The Ultimate GUIDE to Push Up Progression Systems That Will Make You A Push-Up Master
No matter where you are on your push up progression journey, by the time you finish this article, you will learn how to become a push up pro!
If you cannot perform a single push up, don’t fret, I have got you covered.
I will take you through every single step of different push up progressions, taking you from a push up novice to a push up master.
Let’s get started!
The Best Piece Of Equipment For Anyone Starting Their Push Up Progression
Contrary to popular belief, push up handles are some of the worst pieces of calisthenics equipment in existence. They only allow for one type of movement to be performed on them.
DO NOT get a pair of push up handles!
If you really want to get good at performing push ups (both bodyweight and weighted), then get your hands on a good pair of gymnastics rings.
Gymnastics rings are an incredibly versatile and highly affordable piece of equipment that not only trains the push up, but the entire body as well!
There is no other piece of equipment that is better suited for push up progressions than a simple pair of GYMNASTICS RINGS.
Gymnastics rings have the following benefits for novices, intermediate and advanced calisthenics athletes for perfecting push ups:
- Rings build tremendous core strength for all calisthenics practitioners alike. This is especially true when using gymnastics rings for the push up. Performing a push up on rings requires immense stabilization from the core and is learnt at the start of the push up progression with a standing/vertical ring push up!
- Gymnastics rings are extremely beginner friendly! Even a rank novice who cannot perform a single push up off his knees can use gymnastics rings and immediately benefit from their superior ergonomics for the push up.
- Rings have a built-in push up progression system. In fact, they have the most systematic push up progression system built into them. If you learn how to use gymnastics rings (and it takes an entire 5 minutes at the max) you know how to progress your push up, to become an advanced practitioner.
- Gymnastics rings allow you to get more range of motion at the bottom of the push up, thus allowing you to train through a greater and more effective range of motion. This will lead to more upper body gains in the long run.
- Rings remove the “skill” aspect of calisthenics training – To make progress on your push up with gymnastics rings, all you have to go is simply adjust the height. Doing so can make the exercise harder (or easier) depending on the height at which you are performing push ups. This does not make one progression completely different from the other and thus removes the skill aspect out of the equation – trying to learn a new skill in order to progress to a harder version of the exercise. This makes using gymnastics rings far more effective at training the push up.
All that being said, push ups can be learnt without the rings as well, but without having the benefit of an entire gymnasium in your backpack!
SIMPLY GET YOUR HANDS on a pair of gymnastics rings already! I don’t think I have to say anymore.
If you’re looking for a good pair I suggest the NAYOYA GYMNASTICS RINGS, they offer good bang for your buck on your first pair.
Nevertheless, I will show you how to make progress on your push ups with and without gymnastics rings.
Types Of Push Up Progression Systems
There are two types of push up progression systems (or paths) to choose from, with two different end-goals in mind:
1. The bodyweight push up progression system
2. The weighted push up progression system
Bodyweight Push Up Progression System
This progression system takes more time, effort and discipline to reach the end goal of performing elite level push ups.
The system is broken down into 3 stages – beginner, intermediate and advanced.
The advanced stage of this progression system has 3 different branches – The planche push up branch, the handstand push up branch, the one arm push up branch.
Each of these 3 elite level bodyweight push up branches have their own individual progression systems to tackle.
If you want to become a bodyweight push up master; know that the road is long, hard and complex.
This progression system walks you through the entire list of bodyweight push up progressions. It is neatly divided into novice, intermediate and advanced stages with a “difficulty rating” attached to each exercise.
- Wall push ups
- Incline Push Ups
- Knee Push Ups
- Negative Push Ups
- Regular Push Ups
- Close Grip Push Ups
- Decline Push Ups
- Decline Close Grip Push Ups
- One Arm Push Up Progression
- Handstand Push Up Progression – Read More Here
- Planche Push Up Progression – Read More Here
Important – Not everyone has to go through all progressions in perfect order to achieve their bodyweight push up goal. Certain steps can (and MUST, if possible) be skipped in order to reach the end goal faster, but only if good form can be achieved on the new progression. This is because everybody has different strengths and weaknesses and different progressions will demand slightly more from certain muscle groups than others. If you can maintain proper form on your new progression, there’s no need to perform the regression. See where you stand and how far you have to progress.
Weighted Push Up Progression System
The weighted push up progression chain is much simpler than, and not as complicated as its bodyweight counterpart.
