Hall of Fame Powerlifter and team myHMB athlete Brad Gillingham explains why the push-up is the ultimate upper body strength exercise.


The push-up is the king of upper-bodyweight strength training exercises. It involves the pectoralis major, triceps, deltoids, serratus anterior, abdominals, and traps.The push-up is a versatile training exercise that is used in team sports, fitness routines, and is commonly performed in military training. The push-up has origins dating back 1000’s of years to the Hindu warriors of India.  It was also used by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and his Roman Army.2


Why Push-Ups Get a Bad Rap

Having to do push-ups can sometimes be viewed as punishment for doing something wrong. They were a disciplinary tool used by several of my old coaches. Routinely dished out on a regular basis for horsing around, messing up a play, or not hustling. Old re-runs of Gomer Pyle being ordered to drop and do 50 push-ups by Sergeant Carter reinforce the thought of push-up corporal punishment. Then there is the classic scene from the Officer and a Gentlemen with Ensign Mayo (Richard Gere) ordered to complete 100 pushups with his face in the mud.


My Introduction to the Push-Up

I first encountered the push-up in grade school physical education class. They were one of the key movements along with jumping jacks that were included in early calisthenics programs. In my younger years I participated in several spontaneous push-up contests. Out on the school playground there was a sorting of the toughness hierarchy by how many push-ups you could do.

I can also remember one contest that occurred late in the evening after the 1998 USAPL Nationals.  A non-powerlifting training partner schooled all of us by completing over 100 push-ups in a row. This guy would knock out 200 push-ups/day, long before the 100 push-up/day training challenge became popular.


a couple at a track doing push-ups while facing eachother / myhmb blog back to the basics - the push-up by carissa johnson

Bringing the Push-Up Back

For a number of years, I moved away from doing many push-ups, but I gradually brought them back into my training when I started including them in circuits that I use when coaching various athletes.

Push-ups fit in well with the assistance circuits performed by my volleyball team, and various metabolic challenging circuits I use with wrestlers.

To be honest, I knew I really needed to add push-ups back into to my own training when my youngest daughter would routinely knock off 40 in a row, and I wasn’t sure if I could match her.

It’s hard to equal the upper-body strength endurance you can build with push-ups.  You can’t build this type of endurance by training low repetition heavy bench presses. During the years, when I could routinely bench 600 raw, I was able to hit 80 push-ups in a row on occasion, but I fell short of ever completing 100 in a row.  A small number of consecutive push-ups when compared to the 10,507 consecutive push-up world record.3


Push-Up Technique and Variations


The standard push-up is performed in the prone position by placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder width with your feet close together, and arms fully extended. Keeping the back and legs straight, the body is lowered until the chest touches the ground. The exercise is repeated by extending the arms for a set number of repetitions, or to failure.

There are several different variations of push-ups that will change the focus on the body part.  Wide grip push-ups will put more emphasis on the chest, whereas close grip or diamond push-ups will concentrate more on the triceps.  The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) has gone to a hand release push-up. This requires the soldier to start in a prone position with arms fully extended and hands beneath the shoulders. The soldier is required to release the hands and extend the arms fully to the side in the down position. The hands are then returned to below the shoulder and the exercise is repeated.4

The Great Gama (1910 World Wrestling Champion) was a legendary wrestler from India. He was said to have been undefeated in over 5000 matches. His training included 3,000 Hindu push-ups every day.5  The Hindu push-up is executed by starting with the hips held high and using a rocking motion to lower the head close to the ground and then extending the arms.

Arguably, the most challenging push-up may be the one arm push-up (Rocky Balboa style). This variation really challenges muscular strength and core stability.


How to Include Push-Ups in Your Training

No matter what variation of the push-up you utilize, they are a great exercise to include in your training.  You can include the push-up in your regiment when traveling, as they can easily be included in a hotel fitness room circuit.

How about including them as part of that extra weekend mobility circuit?  For example, they fit in well with Spidermans, Supermans, kettlebell swings, lunges, and standing trunk twist.

You could also make them part of your daily routine.  I have a number of friends that have completed 100 push-up/day challenges. How about repping out a max-effort set after your bench press training?

Recently I have been replacing my light speed bench workout with a push up ladder on Saturday mornings.  I break this down several different ways to keep the workout interesting.  It might be variations of 5-10-15-20-25-30-30-25-20-15-10-5, or 15-16-17-18-19-20-20-19-18-17-16-15.

There aren’t really any rules on how you set up you’re programming. I just try to mix it up to keep it interesting.  Generally I’m shooting for 150-200 total push-up repetitions, and I’m trying to increase this number over time.  At 300 lbs. body weight this provides for a great pump.  Not only do the shoulders, triceps and pectorals feel the after-effects, but I also notice a great pump in the traps and lats.


Start Your Push-Ups Today!

Regardless of how you include push-ups it’s important to see progress by establishing a starting point, and by setting goals to increase repetitions and sets over time. Additionally, make sure you are using good form.  It is better to complete less repetitions with good form than to use sloppy technique.  Todays a great day to start doing some push-ups!

Stay Strong!

Hall of Fame Powerlifter Brad Gillingham competing at the 2013 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championships competing in the back squat


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  1. Contreras, B. Bodyweight: Strength Training Anatomy. Human Kinetics; 2014. View
  2. Adam, B. Push-ups – Their history, Beneficial Effects, Types and Potential Risks. Physical Culture Study. Published January 19, 2018. View
  3. Wood, R. “Push Ups World Records.” Topend Sports Website, 2008, Published. View
  4. Army Combat Fitness Test. View
  5. Nag, U. The Great Gama: Indian wrestling’s undefeated phenom who inspired Bruce Lee. Published June 2023. View








Hall of Fame Powerlifter Brad Gillingham

Brad Gillingham

Brad Gillingham is a Hall of Fame Powerlifter who is a 6-time IPF World Powerlifting Champion and has more than 30 IPF World Championship medals under his belt.  Brad is the co-owner of Jackals Gym where he coaches a variety of athletes.  Brad is also strength and conditioning coach for wrestling and volleyball at Southwest Minnesota State University.


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