Doing pushups from the floor can be a daunting task if you’re a beginner. On the other hand, regular pushups can be too easy for the advanced exerciser.
Luckily, these three pushup workouts can take you from zero to hero in the pushup department or give you a new challenge if you’ve been rocking regular pushups for a while.
For all three workouts, you’ll use what’s called a “mechanical drop set.” Basically, you’ll do three exercises in a row, each of which is slightly easier than the previous one. This allows you to keep working even as you fatigue, so you’ll build more strength in less time.
Perform each exercise until you’re about two reps shy of failure. If you couldn’t do another rep with good form, you’ve gone too far. Then, move on to the next exercise and repeat.
Hands-Elevated Pushup: As many reps as possible (stop at two shy of failure)
Shoulder Taps: As many reps as possible (stop at two shy of failure)
High Plank: Hold as long as possible (stop just before your hips start to sag or your elbows start to bend)
Rest 1–2 minutes, then repeat for 3–4 rounds total.
Exercise #1: Hands-Elevated Pushup
The hands-elevated pushup is the best way to progress toward doing pushups on the floor. By placing your hands on an elevated surface such as a box, bench or wall, you can work through a full range of motion, which can’t be said for pushups on your knees.
Make sure to keep a straight line from head to toe by squeezing your glutes, bracing your abs and making a double chin. As you lower yourself to the box, imagine pulling yourself down chest-first using your shoulder blades. Don’t let your head poke forward or hips sag, and be sure to keep your elbows tucked at about 45 degrees from your sides.
Aim to lower your hands over time as you get stronger, and eventually you’ll be able to do pushups on the floor.
Exercise #2: Shoulder Taps
As mentioned before, pushups require a ton of core control to prevent the hips from sagging or rotating. Shoulder taps challenge your abs and glutes to keep your hips still, all while building stability in the shoulders as your hands leave the ground.
Set up as you would for the top of a pushup, but move your feet slightly wider. As you lift one hand off the floor, push the opposite hand through the ground to maintain a solid position.
Exercise #3: High Plank
After the first two exercises, your shoulders and core will be fatigued. To finish them off, simply hold the top of the pushup (known as a high plank). If that’s too easy, you can lift one leg slightly off the ground to increase the demand on your core. Just be sure not to let your lower back arch or your head poke forward.
Exercise #1: Hand-Release Pushup
As you get stronger, you’ll want to focus on lowering yourself into a good pushup position. This means learning to control your shoulders, elbows and core. If you’re not quite strong enough to push yourself back up yet, that’s OK. The hand-release pushup lets you take your hands off the floor at the bottom and explosively push back up, using a little momentum to get through the hardest part of the movement.
With this exercise, be careful not to let your lower back arch when you take your hands off the floor. Also, keep your shoulder blades in your back pockets when your chest is on the floor to avoid rounding your shoulders forward.
Exercise #2: Hand Switches
Much like shoulder taps, hand switches challenge your core and shoulder stability as you aim to keep a perfect straight line from head to toe. By adding a side-to-side motion, you’ll learn that it takes tremendous focus to keep your hips from swaying or sagging.
Keep your feet in one spot the whole time so only your hands are moving. Continue to squeeze your abs and glutes while maintaining a double chin.
Exercise #3: Bear Crawls
Bear crawls combine the core challenge of hand switches with a little extra shoulder mobility. By learning to reach out through the shoulder blade, you’ll improve shoulder function by getting your shoulder blade to glide along your rib cage, a motion that’s often lost due to poor posture or overuse.
Each time your hand hits the floor, imagine pushing your upper back toward the ceiling. The goal is to keep the shoulder blades far apart and not let them pinch together.
Exercise #1: Feet-Elevated Pushup
If you’re crushing pushups on the floor with ease, up the ante by elevating your feet on a box or bench. This increase in range of motion makes the movement much harder, especially when it comes to keeping your shoulders and core in a good position.
Make sure to squeeze your abs and glutes to prevent your lower back from sagging, and aim your chest for the floor first. The added range of motion makes it easy to poke your head forward first, so make a double chin to put your neck, arms and shoulder blades in alignment.
Exercise #2: 1-Leg Pushup
By taking one foot off the ground, a regular pushup becomes an adventure in core control. Your hips will want to rotate to the side of the leg that’s on the ground, so be sure to squeeze your belly and glutes to lock your hips into place. Imagine keeping your belly button pointed toward the floor the entire time.
Exercise #3: Inchworm
Inchworms involve the entire body, forcing you to maintain a straight line from your fingers to your toes. The goal is to walk your hands out as far as possible without letting your lower back arch. This takes plenty of core and shoulder stability, so start slow and gradually walk your hands out further as you get stronger.
As you return to the starting position, be sure to let your knees bend slightly so they don’t hyperextend.
Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, and a personal trainer in Providence, RI. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.