The push-up is yet another one of those tricky exercises to progress in. Many people will simply try to do more each day without really having a plan. I've found that when you use what's called daily undulating periodisation, which varies the reps, sets, resistance through the week, you'll see your body adapting quicker while also feeling well recovered.
It is worth noting that just like with all fitness approaches it will depend on the individual how well it works. Some people see steep improvements, others see slower progress. Often, if progress is slow or even slowing, it's good to first ask yourself if you could be doing too many other things. It's a common problem which impacts the quality of your recovery. More stuff is often more fluff and is likely holding you back.
About the "Workouts"
You'll notice the push-up workouts have different rep ranges. This means you'll load the exercises differently from day to day. Lower reps will call for more load (making them harder), higher reps will require lighter loads (making them easier), but with the idea that you still choose a level that allows you do complete all the reps with good form, that leave 1-2 good reps in the tank.
For push-ups this means using different levels of incline to achieve the desired load. For high rep ranges, a higher incline is encouraged; for low reps use less of an incline. For people who are already doing floor-level push-ups, you may have to add external weight or a decline for the super low reps. It can require some experimentation to get it right.
The good thing about this approach is that you're not always working in really difficult levels of resistance so avoid burnout. Plus, you're stimulating your muscles and nervous system in a variety of ways which will help adaptation and will often help you progress more quickly than if you just did 3 sets of 10 several times per week.
Below is a rough guide to rep ranges so you understand what my rationale is for each push-up day. Each week you'll have a heavy day, a moderate day, and a light day. Even though you may think push-ups are a strength exercise, they actually fall into an area of strength endurance so there's an overlap between all these training adaptations/goals. That's why we're doing reps in all ranges 😀
More (eg 2-5 mins)
Moderate (30-90 secs)
Less (<30 secs)
How to do Push-Ups
Here's another look at the push-up tutorial covering the standard variation. While the standard version is your best bet if you've yet to see vast improvement in your floor-level push-ups, you are also free vary your hand position, or do a different version.
What if you can nearly do full floor-level push-ups?
If you're almost getting that full range floor push-up or can do a few decent one, you may wonder what to do for on the low rep/high load days when the full ones become too challenging but the incline ones are too easy. At that point, you can use a partial push-up (or of course a very slight incline).
Your choices of partial push-up:
--> Towel or block Push-up: Place a rolled-up towel or a block/book on the floor to help you modify the depth you lower to. Just lower until your chest taps it and push-back up. Over time, you'll be able to make this block thinner to increase your range of movement. However, bear in mind: this will likely cause you to slow your tempo more, so I suggest only using these sparingly because they will carry high fatigue.
--> Negative Push-up: Lower yourself to the floor and either assist yourself back up not doing a push-up (so you only work the downward half), or lower in a full-push-up position and then go from your knees on the way back up. When lowering, try not to go super slowly. Again, this approach will just tire you out and you'll lose your positioning (core will sag, shoulders will fatigue, and your neck may feel achy).
When to do the push-ups
If you're following other workouts you should do the push-up add-on after your warm-up before any other upper body exercises. Especially the low rep days since they will need the most energy. Think of push-ups as your main goal, so place them first on the list.
If there happen to be other push-ups in the workout you're doing, replace them with Plank Climbers, Floor Press, or Pike Push-ups so you're not hitting push-ups twice on the same day. But it's ok to do another similar movement as this could boost your upper body strength and conditioning.
If you plan on doing these on different days from your main workouts, try to leave 1 day between them so you get adequate recovery. While it won't kill you to do them on consecutive days, it's generally better practice to leave a space.
Print off your PDF below and then be sure to test and record your baseline. How many push-ups, at the most challenging level (for you right now), can you do in 1 set? Note the reps and the incline and anything else of interest (like mindset, tempo, areas that fatigue first etc). Oh, and if you want to go one step further with your baseline: film it. This will give you something to look back on after 4 weeks so you can re-film at the same level and see how much easier they are. Or you can always book in for a form check (now offering single exercise form checks) with me to make sure you've got the technique down.
Then plan out when you'll start the program. I recommend starting it on a different day to testing your baseline.
Keep us posted in the group how you're doing.
~ Your Coach, Marianne