If you want to build maximum muscle and strength, then this is the push up progression system to choose.
This is because the goal of the weighted push up system is reach a push up variant that can move the most weight.
Adding weight to the push up makes it a super strength and size building exercise.
This is easily achieved with the Incline Ring Weighted Push Up, which is the goal of this progression system.
This exercise can be loaded maximally and has excellent carryover to several other pushing exercises.
I highly recommend pursuing this push up progression system if you are serious about your strength goals.
Read more about why this exercise is one of the best muscle mass builders in calisthenics today in my article on the – Incline Weighted Push Up.
The weighted push up progression system starts at the same point as the bodyweight push up system.
It then branches off from the bodyweight push up system the moment you can perform 3 sets of 10 close grip ring push ups. When you achieve 3 sets of 10 close grip ring push ups, then simply add weight to your incline ring push to make progress.
If you’re wondering why one progression system is better at building muscle than the other.
Let’s find out.
The Best Push Up Progression System For Building Maximum Muscle And Strength
If you’re looking to put on maximum muscle and size, then the Weighted Push Up system of progression is the way to go.
I say this in all of my articles; progressive overload is the key to maximizing muscle growth and strength.
The easiest way to progressively overload the muscles is to simply add more weight.
The whole point of a progression system is to increase progressive overload (make the exercise harder to perform), but in bodyweight calisthenics it comes at the cost of learning a new skill every time a new progression is unlocked.
This means that precious time is lost in trying to learn a new skill, instead of getting stronger and building more muscle.
For example, handstand push ups require you to lern how to balance on two hands before being able to perform the handstand push up.
It’s not like muscle won’t be built with the bodyweight progression system, it’s just that the weighted push-up progression system will build muscle and strength faster.
It is important to just pick one progression system (weighted or bodyweight) that you’re passionate about and stick with it!
Novice/Beginner Bodyweight push up progression
So you’ve read about the types of push up progression systems and decided to choose the longer, more complex, harder route to building muscle and strength.
You like a challenge and like the variety associated with building strength and learning skills.
But can bodyweight push ups build enough muscle and strength?
Bodyweight Push ups are an effective chest, shoulder and triceps builder and will almost always be used throughout the entirety of your calisthenics progression.
Bodyweight push ups can be used to build impressive upper body pushing strength when combined with other bodyweight chest, shoulder and triceps exercises like:
- Bodyweight Skull crushers
- Handstand/Pike push-ups
Apart from just building the chest, shoulders and triceps the humble bodyweight push up works the rest of the body in isometric contraction, including the abs, spinal erectors, glutes and quads.
In fact a well executed push up requires complete tightness throughout the entire body, especially when trying to do the more advanced versions of the push up; the one arm push up, handstand push up or the .
Bodyweight push ups also work the serratus anterior, an extremely aesthetic and functional muscle that develops greatly in calisthenics athletes and boxers alike!
Remember, the whole point of a progression system is to make the exercise harder so that your body does not adapt to the same stimulus every time.
It does not matter where you start, the key is to keep progressing and you will build strength and muscle.
That being said, let’s get into the novice push-up progressions
Standing Ring/Wall Push Ups – As the name suggests the standing ring/wall push up is performed with while standing on your feet, with your hands on a pair of gymnastics rings (like in the picture below) or on a wall.
This is by far the easiest version of the push up around and is the starting point for almost all novices.
But do not underestimate the value of the wall push up, it can certainly build enough strength to put you onto your next progression.
The problem with the wall push up is that it does not properly mimic the regular push up. In fact it mimics more of a decline push up (working more of the upper chest fibers and the shoulders) than the incline push up it is supposed to be.
That is why have written an in-depth article about wall push ups here. It describes how to get the most out of the wall push up and the mistakes made when doing so. If you plan on not using gymnastics rings, I highly suggest you read that article for guidance on correct form and technique.
If you have a pair of gymnastics rings, the problems with the wall push up completely disappear.
The rings allow you to adjust the placement of your hands such that it mimics the regular push up.
This will get you performing the correct movement pattern from the start of your push up journey!
High Incline Push Ups – The next obvious step to the push up progression is the high incline push up. I am being very specific in the use of the term “high incline” because; the lower the angle of inclination, the harder the exercise becomes.
While the angle of inclination for this push up variation is considered “high”, it is still lower than its regression – the standing ring/wall push up.
