The Push-up – Tutorials and Progressions

As outlined in Roam Strong’s workout program, you progress by completing increasingly more challenging variants of an exercise. Below are the progressions of the Push-up.

(For Step 1 through 13. See Table of Contents for the rest)

(For Step 16: One-Armed Push-up example)

Mastering the push-up is one of the wisest fitness decisions that you will ever make. An essential exercise to nearly every program, the humble push-up can improve upper body strength, strengthen your core, shred fat, and discover muscular imbalances. It engages nearly every muscle in your body, making it one of the best bang-for-your-time exercises. Best of all, you can do them anywhere! You need only enough space for your body and firm ground.

This article will teach you how to correctly do a push-up with proper technique, and include ways to progress up to it, and beyond it.

What is a Push-up?

Push-ups are a horizontal pushing exercise. They improve a person’s ability to direct energy away from them, as in a punch or pushing with both arms forward. They also train the ability to absorb impact as you fall onto your arms.

What Muscles Are Used in a Push-up?

The primary muscles used in a push-up are the chest, triceps, and front shoulder muscles. Other affected muscles are the abs, lower back, and upper back (for stabilization).

Why Should I Push-up? Benefits of Push-Ups

I consider push-ups the keystone of all exercise. They are simple to learn, and there are ways to make them much harder once you can do them easily.

If you do just two exercises, the Push-up and the Squat are my recommendations because there are no excuses to not do them and they cover a wide breadth of muscle and movement. They build a fitness habit like no other.

Here are practical reasons why I love push-ups:

  • Works your entire upper body: This hits every muscle in your chest, triceps, shoulders, biceps (sorta), upper/middle/lower back (for stability on the eccentric portion), and core (for stability).
  • Better than benching: Bench Press is the big lift for horizontal pushing and chest/tricep work. A lot of people injure their shoulders and elbows due to overzealous ambitions. Push-ups are inherently safer as a closed-chain knietic exercise, even if you stack weight up on yourself. So, you get the same benefits, in a more functional form (about halfway down the page), that you can do anywhere! I’ve entirely replaced benching in my routine in favor of push-ups and dips.
  • Habit forming: I am addicted to push-ups. Watching TV? Do a set of push-ups! Waiting for soup to boil? Push-ups! Perhaps too many TV/cartoon shows had me believing I could be superhumanly strong by throwing in these mini-sets, but one thing is for sure – they helped me build the fitness habit, kept me active when I wasn’t working out, and made the process fun.
  • No equipment = no excuses: This applies to all of the exercises in the GainTrain Workout, but being independent of equipment means people stick to it and start to enjoy it.


Push-up Technique

To do a push-up, get into a face-down prone position. Keep your feet together. Place your hands near your shoulders, elbows pointed out and back at 45 degrees. Your middle fingers and elbows should be in the same line to prevent wrist strain and maintain a stronger line of energy from arm-to-floor.


From here, push your bodyweight off the ground using your arms and chest. Specifically, you’re pushing with your triceps, your chest, and your shoulders. Try to focus the pushing through the arms. Keep your lower back, abs, and butt just engaged enough to keep your body stable. Imagine your body is a straight line when pushing up to get the proper feeling!


From here, just go back down, then push back up. Here are some other helpful cues for push-ups in the 1-8 rep rage:

  • Stance: Hands on the floor in a line, feet together
  • Toes: Both feet touching each other
  • Knees: Straight and stable. Your knees do not bend during any push-up variant
  • Head: Whatever is in line with your spine. Looking about 45 degrees in front of you works best. Avoid tilting your head up or down too far.
  • Breath: Inhale as you descend from the starting position. Hold your breath at the bottom. Push-up as you continue to hold your breath. Exhale when you reach the top. Feel free to pause at the top to inhale and exhale before continuing with the set.

For 8+ reps, you may want more aerobic capacity. In that case, your breathing should be inhaling on descent, and exhaling when pushing up.

Push-up Progressions

Step 1: Wall Push-up

1 Wall Pushup 1
Starting Position. Note, I’m on my toes and my hands are a little below my chest.
Wall Pushup 2
Bottom Position. Try to feel tension in the triceps and chest, followed by the shoulders.

