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Push Up Progression (12 Week Guide)

Achieve your push up goals at home in 12 weeks! This free 12-week push up guide will help you build upper body and core strength so you can master push ups from your toes with proper form. I personally used this push up progression guide to master 100 push ups from my toes.



 

Push ups are one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises for women because they’re a total body exercise, emphasizing the chest, arms and core.

Chest exercises are often skipped by women. There’s a misconception that since women have breasts, they don’t need to train the chest muscles or pectoralis muscles.

But a strong chest supports good posture and helps build upper body strength, which can improve your workouts in the long run.

Achieving a solid push up takes as much time and consistency as achieving unassisted pull ups. Both are challenging bodyweight exercises — and proper form is important to avoid injury. As you’re working on push ups, you want to effectively strengthen your muscles while avoiding common mistakes.

Women in the starting position of a full push up, with hands shoulder width apart and her spine in a straight line. | Push up progression.

When I set a goal to master push ups, I used a specific formula and step-by-step process to improve my form and get from 0 to 100 push ups. I found two keys to a successful push up program:

Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, one of the first things to do is set realistic expectations. On average, it can take 12 weeks to drop an incline if you’re working on your push ups. It might take you 6-12 months of consistent push up work to nail your first push up from your toes. But when you do, you’ll be so proud of your accomplishment! 

Women performing an elevated push up from an incline using a box with arms shoulder width apart. To show a modification for a push up progression in 12 weeks.

Push Up Progression FAQs

What Is A Push Up?

A push up is a bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the the chest (pectoralis major), triceps, shoulders and core. To do a push up, start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Keep the elbows slightly bent and your feet hip-width distance apart. Engage your core, slowly bending your elbows to lower your chest to the floor until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Then push back up through your hands to return to a high plank. The push up is a great compound exercise as it engages many muscle groups at once.

What Are The Benefits of Push Ups?

While lifting weights is an important part of any fitness routine, bodyweight exercises are also beneficial. Push ups use your bodyweight as resistance, making them a versatile and functional exercise that can be done anywhere. By building strength in your upper body and core, push ups can improve your posture.

How Long Does It Take To Progress Push Ups?

Push ups are very challenging. They take consistency and time to complete with good form, so setting realistic expectations is key. On average, it can take 12 weeks to drop an incline if you’re working on your push ups. It might take you 6-12 months of consistent time to master a proper push up from your toes. But don’t let that discourage you; this push up progression guide can help you achieve your push up goals.

Will Push Ups Ever Get Easier?

If your goal is to master push ups, you have to work on them consistently — but they will get easier over time. Start with a variation to build upper body and core strength. I recommend adding an incline by placing your hands on a countertop, bench or box. Gradually lower that incline over time as you build strength.

Step-By-Step Push Up Guide

Step 1: Incline Push Ups

Adding an incline to push ups allows you to practice the movement while decreasing the stress on your upper body and core. This will help you maintain proper form as you build strength. Incline push ups:

  • Train your body in a proper push up position.
  • Take your body through a full range of motion.
  • Promote better core engagement.
  • Provide options to increase or decrease the intensity.

Start with a higher incline that provides enough assistance for you to perform multiple push ups. Avoid starting at a lower incline that will only allow you to complete one rep.

Women setting up for an incline push up in a high plank during an elevated push up progression guide.

By following the 12-week program outlined below, you’ll work to increase the volume of repetitions you can perform as you gradually find increasingly lower surfaces to place your hands on.

Note, the higher the incline, the easier the push up should be. So you lower or drop the incline as you build strength over time.

How To Do An Incline Push Up

Women doing elevated push ups from an incline with hands slightly wider than shoulder width distance apart. Push up progressions program | Push ups
  1. Stand in front of your bench. The higher the surface, the easier the push up will be.
  2. Plant your hands on the bench and step back into a high plank position. Shoulders are stacked over wrists, neutral spine.
  3. Hold this incline plank position, maintaining a straight line with your body, as you slowly lower your chest towards the bench. Lead with your chest, elbows fall about 6 inches away from your body (not out to the sides).
  4. Once at the bottom of your push up, exhale as you push back up into high plank position.

Once you find an incline that allows you to perform 8 repetitions of push ups for x3 sets, you’re ready to move onto step two: linear periodization (comprehensive push-up training program).

Women in the starting position of a incline push up | push up progression.

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Step 2: Linear Periodization

Once you choose an incline level that allows you to complete 8 repetitions of assisted push ups for x3 sets, you can follow the 12-week push-up program below.

Note, that you can always scale the number or repetitions. For example, start with 7-8 reps x3 sets. Start where you are and personalize this formula to fit your needs. 

Repeat the 12-week program, lowering the incline after 12 weeks. Continue the pattern until you’re able to complete the program with a standard push up, with no incline.

Women holding a full push up from her toes. Push ups | Push Up Progressions program

When it comes to mastering push ups, volume of training is more important than your maximum number of reps. Again, consistency over time is what compounds.

12-Week Push Up Program

Add this program to your workout routine 2-3 times each week. This is a sample, but you can start at 5 or 6 reps if needed rather than 8, just follow the same formula by adding 2 reps to your base at each de-load.

Week 1: 8 reps x 3 sets
Week 2: 8 reps x 4 sets
Week 3: 8 reps x 5 sets

(De-load): add 2 reps but move back to 3 sets

Week 4: 10 reps x 3 sets
Week 5:
10 reps x 4 sets
Week 6: 10 reps x 5 sets

(De-load): add 2 reps but move back to 3 sets

Week 7: 12 reps x 3 sets
Week 8:
12 reps x 4 sets
Week 9: 12 reps x 5 sets

(De-load): add 2 reps but move back to 3 sets

Week 10: 14 reps x 3 sets
Week 11:
14 reps x 4 sets
Week 12: 14 reps x 5 sets

Once you complete the 12-week program, you should drop the incline lower and start from the top. Continue the pattern until you’re able to complete the program with no incline.

How To Do A Push Up

Targets: Chest, shoulders, triceps, back, abs and core muscles.

two women performing push ups on the ground
  1. Start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, weight evenly distributed amongst all 10 fingers. Pull your kneecaps up towards your belly, feet hip-width apart. Option to place your hands on weights if you have wrist pain.
  2. Hold this plank position, maintaining a straight line with your body, gaze slightly in front of you.
  3. Slowly lower your chest down towards the ground as your elbows fall back towards your hips (not out to the sides).
  4. Once at the bottom of your push up, exhale as you push back up into high plank position.

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