Words by Kelsey Cannon
We all agree that the pushup is a great exercise. But if your routine consists of just doing as many reps as possible, you aren’t getting the most you can out of this movement.
Take your ground game to the next level with the following 8 routines. Some are merciless muscle tests, and others are just plain fun, but they’ll all help you get more on the floor—than ever before.
(First, make sure you’re performing a pushup with perfect form. Here’s The Right Way to Do a Pushup.)
Why it works: Performing an ascending ladder—in which you add one rep of an exercise every round—forces your muscles to work longer and harder while battling fatigue, says Andy Speer, C.S.C.S., co-owner of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City, and creator of The Anarchy DVD Workout.
Speer recommends doing two movements that work opposing muscle groups—like your chest and your back—during a ladder. That’ll give each set of muscles a brief chance to rest while the other one works, so you can crank out even more reps.
Do it: Alternate between the pushup and supine floor slide (watch the video below to see how to perform the movement with perfect floor).
Do one pushup, and then immediately flip over on to your back and perform one floor slide. Without resting, perform two pushups and two floor slides. Repeat this process until you reach 10 reps of both exercises. Each week, try adding one more “rung” to your ladder.
Why it works: Performing just the lowering portion of an exercise causes more muscle damage than the lifting phase.
In order to repair the damage, your body builds stronger, bigger muscle fibers, according to BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., cocreator of Body Battle, a cutting-edge workout DVD that challenges you to outperform two of the world’s top trainers.
Do it: You’ll do 12 reps of the pushup. For each rep, take 3 to 5 seconds to lower your chest to the floor.
When you reach the bottom, rest your knees on the floor, and then push up with your arms so you’re on all fours. Then return to a full pushup position by straightening your leg, and prepare for you next rep.
THE LONG GAME
Why it works: When you do a normal pushup, the floor stops your chest from going any further. Your muscles are working along a fixed range of motion.
But when you hold a pushup at an extended range of motion—past where your chest would normally stop—you’re stretching your pec muscles under load, says Speer.
Doing this can incite a process called hyperplasia, which causes new muscle fibers to grow at the ends of the muscle.
“It’s an often overlooked area to add total volume to the muscle,” he says. (Note: If the extended range of motion hurts your shoulders, skip this routine.)
Do it: Get into pushup position, but place your hands onto two low boxes or medicine balls, instead of the floor.
Perform 10 reps in a row, and then hold your arms so your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle for 10 seconds. Without resting, perform as many reps in a row as possible, and then hold your arms so your elbows are bent at an angle just below 90 degrees for 10 seconds.
Finally, do as many reps as possible in a row, and then lower yourself so your chest hovers just above the floor. Hold for 10 seconds.
Do this no more than once a week. (If you feel any painful pulling or tugging around your joints, stop immediately.)
THE PEC POPPER
Why it works: Performing plyometric exercises—or explosive movements—at the end of your workout helps to zero in on your Type II muscle fibers, the ones that have the greatest potential for growth, says Speer.
“When you completely fatigue all of your muscle fibers—Type I and Type II— during your workout, and then attempt a fast, explosive movement, your muscles are forced to fire your Type II fibers,” he explains.
Do it: Perform 10 reps of plyometric pushups by pressing up from the down position so explosively that your hands leave the floor. Land softly each time.
Once you’ve done 10 reps, rest for 30 seconds.
Next, do eight reps, and then rest for 30 seconds. Finally, complete six reps, and then rest for 30 seconds.
Work up to higher rep ranges by adding one pushup to each set over your next five workouts. Do this one to two times a week.
Note: You’ll want to stay at top speed for the biggest payoff. If you start to slow down, rest 5 to 10 seconds before continuing.
Why it works: Squeezing your arms together in front of your body maximally engages your chest muscles throughout the entire rep, says Gaddour. This will help you hit often-neglected muscle fibers at the outer edges of your pecs.
Do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and place them longways next to each other so both hands of each dumbbell are touching each other.
Grip the dumbbell handles (your palms should be facing each other) and squeeze them together as hard as you can while performing a pushup.
Do pushups this way for a minute straight. Never stop squeezing the dumbbells together. After one minute of work, rest for one minute. That’s 1 round. Repeat 3 to 5 more times.
THE 5-ALARM BURNER
Why it works: Your muscles can handle more weight during the eccentric—or lowering—portion of a pushup than in the concentric, or lifting, part of the movement. That’s because your muscles are working with gravity as opposed to against it.
By focusing on the eccentric, you’ll be able to do additional reps, recruiting more muscle fibers and spurring more growth.
Do it: Perform as many reps of a standard pushup as you can with perfect form. Remember that number. Then perform as many eccentric pushups as you can.
For each rep, take 3 to 5 seconds to lower your chest to the floor with each rep. When your chest reaches the bottom, place your knees on the floor and press your chest up so you are on all fours. Straighten your legs to return to a pushup position.
Try to match the number of eccentric reps to the number of standard reps you completed. Rest for one to two minutes, and repeat then if you’re able.
Why it works: Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments build up elastic energy as you lower into a pushup, says Gaddour. This energy helps your muscle spring back up to the starting position.
But starting from a dead stop at the bottom of the movement eliminates your ability to produce elastic energy. Therefore, you must generate maximum force by activating the greatest number of fast-twitch fibers as possible, he says.
Do it: Lie face down on the floor with your arms extended out to your sides perpendicular to your torso. Your body should form a “T.”
Quickly move your hands directly underneath your armpits, and then immediately press your body off the floor so you are in a pushup position. Your body should stay in a straight line from your head to your heels the entire time. Now reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
Do as many reps as you can with good form, making sure to form a “T” each time. Perform three to five sets, resting 60 seconds between each set. Do this two to three times a week.
Why it works: Keeping your muscle in a fixed position—an isometric hold—increases the time it’s under tension, which can promote muscle growth, says Gaddour.
And since you’re stopping at your weakest point—at the bottom of the pushup—you’re reducing the amount of elastic energy in your muscles, he says.
Do it: Perform as many pushups as possible. For each rep, you’ll lower for one second, pause for four seconds with your chest hovering above the floor, and then push up to top for one second.