The standard push-up is one of the most essential strength moves you can master. It works your chest, arms, abs, glutes, and even your upper back. That's quite the bang for your fitness buck. But any athlete can hit a limit on how useful this exercise can be. Even if the boredom and monotony on banging out reps doesn't get to you, your body will eventually adapt to the point of showing minimal gains. Instead of burning out on the push-up, toss these nine variations into your training. They'll increase (or decrease, if needed) the load and difficulty, while also offering new challenges to keep your muscles sharp.
First, let's make sure your push-up is sound. Make sure you can already follow these technique cues before moving on to variations.
- There should be a straight line from the shoulder to the toes.
- The hands should be positioned at or just outside your shoulder width.
- The upper arm should create a 45 degree angle to the body. In other words, don’t flare the elbows outwards to perpendicular, or keep them tucked to your sides.
- The chest should nearly touch the floor on every single rep.
- A full lockout means pushing all the way through with the shoulders too. Move the shoulder blades as far away from one another as you can get them.
- Keep the abs and glutes engaged. If you don’t feel push-ups in your core also, you’re doing them wrong. Tighten up like you're prepared for a gut punch.
For the intermediate and advanced crowd, plyo push-ups are a great way to tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers and get a bit more intensity out of the movement. A common mistake lifters often make is to attempt to clap the hands while in mid air. This only leads to broken fingers and wrists on missed repetitions. Simply let the arms hang in mid air, and try to absorb the shock of your landing as much as possible (land quietly). Remember: This as an explosive movement, so as soon as you can’t perform them explosively, kill your set.
Feet Elevated Push-Ups
Get the benefits of an incline press with less compression, back arch, or having your shoulder blades pinned down. Simply raise your feet onto an elevated surface when doing push-ups. Following the same general mechanics of a standard push-up, this will provide more stimulation for the front deltoids, triceps, and upper chest.
Zero in on triceps development with a tight hand position while keeping your elbows tucked in to your sides. If you’re a bigger guy, keep your hands at least six inches apart to protect your shoulders at the bottom of the rep. Don’t worry — you’ll still hit the triceps.
Staggered Hands Push-Ups
Having a hand forward and a hand back may seem awkward, but that's the point. You're forcing one side to bear more than half the load, and this teaches your muscles to work together in new ways. This offset distribution can also better prepare you to perform one-handed push-ups.
Push-Ups with Single Arm Deficit
On a similar note, adding a platform under just one of your hands creates the need for more lockout strength on that arm. For a few additional inches, you’ll be doing a one-handed push-up that can easily be ramped up by increasing the height of the platform. Remember to stay stable and keep your core tight while performing these. As an added bonus, removing one hand from the ground (at the top of the rep) will blast your core.
Hands Elevated Push-Ups
If you’re not yet strong enough to do typical push-ups, it’s a smarter move to modify your hand position than leave your feet for a modified push-up. You’ll get to maintain your core bracing and take advantage of a fuller range of motion by doing them with the hands elevated on a bench, box, or Smith Machine bar.
A great first progression from the standard push-up is adding a resistance band. Setting up in a squat cage and strapping a band across the pins creates added stress for your lockout phase of your lift, while leaving the bottom portion less difficult and virtually unloaded. As the band stretches, the tension increases, and the triceps and front deltoids have to work harder to assume a fully extended finish position. The lower you position the band, the harder the lift becomes.
Unlike the banded resistance push-ups, these will help you along rather than create more load. Set the band up in the squat cage the same way, this time set the pins higher and position your body so the band is under your waist. Use this as a cue to keep your hips in line with the rest of your body, and allow the band to stretch as you descend. Now you’ve got a system that helps sling you up to the top and out of the hole.
Removing a foot from the ground demands more core stability via the abdominals, obliques, and glutes. Also, the spiderman push-up will allow a greater range of motion opposite the working side, thanks to the slight twist the body undergoes during each rep. Turn your head to the side of the working leg on each rep. For an added challenge, elevate your feet onto a low box.