The Fingertip Push-Up Training Plan

The fingertip push-up is a total body exercise and every muscle in the body has to work together in a beautiful concert of movement.

When I first got out of college I was hired to teach World History and coach football at a large high school in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. I reported to work three weeks early along with the rest of the football coaches so that we could prepare for the season.

When I first got out of college I was hired to teach World History and coach football at a large high school in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. I reported to work three weeks early along with the rest of the football coaches so that we could prepare for the season.

I had relocated many times to many states, so being the new guy wasn’t new to me. In each new setting, I stood out early on because I was the “strong guy.” In high school, I obsessed on setting the lifting records and in college, my comfort in the weight room became a pursuit for biceps, triceps, back, and chest. I followed the Schwarzenegger workouts and wanted people to know I was strong because I carried an extra 30 pounds just for show.

One day in those first weeks, one of the “old” coaches threw out a challenge. He said, “I know you’re strong and all, but can you do a fingertip push-up?” I then watched him get on the floor, extend his arms as far from his torso as possible and proceed to come all the way up, repeatedly, pushing through only fingers and toes.

I’d never seen anything like it, but I had to assume it was easier than it looked. I was wrong. As I got on my belly to try, it occurred to me that I didn’t even know where to push from. I extended my arms and grunted, but no movement followed. I had no chance. That was my first introduction to old man strength—which is really just the original designation for functional strength, which is really just how everyone once thought of strength.

Training soon became my passion and I spent the next few years obsessively developing my strength and conditioning knowledge. That process radically shifted how I viewed training and within very little time I could knock out fingertip push-ups myself.

The fingertip push-up is a great indicator of real functional strength and, if nothing else, a great party trick—here is how to get started.

Fundamentals of the Fingertip Push-Up

As always, all training is just progression and regression. If an exercise is too challenging, you just regress back to easier an easier variation until you can execute the movement perfectly many times.

So, the obvious place to start training for a fingertip push is the push-up. Most people think they have push-ups mastered but there is often quite a bit to clean up there that will help with almost every other exercise you try. Take the time to really master the push-up, first and foremost.

So, you have perfect push-ups. What now? The fingertip push-up is a total body exercise. Every muscle in the body has to work together to complete the movement. But before that can happen you have to shore up all the pieces in the chain. The major points of emphasis are the forearms and core.

Fingers use tendons from the forearm to contract. Strong fingers are really just strong forearms so you’ll need to strengthen your grip. (Side note: this will help every lift.) There are a billion ways to train grip from the old-fashioned grip squeezers to the even older-fashioned rice in a bucket.

My favorite approach is simple. Do tons of farmer’s walks. Complete farmer’s walks or other carry variations daily. Also, never carry weight to a rack or do any lift without thinking about training your grip in the process.

Kettlebell work did more for my grip strength than anything else. If you want more specific forearm drills, I’d suggest adding finger curls, but by focusing on a tight neutral grip in your daily farmer’s walks, you’ll be more than covered.

You’ll also want to really shape up your core. If you’ve mastered the push-up, planks and push-up position planks should now be easy. A simple way to progress your plank is to keep your core tight like you are bracing for a gut punch and then to walk your hands as far out as you can without allowing your abdomen and lower back to drop.

Try doing sets of five where you slowly walk your plank out as far as possible and then walk the hands back in. These are called inchworms.

You can add side planks as well, but make sure your body is in as straight of a line as possible. When you can easily hold for 30 seconds, try lifting the top leg a couple of inches while keeping the toes pointed forward.

The lower back is also part of the core and you’ll want to balance all of this front work with some erector spinae attention. I recommend sets of 10 Supermans with a one-second pause at the top of each rep.

You’ll also want to train pull-ups to help increase grip, core stability, and especially lat strength. The lats will be instrumental in helping to stabilize your extended arms.

The Fingertip Push-Up Training Plan

All of these exercises are best trained daily in accordance with the grease the groove philosophy. Think higher volume, but not to failure. The idea is perfect, consistent practice.

A good daily fingertip push-up training program would look like this:

  • Set 1:
    • a. Side Planks – 3×30 seconds/side
    • b. Inchworms – 3×5
  • Set 2:
    • a. Heavy Loaded Carry Variation – 3x Technical Failure
    • b. Push-Ups – 3x (about a third of your max perfect reps)
  • Set 3:
    • a. Supermans – 3×10 (with a one-second pause at the top of each rep)
    • b. Pull-Ups – 3x (about half of your max perfect reps)

Feel free to lower the reps and add more practice throughout the day as well. Bodyweight skills are best mastered with a lot of practice. They are skills so you want to try them daily and throughout the day. Rather than approaching them like a workout block that you would insert a few times per week, think of it like juggling or any other skill. The more you practice, the better.

After a few weeks, you can begin to sub out your inchworms for bar roll-outs. Here you’ll be putting a lot of pieces together. This more advanced progression requires a solid grip on the bar, strong lats, and an iron core.

From your knees, you’ll simply let the bar roll-out as your hips roll forward and your arms extend. Then, keeping the hips and elbows locked and the core rigid, drive your arms straight down to bring the bar wheeling back towards you.

To begin, don’t go all the way out. Progress slowly and focus on form. The bar roll-out is easy to cheat by rowing the bar back in with bent elbows or pushing your hips back.

When you can do ten perfect bar roll-outs, you are close to your fingertip push-ups. Start adding consistent extension press-up practice. The extension press-up is just like the fingertip push-up except you are pushing through the heels of your hands.

Start lying face down with arms extended overhead, but your elbows bent very slightly. Grip your toes into the ground, your hands into the ground, and tighten your core rigidly as if you are about to take a gut punch.

Then push through the heels of your hands and extend your arms while pushing yourself into an elevated position.

When these become easy you are ready to do the fingertip push-up. Just fully extend your arms and push through rigid fingertips.

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