5 Ways To Make Push-Ups HARDER

Push-ups are awesome. They are a fantastic total-body bodyweight exercise, require zero equipment and very little space to perform, and the skill curve is extremely easy to overcome (you could become a pro at push-ups today).

For many individuals a simple push-up routine was their introduction into strength training. In fact push-ups make up the majority of daily social media fitness challenges “100 push-ups everyday“, “Start your morning with push-ups“, “Push-Ups during TV commercial breaks“. You’ll find so many challenges revolving around push-ups because they are simple, easy to understand routines, involving a movement you can do legitimately anywhere.

Unfortunately, what often happens is an individual will start off with a push-up routine, it works, they are loving their results, but very quickly they find they are becoming extremely proficient with them. Suddenly they can bust out sets of 50 push-ups and barely be tired. Maybe push-ups no longer make them sore or they aren’t seeing that same progress they saw when they first started. Eventually they give up on the movement altogether and move onto higher stimulus training such as dumbbell and barbell bench press.

I don’t think this needs to be the case. If you love push-ups and don’t want to see them go there are plenty of ways to make the push-up an extremely challenging exercise, without any crazy calisthenics skills needed (no I’m not recommending 1 armed or planche pushups variations today). Here’s 5 simple ways you can make the push-up harder so it becomes a viable strength training exercise that you can work back into your routine.

1. Increase The ROM

What’s the easiest way to make a push-up harder? Increase the distance you have to travel for each rep.

Sure you may have mastered the perfect form, chest to ground push-up…now try doing it with your hands and feet starting on some 45lb bumper plates.

Raising your hands off of the ground will allow you to travel through an even longer range of motion for your push-ups. Not only is this going to make the movement harder simply because you have to travel further, this full ROM will optimize the hypertrophy stimulus you’ll be able to get out of your push-ups.

2. Increase The Load

Everyone who’s ever had push-ups in their routine have likely tried a loaded variation of the movement be it chain push-ups, push-ups with a plate on your back, or push-ups with a weighted vest.

But how far have you actually tried to push the load on this movement? By combining traditional loading options like a weighted vest and chains you can very easily add upwards of 100lbs of load to your push-ups. For those of you that are stuck doing 50+ reps before you even feel a stimulus, this is a great way to cut your reps in half while keeping things just as challenging.

Trying to increase the load of your push-ups just as intensely as you would for any normal barbell movement can make a normal push-up challenging for even the most advanced athlete.

3. Try Tempo Push-Ups

This is a go to to make any exercise harder, as an added benefit it also usually improves your form? Sloooooooow dooooooownnnn.

You can try any number of combinations of pauses and tempos to make push-ups more challenging. Try controlling yourself for a 5 count on the down portion of every rep. Control yourself for 3 seconds down, take a slight pause at the bottom, and then tempo up for an additional 3 seconds.

Play around with different combinations until you find the tempo that works for you. There are particularly nasty variations out there that involve 30-60 seconds just to perform a single rep!

4. Put Yourself on a Decline

Admittedly decline push-ups are very similar to increased ROM push-ups with one key difference. A decline push-up will not only increase the overall ROM in which you are able to travel, but also the amount of your bodyweight that you are actually lifting.

So if you’ve run out of physical load in the form of your weighted vest or chains, a decline is your next option to add even more resistance to the equation in the form of your own bodyweight.

It’s good to note that part of the difficultly of a decline push-ups also comes from a shift of the load to your upper chest and front deltoids as well. If you want the “traditional push-up feel” you’ll be better off sticking to simply increasing the ROM and the load.

5. All of The Above

The reality of the situation is if you continue to train your push-ups you’ll likely need to use a combination of all of the push-up variations above to continue to see progress.

This is fitness in a nutshell. 

You train until something becomes easy, add a new variable to make it harder, train until that becomes easy, rinse wash and repeat for the rest of your life.

Between increasing the ROM of a push-up, the physical load on your body, and the tempo of the reps alone, you are going to be hard pressed to “be better than the push-up“. This should keep you busy for awhile even if you are a well trained athlete.

If you still find push-ups are too easy and you’re bored with them, save them for the tail end of your workout when you are already prefatigued from other movements. Maybe push-ups by themselves are no longer a solid workout routine for you. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a great supplemental upper body movement for your other main lifts.


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.