with larger rep ranges for time because you don’t have to stop and move to a bar like in the modification above. You can simply put your knees to the floor and continue your set. 

Shoulder Breakdown in Push-Ups

Others try recruiting their traps and rhomboids by rounding their shoulders and shrugging them toward their ears. 

Cues for Shoulder Breakdown in Push-Ups

Shoulder Cue #1: Slow Down!

Same cue as above. Forgo the sloppy speed for slow gainz! See if you can own the bottom position for one second before driving back up the top. If this causes you to compensate, consider adding tempo push-ups into your strength routine, perhaps with a raised bar or box so that you can feel the right bottom position before driving out of it. 

Shoulder Cue #2: Unscrew the Floor

This cue is a reminder to yourself that your shoulders should be as externally rotated as possible. Pretend you are trying to loosen the lid of a jar with your hands on the floor. Create tension in your hands, through your fingers, by squeezing them into the floor and rotating out toward your sides (without ACTUALLY moving them).

Shoulder Cue #3: Flex Your Lats

Check yourself to make sure your shoulders are set and not shrugging by squeezing/rotating your elbows toward your lats. You should feel those muscles along your shoulder blades fire and help hold your shoulders into a set and non-shrugging position. 

Modifications for Shoulder Breakdown in Push-Ups

If you are still struggling to maintain a strong shoulder position then use one of the three modifications listed above:

Modification #1: Raise the Bar

Modification #2: Band Assisted

Modification #3: Knees to the Floor

It is way too easy to overlook the basics and get wrapped up in the complexity of movements and program. Never neglect the fundamentals and stick to things that are simple and effective like push-ups. If you have trouble figuring out where your reps break down, ask your coach to help you identify where your area of focus should be. 


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November 22, 2020 10:04 pm

Traditional pushups are beneficial for building upper body strength. nursing essay writing service They work the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulders. When done with proper form, they can also strengthen the lower back and core by engaging (pulling in) the abdominal muscles.

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September 9, 2020 5:00 am

Doing exercise for fitness is best. No doubte push ups are one of them, try push ups on alternative days that benefits you for abdonimal muscles. Push ups are fast and effective workout to build strength. For more information visit to our website law assignment help that would help you know more about fitness exercise.

September 9, 2020 12:35 am

Repeat the ODD/EVEN routine for a total of 10 days. marketing dissertation writing Then take three days off and do NO upper body pushing exercises that work the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

February 12, 2020 8:29 pm

Great tips on regressions, TJ! I love the breakdown of this simple movement that only a few people have mastered.

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