High incline push ups are done on any object that is at or just above hip height. This is an excellent way to work on proper push up mechanics, keeping the elbows tucked in and bringing your chest to the level of the wrists.
Constantly decreasing the angle of inclination will make the push up progressively harder; only stick to this variation of the push up until you can decrease the angle of inclination.
If you are using rings, simply lower the level of the rings and move your feet farther away from the rings to systematically reduce the angle of inclination.
Read More: The ONLY Way To Do (Incline Push Ups) For Maximum Muscle Mass!
Knee Push Ups (only if not using rings) – Knee push ups are your first introduction to performing push ups on the floor.
There is a lot of controversy around this exercise but I have decided to put it in this article because for those not using gymnastics rings, it could be hard to uniformly lower the angle of inclination on your incline push ups.
The problem with knee push ups is that it it can be difficult to engage the core properly during the exercise, but when performed the way I’ve suggested below, there should be no problem with core engagement.
For those without rings, performing knee push ups is of paramount importance; especially if you cannot find a low enough surface to progress your
To perform the knee push ups, make sure to keep the knees as far away from the body as possible, this will ensure that the core stays tight enough (although to a lesser degree) to simulate the push up.
Then, make sure that your shoulders are stacked above the wrists before you perform the push up. You might have to lean forward to do so.
Lower your chest to the position of the wrists or at least allow your chest to touch the floor.
Other push-up mechanics also apply; like keep the elbows tucked in, squeeze the glutes and the core.
If you took my advice and bought the gymnastics rings, you can very easily use the rings for knee push ups as well.
But, it is likely that you can surpass this step, because of the immense core strength you’ve been building with your gymnastics rings.
In fact, if you have gymnastics rings, be patient and keep lowering the angle of inclination a couple of inches at a time ,till you can perform push ups with the rings just inches above the ground.
Read More: Tips And Tricks For Knee Push Ups!
Explosive push up negatives (only if not using rings) – After mastery of the knee push up, explosive push up negatives are in order.
This exercise is an excellent tool to get you to your first push up and it has been used successfully by scores of push up novices in the past.
Again, this progression is for those of you who for some reason have chosen not to get a pair of gymnastics rings.
To perform this exercise, simply get into the “high plank position” (the start of the push up position with your toes on the ground).
Then perform a controlled negative (the negative portion of the push up), lowering your torso to the ground, till you’re at the bottom of the push up position.
From there, drop your knees to the floor, with your hips still in the air and push up explosively, to the top portion of the knee push up (still staying on the knees).
From here, lift your knees back up and get back into the “high plank position” and repeat the repetition again.
Several key points need to be kept in mind when performing push up negatives:
- Make sure your hips do not touch the floor at the bottom of the push up – keep them up in the air.
- Keep your glutes and core tight throughout the decent.
- Make sure the decent (lowering phase of the push up) is under total control, this is the hardest portion of the movement and needs to be mastered in order to progress.
- Explode out of the bottom of the movement, the moment your knees touch the ground.
Once you’re able to get 3 sets of 10 reps with strict form, you’re ready to do your first push up!
If you have been using rings, you’re super close to getting your first couple of push ups by now!
The Regular Push Up – Reaching this progression is usually a milestone for a lot of people. But it is just the beginning of your calisthenics gains in my opinion.
You can make amazing gains in strength and size with the aforementioned progressions, especially when using gymnastics rings, as suggested.
Regardless, the humble push up has been used for ages to build massive upper bodies.
If you have rings, continue your push up progression on the rings, if you like, you can test your push ups on the floor at this point.
You will find that doing push ups on the floor is a lot easier than doing them on rings.
Key points when performing the floor push up are:
- Do not lift the hips too high, nor drop them too low.
- Make sure to stack the shoulders above the wrists throughout the movement.
- Squeeze the glutes and the abs throughout the movement.
- Get full range of motion, bring your chest to the level of your wrists (or lower if you are using your gymnastics rings).
Once you’ve unlocked and mastered your first couple of push ups, the world is your oyster.
You can now continue to practice and master your push ups as they will give you a lot of mileage in terms of building muscle and strength.
Aim to achieve 5 sets of 10 push ups with proper form before moving onto the intermediate push-up progressions.
Intermediate Bodyweight Push Up Progressions
The intermediate bodyweight push-up progression consists of 4 exercises:
- Close Grip Push Ups
- Decline Pups-Ups
- Decline Close Grip Push Ups
- Pseudo Planche Push Ups
Strength and muscle gains within this intermediate stage of your push up progression come quick and relatively easily.
