How to Make Push Ups Harder
Push ups are a fundamental exercise everyone should master. Not only do they work the muscles of the shoulder, chest, arms, rear delts, and upper back; if done correctly they can also work the core and glutes, helping to keep that ass and gut tight.
In our opinion, push ups should be the foundation of your chest day, not the bench press! Push ups are great because they're easier on the joints and can be done just about anywhere.
Obviously, the first step is to start adding regular push ups to your workout routine and to do them until you become proficient. Not only is this necessary, but it will prevent injury when you start attempting the more advanced variations described in this post.
However, once you master the basics, the key to getting the most out of your push ups and continuing to make progress is to change the variations you do from week to week to challenge the body and avoid plateaus.
After mastering basic push ups, start modifying your routine using these 6 tools.
6 ways to make push ups harder
#1: Vary Your THE NUMBER OF REPS AND Rep Speed
The first way to make push ups harder is to vary your rep speed or to increase the number of reps. Changing rep speed; especially slowing down your rep speed will place greater emphasis on the stabilization systems of the body, as well as the core.
Instead of 1 second down and 1 second up, try experimenting with 3, 5, and 10 second rep schemes. You won't be able to do as many reps, but we promise your body will be screaming.
#2: Change Your Hand Position
The standard hand position for regular push ups is with the hands directly under shoulders. Changing the position of your hand placement can challenge different areas of your chest, as well as provide a greater workout for your core.
Hand positions to experiment with include, but are not limited to:
Hands Out Wide
Hands In Close (Diamond)
Hands Uneven (One Close - One Out Wide)
One Hand Elevated (On a Med Ball or Coffee Table)
Hands Extended Slightly Overhead
#3: Change Your Foot Position
Though there aren't as many ways to vary foot positioning, this is also a great way to make push ups harder and change the way they challenge the body.
Foot positions to experiment with include, but are not limited to:
Feet Out Wide
Feet Elevated (On an Exercise Ball or Bench)
One Foot Elevated (Alternating Feet)
You can also try making push ups harder by combining the hand and foot positions listed above. For example: one foot elevated on a medicine ball with one foot unsupported out to the side.
#4: Use Push Up Handles
If you are looking for a tool to help you make push ups harder: push up handles are a great way to go. Push up handles elevate the upper body, allowing for greater range of motion and a deeper stretch of the chest at the bottom of the exercise.
Push up handles also engage the grip, forearms, and wrists in a way that other variations don't. They're also cheap and easy to travel with.
Four common push up handles to experiment with include:
Olympic Rings or Suspension Trainers (Great for stability training)
Standard Push Up Handles (See pic above)
Rotating Push Up Handles (See the Perfect Push Up Trainer)
Parallets (Great for practicing planches and other holds)
#5: Use Time Static Contraction (Isometric Reps)
Time static contractions or "isometric reps," refer to the process of holding the contracted portion of an exercise for an extended period of time. The isometric exercises people are most familiar with are the plank and wall sit, but you can apply the principle of isometric reps to almost every exercise, including push ups.
Isometric reps make push ups harder by challenging the entire body to maintain proper form and maximal contraction at the bottom position for as long as possible.
Strength and Conditioning coach Steve Maxwell, who we just interviewed on our podcast, even goes so far as to state that they are the ideal type of rep for triggering muscle growth. Click here to listen to his explanation.
Isometric holds can be added to all of the other push up variations we discussed above. Start by holding the down position of the push up for 10 seconds and progress over time until you can hold each rep for 1 or 2 minutes at a time.
Isometric push ups may sound easy, but they are insanely hard.
#6: When in doubt Add Weight
Last, but not least, when in doubt add weight. If regular push ups are becoming too easy, you can always slap on a weight vest or put a plate or beautiful woman on your back to make them more difficult.
Conclusion: There are seemingly endless ways to make push ups harder, including: changing hand and foot position, using push up handles, doing time static contractions, or adding weight.
If you've mastered regular push ups, give a few of these modifications a try. If you're not doing push ups and focusing on bench presses, you should really considering switching. Push ups are easier on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, plus offer a ton of variety so you can challenge your body from multiple angles.