The humble push up is one of the most famous exercises known to man – a fixture of everything from military training to the Rocky movies – but it’s sometimes difficult to know how to progress with them other than to keep doing more of them or balancing weight plates precariously on your back.

Here we’ll give you a simple tip, based on a scientific study, to make your push ups quite literally “heavier”, but without adding any weight.

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Raise your feet: An easy way to make push ups harder

It’s long been known that raising your feet off the ground is a good way to make your pushups more difficult.

A group of scientists wanted to quantify just how much more difficult different heights would make the exercise. They experimented with both elevated feet and elevated hands.

Elevated feet increased the “ground reaction force”, or GRF, significantly. With a foot elevation of 30cm, the GRF was increased by 9%. With a foot elevation of 60cm, this increased to 15%.


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In physics, and in particular in biomechanics, the ground reaction force (GRF) is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it.

For example, a person standing motionless on the ground exerts a contact force on it (equal to the person’s weight) and at the same time an equal and opposite ground reaction force is exerted by the ground on the person.

The use of the word reaction derives from Newton’s third law, which essentially states that if a force, called action, acts upon a body, then an equal and opposite force, called reaction, must act upon another body. The force exerted by the ground is conventionally referred to as the reaction, although, since the distinction between action and reaction is completely arbitrary, the expression ground action would be, in principle, equally acceptable.

GRF is often observed to evaluate force production in various groups within the community. One of these groups studied often are athletes to help evaluate a subject’s ability to exert force and power. This can help create baseline parameters when creating strength and conditioning regimens from a rehabilitation and coaching standpoint.

[via Wikipedia]

By contrast, when the hands were elevated, there was a significant reduction in GRF. The higher the hands were elevated, the greater the reduction. The results from both kinds of elevation are shown in the table below.

So how to put this in to action?

A simple progression would involved gradually elevating the feet more and more to increase the difficulty. Increase the number of reps and sets (say 5×15-20) and then increase the elevation once you can perform the repetitions with ease.

Can’t say simpler than that!

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