Make sure to milk out the gains from each progression before moving on to the advanced stage.
Let’s discuss the exercises listed above.
Close Grip Push Ups – Close grip push ups are said to place more emphasis on the triceps.
But new research suggests that the chest is also activated to a much greater extent with closer grip variants of the push up when compared to their wide counterparts.
This data is pure gold as it allows calisthenics athletes to improve their muscle building capabilities by including closer grip variants of the push up in their workout routine.
This works extremely well for those with gymnastics rings as keeping the rings closer to the body will produce more chest and triceps stimulus while providing extra range of motion for further strength and size gains.
Close grip push ups can also be performed with grips widths narrower than shoulder width apart.
Although going too close with the grip, as with diamond push ups, can cause irritation in the wrists.
Decline push ups – Decline push ups demand more work from your upper chest and deltoids, while still placing heavy emphasis on the triceps. This makes it a harder movement to perform, while also making it more upper chest dominant than the regular push up.
The decline push up places more of your bodyweight directly on the working muscles, thus making it harder to perform than regular push ups.
To perform decline push ups, place your feet on an elevated surface, with your palms resting at a level beneath the feet.
Bring the chest as low to the floor as possible and push yourself straight back up.
The decline push up will have a shortened or reduced range of motion due to the head making contact with the floor before the chest can.
To negate this and get more range of motion, place your hands on a pair of gymnastic rings and your legs or a box or chair to elevate your feet.
You can also, use 2 short chairs or boxes to elevate the hands (thus allowing the chest to pass through for greater range of motion) while place the feet on the wall or any other elevated surface.
Both setups work to provide you with extra range of motion; one (rings of course) is more ergonomic than the other.
Decline Close Grip Push Ups – Decline close grip push ups will place more emphasis on the upper chest and shoulders, while recruiting more muscle mass from the triceps as well.
In terms of building strength, the closer grip is a mechanically disadvantageous position which places more stress on the working muscles.
Keeping a narrow grip and increasing the elevation of the legs, places a tremendous amount of your bodyweight on the working muscles, making the close grip decline push up one heck of an upper body mass builder.
Because of its potential to build the upper chest, decline close grip push-ups are an excellent tool for bodybuilding purposes. In fact, it also builds the traps as well, adding additional muscle mass to the movement.
Performing this exercise on rings will be much harder than on solid ground, but the added benefits of performing them on rings (additional ROM) still remains.
To perform this exercise, place your feet on an elevated surface.
Place your hands closer together than usual and bring your chest down to your wrists while keeping the core tight and glutes squeezed together.
Remember to maintain scapula depression throughout the movement.
Common errors include:
- Hand placement – Placing your palms too far ahead of or too far behind the shoulder joint. Your palms should be directly below the shoulder joint when performing this push up variation.
- Hip placement – Staying tight at the glutes and the core ensures that the hips don’t rise or sag while performing this exercise.
Pseudo Planche Push Ups – The pseudo planche push up is the final progression at the intermediate stage of the bodyweight push up progression system.
Pseudo planche push ups are one of the best exercises to build strength for the planche, a skill that requires exceptional levels of straight arm strength and balance.
The pseudo planche push up is called so because the feet are allowed to still be on the ground while performing this variation of the push up.
It is important to have the shoulders leaning ahead of the wrists throughout the movement.
To perform the pseudo planche push up, place your palms in a position with your fingers facing toward the side. This will alleviate any pressure being built up in the wrists.
From here, lean forward as far as you comfortably can while keeping your elbows locked out and shoulders ahead of your wrists.
Lower yourself to the ground, while making sure to depress your scapula. Once your chest touches the ground, push your entire body back up to the start position (which is the position where your shoulders are leaned forward ahead of your palms).
Pseudo planche push ups place a bigger share of your bodyweight on the chest, shoulder and triceps, thus forcing them to work harder. It places the body in a mechanically disadvantageous position to push up from.
Apart from building exceptional levels of muscle and strength, the mechanically disadvantageous position of the pseudo planche push up does the following:
- Builds tremendous straight arm strength that carries over well to other calisthenics skills like the plance.
- Builds exceptional core strength.
- Improves wrist mobility, which carries over well to calisthenics skill training.
Note: The pseudo planche push up can be made even harder by elevating the feet.
