The Stairway To Stronger Pushups

Just as free weights allow you to adjust the load on the bar, the push-up also allows you to adjust the load through the manipulation of leverage. Conquer your push-up plateau with this 4-week program utilizing multiple leverages.

When it comes to pressing strength the universal app is the push-up. Unlike barbells and dumbbells that allow you to precisely adjust the amount of resistance used within a single workout,  the push-up’s interface is so simplified that some people don’t realize you can dial the intensity up or down so they just remain stuck using one setting all the time: their bodyweight on the floor.  For some people this one setting is too difficult to make progress, for others it’s too easy and for others it’s just right (but won’t be for long).  Just as free weights allow you to adjust the load on the bar, the expert use of push-ups also allows you to adjust the load as well through the manipulation of leverage.

My favorite method that doesn’t require additional equipment or a partner is to use a stair case or something similar like a counter-top, tire, stacked cinder blocks or anything sturdy enough to support my weight. Place your hands on a higher elevation relative to your feet and the push-up becomes easier, lower and the push-up becomes harder.  For added variety and challenge you can then fine tune the difficulty even more by combining the use of different elevations with different styles of pushups such as close-grip pushups, one-arm pushups or one-arm-one-leg pushups or clapping pushups.  The creative use of combining different leverages and push-up variations in this manner will allow you to find a push-up variation that offers just the perfect amount of resistance to keep you getting stronger.

Let’s say you’re trying to conquer your first strict push-up from the floor (without being on your knees) or your first strict one-arm-one-leg pushup, which kind really doesn’t matter.

4 Leverages, 4 Weeks, for a Stronger Pushup

Test yourself and find several elevations to practice from that offer different levels of intensity. 

Find one elevation that is harder and that allows at least 3 reps.

Find one elevation/height that allows at least 5 reps with good form

Find one elevation that allows around 10 reps.

Find one elevation that allows around 15 to 20 reps.


  • The floor is greater than your current 1RM.
  • The first step allows you to perform 3 strict reps
  • The 2nd step of your staircase allows you to perform 7 reps.
  • The 3rd step allow you to perform more than 10 reps.
  • The 4th step allows you to perform 20.

Recommended Reps

In general you will practice performing a minimum of 1/3rd to a maximum of 2/3rd  the reps you could do when fresh at each elevation.

For example: If you can perform 3 reps from the first step of the stair case, then you’ll only perform 1 or 2 reps per set at this height.

Your Future 1 Rep Max

If you have chosen a height that represents a future 1 rep max, then use this height to practice isometric holds for 15 to 30-seconds at a time.

Reps Per Month/Week/Day

Depending on many factors you’ll need to achieve between 250 and 500 reps in a single month.

If that sounds daunting take a moment to do the math.  60 to 125 reps a week. If you spread your reps throughout the week that’s a very manageable 10 to 20 reps a day on average. In the program below I chose the middle ground of 400 reps. I’ve found that average person can usually find the time to practice 3-days per week which averages out to a very manageable  33 reps per training session.


The following program is intended to help you conquer pushups at a lower elevation.  At first glance the program appears to be all over the place, but there is a method to the madness. What appears to be random sets and reps have actually been carefully programmed to simulate the kind of randomness that produces strength gains:

  • The majority of the work is done in the 70-80% range relative to your 1 rep max.
  • You will be working with pushups and rep ranges that vary in intensity.
  • The total number of reps you do will build gradually over several weeks.
  • The total reps per day will fluctuate.
  • The 4th week is relatively easy compared to the 3rd week, allowing you to recover slightly and set a personal best in the 5th week.

Step 1:  Find a elevation that you are close to conquering a push-up variation for a single rep.

Step 2:  Finding 4-more incrementally higher elevations for your hands that allow approximately 3 strict reps, 5reps, 10 reps and 15 to 20 reps.  When you test you’ll need to rest several minutes between heights. Be sure to write down you test scores.

Step 3:  Once you’ve tested and found the appropriate elevations you’ll perform your pushups three days per week as shown below.  The numbers in parentheses are your reps. For example: on day 1 of week 1 you’ll perform one set of 5 reps on a high elevation, and 3 sets of 3 reps on a medium elevation.

(15-ish RM)
(10-ish RM)
(5-ish RM)
(3-ish RM)
Week 1: 60 reps
Day 1 0 (5) (3,3,3) 0
Day 2 (5,5) (3,5,5) (2,3) (1)
Day 3 (6) (3,5) (2) (1)
Week 2: 112 reps
Day 1 (6) (3,5,5,5) (3) 0
Day 2 (5,7,10) (4,6,4,6,4) (2,4) (1,1)
Day 3 (5,7) (4,4,6) (2,2) (1)
Week 3: 140 reps
Day 1 (7) (5,5,5,8) (3) (1)
Day 2 (5,8,10,10) (8,8,8) (4,4) (2)
Day 3 (9) (3,7,5,8) (3,3) (1)
Week 4: 88 reps
Day 1 (7) (5,7) (2) 0
Day 2 (5,8) (4,6,4,8) (5) (2)
Day 3 (5,6) (4,6) (3) (1)

Additional Practice: As mentioned above, you’ll still need to get comfortable being uncomfortable with your future 1 rep max at a lower elevation by practicing static holds.  While practicing your push-ups from various heights, every 10 to 20 reps or so add one or two static holds lasting up to 15 or 30 seconds each.  During week 4 you may perform slow controlled negative reps.

Step 4:  After the 4th week, take a few days rest and practice a few easy reps then re-test your pushups again at your former 3 rep max height and the height you haven’t yet been able to conquer and see how many reps you can get.


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