Step 2: High Incline Push-up

High Incline Pushup 1
Starting Position. I should have gotten a bigger chair since my hands are pretty close together and not flat!
High Incline Pushup 2
Bottom Position. I recommend a longer object (like a bench or a couch) so you don’t have the chair in your face.

Step 3: Low Incline Push-up

Low Incline Pushup
Starting Position. Maintain a straight bodyline throughout.


Low Incline Pushup 2
Bottom Position. Notice how my elbows aren’t flaring out to the side.

Step 4: Push-up (Benchmark Skill)

Pushup Position
Bottom Position. Note the elbow position. Not flaring out. They are in the same imaginary line as my middle finger.

Step 5: Close Push-up/Diamond Push-up

Close Pushups
Bottom Position. My hands together form a ^ shape. Elbows are tucked close.


Step 6: Wide Push-up

Wide Pushup
Bottom Position. Elbows should form a 90-ish degree angle at the bottom to be considered “Wide”

Step 7: Low Decline Push-up

Low Decline Pushup
Top Position
Low Decline Pushup 2
Bottom Position

Step 8: Low Decline Close Push-up

Forgot pics! Imagine the Low Decline Push-up, but with the diamond “^ “hand position.

Step 9: Low Decline Wide Push-up

9 - Low Decline Wide Pushup
Top Position. My hands are wider apart. At the bottom of the push-up, my elbows should form a 90-ish degree angle.
ow Decline Wide Pushup 2
Bottom Position

Step 10: High Decline Push-up

High Decline Pushup
Top Position. I tell traniees to find an object that puts their bodyline perpendicular to the floor. A little more or less won’t hurt.
High Decline Pushup 2
Bottom Position. Make sure your object is stable. Keep more pressure in your upper body rather than your toes.

Step 11: High Decline Close Push-up

I just keep forgetting the Close Push-up variants. I’ll try to take some photos some day.

Step 12: High Decline Wide Push-up

High Decline Wide Pushup
Top Position
High Decline Wide Pushup 2
Bottom Position

Step 13: Wall One-Armed Push-up

Top Position. I grab my hamstring, but it's easier to fold your non-working arm , palm facing away, into your lower back. Better balance.
Top Position. I grab my hamstring, but it’s easier to fold your non-working arm, palm facing away, into your lower back. Gives you better balance. Tense your ENTIRE BODY for this exercise for more summoned strength.
One-Armed Wall Pushup 2
Bottom Position. Note how the left side of my body is slightly rotated towards my active arm. That makes it harder. For easier push-up, rotate your active side INTO the active arm.

Step 14: High Incline One-Armed Push-up

High Incline One-Armed Pushup
Top Position. Note I folded my chair cushion up. You want (need) that stability. You’re putting a lot of force down into that object. It better have a sturdy grip on the floor. The surface touching your hand cannot be sliding all over the place.
High Incline One-Armed Pushup 2
Bottom Position

Step 15: Low Incline One-Armed Push-up

Low Incline One-Armed Pushup
Top Position. Note that my right side leans away from my active (left) arm. My left side leans into my left arm. This is for balance.
 Low Incline One-Armed Pushup 2
Bottom Position. Focus on squeezing your tricep and chest, AND tense up your ENTIRE BODY. Though you are balanced on one arm, tensing the rest of yourself will give you extra strength and stability.

Step 16: One-Armed Push-up (Hallmark Skill)

Ah, the hallmark One-Armed Push-up. Made famous by the likes of Jack LaLanne and Rocky Balboa, the One-Armed Push-up is a testament to raw and technical power. Let’s get started on accomplishing this feat of strength.

16 - One Armed Push-up 1
Starting Position. Note, I rotate my body slightly away from my pushing arm. That means I am torquing CLOCKWISE while I balance on my RIGHT ARM. Make sure you feel a bit of torquing tension before you go down.
Doing a One Armed Push-up
Halfway down. Tension is currently in my right arm and chest, going in a diagonal line towards my left foot. If I lifted my right leg, I would still be balanced and powerful.
16 - One Armed Push-up 3
Ending Position. There’s lots of tension felt in my tricep and chest. I’m keeping my back and leg tensed for stability. From here, I push through my chest, back, and tricep as I torque my torso clockwise (since I’m on my right arm).
16 - One Armed Push-up 4
POWERING UPWARDS! I’m driving power through my chest, tricep, and back. I’m stabilizing with my shoulder, back, abs, and legs. Se how my torso twisted away from my pressing hand? That’s mostly for balance.
16 - One Armed Push-up 5
Back to starting position. Already feeling it!


