There are two general reactions to press ups when they’re added to a Personal Training Programme for our clients…

Gah, I suck at those“, or an incredulous “aren’t press ups for beginners“? 

The truth is, you can get in great shape with this upper body staple, which may or may not be the oldest exercise known to man (I have no idea if that’s true, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?). It can be a tough challenge if you’ve never trained before, or if you grew up pushing a dumbbell around in a pram and snacked on protein cookies instead of Oreos

and it’s value as an exercise has sky rocketed due to it’s accessibility in 2020, with so many gyms being closed 

So, the big question…. “How on earth can I programme press ups to get results?


Research has shown that in order to sufficiently tax the body and cause it to make postive adaptions (build muscle and get stronger), it’ll be most optimal to get to, or close to failure [1] (within 4 reps), hit 10+ weekly working sets [2], and slowly progress total volume load over time in order to stress your body enough to feel the need to change (known as progressive overload)

It’s this exact, evidence-based approach we use with our clients at our Personal Training Studio in Milton Keynes, to ensure they continue to make strides in their physiques, strength and fitness week after week

The Press up gives us the perfect tool to stress the body in a way that will create sculpted and strong shoulders and chest muscles, and that ‘James Bond walking out of the sea’ look, when we don’t have a full gym at our disposal- if we programme it correctly.

Luckily for you, the following write-up will provide the exact template you’ll need to follow in order to make those changes, and build your physique without the need for fancy £2,000 equipment

Below we’ll lay out the 3 different variations of press ups you can use to make it more challenging each week (with extra advanced techniques if needed) 

We’ll then reveal the 2 shoulder drills you need to be doing alongside your press ups to ensure you don’t end up with the posture of a cashew nut

Then we’ll put it all into an easy to follow, 7 week programme that you could literally begin 20 seconds after you finish reading this blog (unless you’re reading on your phone whilst queuing at the supermarket. That would be odd)


Basic Progressions within push ups have everything to do with angles. The simplest model of increasing load is to move from kneeling, to full, to decline push ups, as outlined below. These are the core movements we’ll be using to make your training so effective


Putting the lowest load through the upper body- if needed you can also perform this with your hands elevated to reduce the angle further

Progress to Full once you can complete 3 sets of 20 reps


The standard press up. Pay careful attention to not letting your hips come up before your shoulders, and squeezing your glutes throughout

Progress to Decline once you can complete 3 sets of 20 reps


Shifting your weight to put the highest load through the upper body. You’ll also see an increase in shoulder engagement due to the positioning

Once you can complete 3 sets of 20 reps you can think about introducing the advanced techniques


Once you can effectively hit 3 sets of 20 reps on the decline push ups, here are a few more ways you can make the movement even more challenging:

  • Reduce Tempo: Increasing the time under tension of an exercise is a reliable way to reach failure faster- working your way up to a 5 second negative (lowering portion), and a 3 second concentric (pushing portion) will add a challenging element to your press
  • Constant Tension: Often most effective in conjunction with your super slow reps- at the top of the movement, don’t allow your arms to lock all the way out. The will keep more tension through the chest and increase the difficulty
  • Pause: By pausing at the bottom of the movement for 3-5 seconds you take away the stretch-reflex, meaning you don’t have the elastic advantage of the lowering to help power you up for the press (making it much more challenging to get started)
  • Add external load: If you’re able to complete decline, super slow, constant tension press ups with a 5 second pause for 3 sets of 20, you can think about adding external load. Adding either rucksack, or using a resistance band gripped in each hand and looped around the back is the most effective ways of doing this


Doing an excessive amount of pressing without addressing your upper back and rear delts can be a recipe for a muscular imbalance (especially if you’re working at a desk), therefore it’s very important that throughout your push up progressions you complete the following movements:

DYNAMIC BLACKBURNS​Lying flat with your belly on the ground, raise your arms off the floor with your thumbs facing upwards, directly in front of your shoulder. From there slowly move your arms back, keeping them off the floor, rotating them until you’re in a ‘handcuff’ position, and then slowly return to the start

Complete 10 reps of this before doing any press ups
T-BLACKBURNSLying flat with your belly on the ground, raise your arms off the floor with your palms facing down in a ‘T’ position. Keeping your hands off the floor, draw your elbows into your ribcage and squeeze your shoulder blades and lats, before returning to the start position

Complete 10 reps of these between every press up set


The first thing you’ll need to do, is work out which press up variation you’ll be starting with. To work this out, you’ll need to complete your Dynamic Blackburns, then drop and complete one set of 30 kneeling press ups. 

If you don’t get to 30 reps? Great, that’s the movement you’ll start with. If you did, then rest 5 minutes, and do the same with normal press ups. If you hit 30 there, then repeat again with decline press ups, then if you manage those (you machine), you’ll start adding on the advanced techniques until you find the variant you can’t complete 30 reps with (if you can complete 30 straight reps of a slow tempo, decline paused press up with heavy band or backpack resistance you’re a monster… or need a heavier band or backpack)

Once you know the correct set Press up to start with, we’ll set up your training plan. On week one, your training plan looks like this:

  • 10 Dynamic Blackburns
  • 10 warm up reps of whichever press up is “easier” than the one you’re doing (you can raise your hands onto a surface if you’re doing kneeling push ups)
  • Complete 3 sets of as many reps as possible on your chosen push up, with 10 T-Blackburns in between, and 60s rest between sets

Repeat this 3 times in the first week (ideally a Monday, Wednesday and Friday works best)

If you complete 20 reps on all 3 sets, then you need to move up a press up progression on your next workout (for example from kneeling to full, or from decline, to decline with slower tempo). We’ll also increase your total working sets each week by one, like so:

Week one:

  • Monday – 3 sets
  • Wednesday – 3 sets
  • Friday – 3 sets

Week Two

  • Monday – 4 sets
  • Wednesday – 3 sets
  • Friday – 3 sets

Week Three:

  • Monday – 4 sets
  • Wednesday – 4 sets
  • Friday – 3 sets

Week Four:

  • Monday – 4 sets
  • Wednesday – 4 sets
  • Friday – 4 sets

​​Week Five:

  • Monday – 5 sets
  • Wednesday – 4 sets
  • Friday – 4 sets

repeating that pattern until week 7, where you’ll be completing 15 total sets each week (5 sets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday)

This programme has an in-built progress model to increase not only total load (via increasing the difficulty of the press up variation over time), but also total amount of sets you’ll take close to failure (due to increasing total working sets each week by one)

It’s not complicated, and it doesn’t require a full gym set up in your spare room, but it works

If you’d like to have a chat about how to add in lower body and core movements for a complete workout, or just chat about possibly working together either online, or in our Personal Training Studio here in Milton Keynes, then just head over to our contact page and drop us a message, and we’ll be happy to help out

Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got some press ups to do


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