I've always been a believer in mastering the basics: perfect squats, killer lunges and your best push-ups. Once mastered, a perfect push-up is your number-one go-to for building upper-body strength and conditioning your core at the same time — not to mention it can go anywhere and be done at any time. Dropping and giving 20 at the office doesn't only pump up your pecs, it can also get blood flowing and boost your energy as well.
By keeping your head in alignment with your spine and your hips in one straight line, a basic push-up is all about hand position. Make sure not to start too wide with your placement -- hands should be directly under your shoulders to start. As you lower down, elbows go backward at a 45-degree angle to your body instead of directly out to the side, so that from overhead your body is in an "arrow" shape and not a "T" shape.
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I always tell clients to push their entire hand into the floor, making sure not to apply pressure unevenly as you push down. Once your push-up is pristine, try these five variations to add an extra challenge and a little fun.
1. Crow or Spider-Man Push-Ups
As you lower toward the ground, simply pull one knee outside toward your elbow. This engages your core as you move and fight to balance, but also puts additional unilateral weight bearing on your chest and shoulders. The added weight to the side the knee is heading makes it that much harder to push back up to starting position. Aim for at least 10 reps -- and remember, right and left equals one rep.
2. Scorpion Push-Up
Instead of pulling the knee high and to the side like a Crow Push-Up, as you lower down, take one leg up and over the body and tap it on the ground on the other side. Think of it just like a scorpion tail, and reach and arch the leg back up and over, lowering down and tapping simultaneously. The same added core balance gets even harder as your hips twist off-center through the movement. Go for 10 reps; right and left equals one rep.
3. T Push-Ups
From the bottom of your push-up, explode up as quickly as you can into a side plank, lifting one arm high to the sky and creating a perfect "T" shape. Make sure your supporting hand is directly under your shoulder and your hips are in alignment at the top. Lower down carefully, and as you come back up open to the other side, moving quickly through the push-up, but holding the side high plank for a breath. Kill it with 15 reps. Again, right and left counts as one rep.
4. X Push-Ups
Similar to the T Push-Up, the X Push-Up is about a quick, exploding motion from the bottom of the push-up and finding a breath and balance at the top. Coming up quickly, lift one arm and the opposite leg at the same time at the top of the push-up, lowering through the middle and pushing to the other side. This big one kills after 10 reps. Right and left is one rep.
TIP: Reaching out long helps balance by creating tension in both directions. Extend as far as you can with each arm and leg at the top.
5. Dive Bombers
This push-up is aptly named because your chest dives toward the floor as you bend your arms and lower into a push-up. Starting at the top, pull your hips high into a downward-dog-like position. Bend your elbows, keeping the angle as long as you can as you lower into your push-up, which adds more force on your upper chest and shoulders. When you've gone as low as you can, scoop through without touching the floor and lift your chest high to the sky.
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Now you have two choices on how to return to starting position: hard and harder. Hard: Simply lift your hips back to where you started. Harder: Reverse the direction of your scoop and push through the incline back to starting. Rock out a total of 10.
6. Low Plank Alternating Push-Ups
Readers -- Do you do standard push-ups or try variations? Have you tried any of the variations mentioned above? What are some tips and tricks that you use to change up your upper-body workout? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Jason Wimberly is a Los Angeles-based celebrity personal trainer, top-level Equinox Instructor and master trainer for Revolution Studios. With more than 10 years' experience in the fitness industry, Jason has taught sold-out classes across the country and keeps many of Hollywood's elite looking their best.