Because I love the one-armed push-up so much, I’ve included a video for your viewing pleasure. This will show you how it looks in motion. Once you can nail 4×8 One-Armed Push-ups, congratulations! This skill is pretty highly coveted and requires a combination of pressing strength, balance, coordination, and coolness.

Step X: Beyond One-Armed Push-ups

After you can nail 4×8 One-Armed Push-ups, you have a few options to consider depending on your goals:

  1. High Reps: If you want to build up your muscular endurance, continue training with One-Armed Push-ups and normal Push-ups for repetitions. Try to blast out 4 sets of 20+! The challenge never ends, and you will maintain the muscles in your arms and chest. This doubles as a sweet bragging right!
  2. Weighted Push-ups: If you have a backpack, weights, or a person to sit on your back, you can make two-handed push-ups more challenging by adding weight. There is no greater feeling that slamming out a set of 10 push-ups with a friend on your back.  (A bonus tip for weightlifters: this is a great option if you’ve injured your shoulder on the bench.  Push-ups are much more forgiving on impingement due to the closed kinetic chain nature of the exercise)
  3. Weights: the natural analogy to this movement is the Bench Press, the favorite among those who lift weights. Bench Pressing is one method to continue developing your horizontal pressing strength via chest and triceps.


Common Push-up Mistakes

Push-up mistakes are more common than I would like. I’ve seen some awful, and downright silly push-up forms. Here’s a list of things to avoid:

1. Staring Ahead

This doesn’t quite change the push-up, but it can lead to neck strain. It’s much better to keep your head in a neutral position! I admit that I am guilty of looking dead forward on habit. Don’t be me. Be better than me.

Bad form push-up
My eyes are looking forward (bad), and my spinal alignment isn’t straight-ish (bad).



Good form push-up
Eyes neutrally on the floor (good), body line is straight (good)


2. “Crucifix Push-ups”

Pretend you are shaped like a T.  Now rotate your arms in front of you. That’s the position you should not be doing. For the untrained, this is bad for your shoulders and other joints. Instead, you’ll want to drop your arms slightly below your shoulders. Note that there is a “Crucifix Push-up” exercise that essentially has you pushing up with just your shoulders… that is far beyond this push-up tutorial. Maybe some day, I’ll post about it here!

Crucifix pushups
My arms are perpendicular (they form a T) with my spine (bad).
Normal, non-T pushup
My arms aren’t perpendicular to my back. My shoulders are a little forward, and hands a little back (good)


3. Hunching Your Back

There are two offenses here. One is caving in too far, as you saw in the first mistake:

Bad form push-up
My back is caving in a bit (bad). Keep it tight!



And one is caving out too far:

Rounded back pushup
My back is hunching (baaad). This makes push-ups easier. You don’t want to do that (unless accidentally).


racehorse pushup
Neiiiigh! I’m a hoooorse! (bad)

“Caving” is considered less effective and less safe. Struggling through the last push-up of a set like this may be OK (sometimes, form crumbles a little, and you want to keep up intensity!), but never make this a default.



Ending Thoughts

Push-ups are an iconic, safe, and practical compound exercise for everyone. They encourage good upper body pushing strength, promote upper body flexibility, maintain good elbow and shoulder health, and can be done anywhere (especially while watching TV)! What I really like about them is the nostalgia factor: one-armed push-ups are a hallmark skill of the toughest anime and movie characters. I loved imagining I was training just like them… and in the end, I built a body that sometimes surpasses even my fictional heroes. How cool is that?!

Enough gushing. Master the push-up, and never be gymless.

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3 replies on “The Push-up – Tutorials and Progressions”

In your main article you have photos of your chest; did you get that definition from push-ups alone? You mention you replaced bench entirely. I’ve been juggling benching as well as push-ups and benching hasn’t been fun for my shoulders or wrists so thinking of taking the plunge as well.

In that article, I primarily did push-ups and dips. I did do dumbbell bench when I was traveling and had no access to a dip bar and a dip belt. Hitting different angles of push-ups does, consistency of habit, and adequate nutrition (aka, protein and sleep) works wonders.

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