Advanced Bodyweight Push Up Progressions
Once you reach this point in your push up progression, you can branch out into 3 different specializations – Handstand push up specialization, Planche push ups specialization and the One arm push up specialization.
Each of these 3 advanced push up progressions have their own skill and strength training trees, which cannot be discussed in this article. But we will discuss the pros and cons of each specialization below.
If you want to learn about the progressions of these 3 advanced push up variations, the links below will take you to more in-depth guides on the same:
- Handstand Push Up Progression
- Planche Push Up Progression
- One Arm Push Up Progression
While it is possible to train all three push up slecializations at once, I highly recommend not pursuing the one arm push up progression.
This is because the one arm push up can lead to injury if the following two points are not kept in mind:
- Maintaining scapula depression – It is difficult to maintain scapula depression while performing the one arm push up. Scapula elevation during pressing movements can lead to shoulder impingement.
- Maintaining and executing identical form with each arm – It is extremely difficult to execute and maintain the exact same form on each hand. This makes for muscle imbalances that turn into injuries.
The aforementioned points are extremely hard to maintain for the vast majority of the lifters, which is why I don’t recommend following this path.
Also, unilateral training (training one limb at a time) is time consuming because you have to perform more sets per exercise to equally work each limb.
So what do I suggest specializing in when it comes to advanced bodyweight progressions?
Once you arrive at the advanced push up progressions, I highly recommend pursuing training the Handstand and the Planche Push Up Progressions instead of the One Arm Progression for the reasons mentioned above.
Obviously when it comes to programming these push up progressions into your calisthenics workout routine, one must be careful not to over train. But it is possible to train both push up progressions simultaneously.
The planche push up and the handstand push up are the pinnacle horizontal and vertical push up progressions when it comes to calisthenics.
Which advanced push up progression do you recommend training first?
In terms of building muscle and strength, I would personally train the handstand push up first and then transition to dips. I believe that these two exercises are irreplaceable when it comes to building muscle with calisthenics (provided you can perform both of them of course).
This brings us to my favorite and highly recommended push up progression system – The Weighted Calisthenics Push Ups Progression System.
Weighted Calisthenics push ups progression system
The weighted calisthenics progression system is by far the simplest and most effective at building maximal muscle and strength.
It relies heavily on the ring push up from the start till the end.
I have personally used this push up progression system and it works like a charm!
Weighted push ups are easy to make progress with, which means you will get bigger and stronger faster.
Weighted push ups have been notoriously difficult to load. But with the way the incline ring push up is set up, loading becomes a breeze.
This progression system picks up seamlessly from where the novice/beginner bodyweight push up progression ends – at the ring push up.
Once you’re able to perform 5 sets of 10 clean reps on the rings, you can start adding weight!
Let’s look at the ONLY way to progress with weighted push ups!
Incline Ring Weighted Push Ups – In order to take the weighted push up path, you need 3 essential pieces of equipment.
These three pieces of equipment can serve the entirety of your weighted calisthenics requirements, from beginner to advanced calisthenics athlete.
These 3 pieces of equipment are:
- Gymnastics rings (which we’ve already spoken about)
- A dipping belt like the X belt
- Weight plates or kettlebells like the X bells
All you have to do now is set up your gymnastics rings, strap on the dipping belt and weights and start performing arguably one of the best upper body push up exercises known to man.
Incline weighted push up benefits:
The incline weighted push up has the following benefits:
- It involves an immense amount of upper body muscle mass, including the muscles of the abs, serratus anterior, lower back, glutes and quads for stabilization.
- This weighted pushing movement has tremendous carryover to other strength related activities and builds a lot of upper body pushing power.
- It builds immense core strength due to the fact that you have to stabilize not just your bodyweight, but also the weight attached to the dipping belt.
- It can be progressed infinitely, without the time lag of learning a new skill in the process.
- The incline weighted push up is rare in that it is a horizontal movement that can be heavily loaded and allows free movement of the scapula. This helps beuild immense strength and stability in the shoulder girdle.
Make sure to read my in-depth article on the incline weighted push up and why I use it in my calisthenics strength training routine.
If you want to learn how to perform the push up properly, you must pay your dues by choosing and sticking with a properly planned progression system.
Both push up progression systems listed above (bodyweight and weighted) have their own benefits, but one will always be better than the other in terms of building more muscle and strength.
Whichever you choose, make sure to pay attention to proper form and make sure to stick to your chosen path until you achieve your chosen push up variant.