Easy Push Up Progressions for Every Level

Think you can’t do a full push up on your toes? Wrong!

Maybe you’re too scared to try. Maybe your hands are in the wrong position. Maybe no one has ever taken the time to show you how to CRUSH those push ups.

And maybe your time as a push up pro starts NOW.

Whether you’re on your knees, on your toes or laying flat on your belly, I’ve got push up progressions to help master the basics, build strength and advance your technique. You’ll be pumping out reps from your toes in no time.

Why are push ups so good?

  • They are a full body move. In just one rep, you’ll work your core, legs, glutes, biceps, triceps, chest and back. If you thought push ups were just for the guys, or just for arm-day, think again!
  • Stronger shoulders, core and back = better posture = less lower back pain. Winning.
  • Better spinal alignment helps counteract hours in the car, at your desk, on your phone or hunched over your laptop.
  • Push ups can give you carved arms, lean abs and a defined back – if you do them properly.
  • Smash out reps and sets, and you’ll elevate your heart rate so you’ll increase your cardiovascular fitness. Strength and cardio in one smart move!

Push up tips & techniques

To master your perfect push ups, you’ve got to position your body right.

For these push up progressions, think:

  • Wrists under shoulders, fingers splayed and weight distributed through your entire hand
  • Body weight forward over your hands – if you have your hands in front of your body weight, you won’t be able to get full depth
  • Keep elbows close to waist so they shoot behind you like arrows. Not arms and elbows wide and shooting out to the sides.
  • Head in neutral – lead with your chest, not your head!
  • Squeeze abs, legs and glutes to help get you back up from the ground. I promise it works, especially when you start to get tired.

For video demonstrations of all these progressions, view here.

1. Push up progressions – start here!

Push up basics: Plank hold

Can’t even do a single push up? Master the plank hold first.

Wrists under shoulders, head in neutral, belly button into spine and HOLD. Film yourself or get someone to take a photo to make sure you’re not dipping or arching in the middle.

I always tell my classes, “If I put your water bottle on your back, would it stay there or roll off?” You want your back to be broad and flat like a coffee table. Now hold.

Make it harder: Full body contraction. Set a timer, and for 10-15 seconds, squeeze every muscle in your body as hard as you possibly can. Tummy, arms, back, glutes, toes, even your face – contract every damn thing and hold it.

Push up basics: Incline push ups

Brace your hands on a box, bench, bar, the wall – elevate your hands from ground level and you’ll make your push up easier. You choose how high to place your hands, and how far away to position your feet. A steeper angle makes for an easier push up (hands on the wall, feet in closer). A wider angle makes your push up more challenging (hands on a low step, feet out in plank position).

Work down from a more upright position to almost flat, then drop to your knees for knee push ups.

Push up basics: Knees

Next, you’re ready to drop to your knees and push up from here. Keep your body weight forward, don’t sit back into your hips or heels. Keep elbows close to your waist – don’t push them out to the side and bob your head up and down.

Try to get full depth if you’re pushing from your knees. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll just end up laying down. And we all need a bit more of that in our day.


2. Push up development – build strength next

Push up development (strength building): Eccentric

Now you’re ready to build strength.

There are two parts people fail in the full push up – controlling the descent (eccentric), and pushing up out of the bottom of the move.

Here we’re controlling the eccentric portion and building strength through your arms, back and core. Even if you are already pumping out toe push ups, eccentrics are brilliant to work into your training for adding strength, control and power.

To do it: Get in a high plank. Slowly lower your body to the ground for a count of 3. Push back up for a count of 1. If you can’t push up from the ground on your toes, let your knees hit the ground then push back from there to return to the high plank. Repeat.

Push up development (strength building): Hand release

The next step in your push up progression is strength development from the bottom portion of the movement – pushing up from the ground. Hand release push ups take the momentum out of the exercise, so you can focus on your strength and technique.

To do it: Lower to the ground. Release your hands and reset them directly under your shoulders. Contract your abs and puuuush back up to high plank. Repeat.

3. Push up progression to advanced – pump out the reps!

Push up progression (advanced): Toe push ups

You’re ready to rumble – don’t forget these tips:

  • Elbows shoot behind you like arrows
  • Squeeze abs, glutes and thighs to help return from the bottom position
  • Keep your head in neutral, eye gaze just slightly forward of you. Don’t arch your neck or nod your head up and down.
Push up progression_weighted push up

Push up progression (advanced): Push up with added weight

Well check you out, push up pro! To make your full push ups even harder, add a weight. I highly recommend weight plates rather than small, non-compliant dogs, but you do you.

And if you’re adding a weight plate at the gym, the traditional black plates are much less slippery than the coloured bumper plates you might be using for your deadlifts or hip thrusts. Position the plate right in the centre of your back where it’s nice and flat – not in the lower portion where your spine naturally curves.

Make it harder: You can also try decline push ups where you elevate your feet on a box to make the angle more challenging. Or hand stand push ups if you’re seriously boss.

Did these tips help? Let me know. And tag me on Insta in your push up progress pics!

(And if anyone wants to borrow Maxie for weighted push ups, email me at courtney@athletist.com.au ?)


Get free goodies! Recipes, workouts and more, fresh weekly.

Before you go!

Grab my 7 Day Meal Plan – full of delish recipes to fuel your workout and give you energy to crush your day.