10 Push-Up Variations for a Stronger Body
Last Updated: May 16, 2016
1 of 26
During 25 years of training, I’ve seen push-ups used in high school gym classes, the military, and dojos, often as a form of punishment. With good reason: Push-ups are tough. While people at gyms spend lots of time on benches and other fancy equipment, push-ups may be an even more effective way to get you stronger, faster. And they’re far more versatile than people think. Push-up variations can strengthen your abs, back, legs -- pretty much every muscle in your body, really. Here are 10 versions of the push-up you aren’t doing but should be, divided into four categories. Add them to your workout and you’ll see (and feel) powerful results.
PROPER PUSH-UP TECHNIQUE
Before you jump into variations of the classic push-up, be sure you get the original right. To maintain proper form, you must keep your back flat, abs tight, butt down, and shoulders rotated so that the crook of the elbow faces forward. This position ensures that your core is engaged and that your shoulders are in the position that’s the least likely to cause irritation. If your wrists bother you, perform the push-up on your knuckles, which keeps the wrists in a more neutral position.
IDENTIFYING COMMON PUSH-UP PROBLEMS
There are a few classic form failures that can indicate glaring areas of weakness. If the low back sags, it shows that your core is weak. If the shoulder blades flare out from the body in the top position of the push-up, the Serratus Anterior (muscles along the side of your rib cage just underneath your arms) need work. Try doing Push-up Holds (which are just like a plank, only with your arms extended rather than resting on your elbows) for your core, and Mountain Climbers (same position as a push-up hold, only you make it more challenging by bringing your knees to your chest on alternating legs) for the Serratus Anterior.
PUSH-UPS THAT CHANGE THE POSITION OF YOUR KNEES
The following two push-ups increase the demand on your core and upper body by decreasing the number of places where your body is in contact with the ground. By bringing your knee up to either the elbow or chest, your abs, shoulders and hip flexors have to work overtime to keep you off the ground.
Begin at the top of the push-up position. Keep your back straight and lower the torso under control. At the bottom of the push-up, bring your knee to the outside of your elbow. Then return your leg to the starting position and extend through your elbows until you reach the top of the push-up. Alternate sides on each rep.
Begin at the top of the push-up position. Keep your back straight and lower the torso under control. Press back up with your arms, and at the top of the push-up, bring one knee up under the chest. Make sure your foot doesn’t touch the ground. Return your leg to its original position, then lower yourself back down and repeat, lifting the opposite leg. Continue alternating throughout the set.
PUSH-UPS THAT CHANGE THE POSITION OF YOUR ARMS
Changing your arm position increases the stress on your opposing arm, meaning your triceps, pectorals and serratus anterior need to put in extra effort to keep you going. The following three push-ups will also require increased effort from your core.
ALTERNATING HAND AND SINGLE LEG PUSH-UP (PART ONE)
Begin at the top of the push-up position with one hand out farther in front than the other. Lift the leg on your opposite side, keeping that knee straight and core tight.
ALTERNATING HAND AND SINGLE LEG PUSH-UP (PART TWO)
Keep your back straight and lower the torso under control. When you reach the floor, fire up your pecs and shoulders, and extend at the elbows to return to the starting position. Perform five to 10 reps on one side, then repeat with your other hand forward and leg raised.
SINGLE ARM RAISE PUSH-UP
Start this exercise as if it were a normal push-up. When you reach the bottom position, extend at the elbows quickly, pushing yourself up rapidly. At the top of the motion, raise one straight arm overhead. Lower the hand back to the floor and then lower your body back down for the next rep. Alternate which arm you lift on each rep as you continue the set.
Begin at the bottom of the push-up with your elbows bent and torso straight. Extend at the elbows to reach the high push-up position. At the top of the movement, turn at the shoulders and reach one hand as high as possible toward the ceiling. Then reverse the motion and return under control back to the starting position. Switch between lifting your left and right arm on each rep.
PUSH-UPS INVOLVING WHOLE LEG MOVEMENTS
When you change the position of your leg during a push-up, your entire center of mass changes. Weight is distributed differently through your arms and legs, requiring contributions from all of the muscles in your body. These next three push-ups are especially challenging for your shoulders, arms and core.
OUTSIDE LEG KICK PUSH-UP (PART ONE)
Begin at the top of a typical push-up position. Keep your back straight as you lower the torso under control.
OUTSIDE LEG KICK PUSH-UP (PART TWO)
At the bottom of the push-up, kick your foot out to the side, keeping your knee straight. Then return your leg to its original position, and extend at your elbows until you return to the top of the push-up. Then lower yourself again, repeat the movement on your other side, lifting the opposite leg.
INSIDE LEG KICK PUSH-UP
Begin in the low push-up position and extend the elbows to reach the high position. At the top of the movement, turn at the shoulders and kick one foot under the body and as high as possible while touching that toe with your opposite hand. Then return your foot and hand to their original positions, lower yourself to the start, and repeat on the other side.
HIP TWIST PUSH-UP
Start at the top of the push-up position, with your elbows extended and torso held straight. Kick the left leg under and across your body, as shown. Lower your chest to the floor without letting your hips touch the ground. Extend at the elbows, return to the original position and repeat on opposite side.
PUSH-UPS THAT CHANGE THE ANGLE OF THE PRESSING MOTION
The final two push-ups use creative methods to change the pushing motion from strictly horizontal in nature to something even more challenging. These exercises create an increased demand on many muscles of the body, particularly your deltoids, triceps, and rotator cuff.
WALL PUSH-UP (PART ONE)
Begin in your typical high push-up position, but with one key difference: use your hands to press your feet into the wall. You want your toes to be facing downward, positioned about eight to 12 inches off the ground.
WALL PUSH-UP (PART TWO)
Lower your chest to the floor by bending at the elbows. Do your best to keep your elbows close to your sides – try not to let them splay outward. Then push through your hands, extend at the elbows and return to the original position.
ROONEY PRESS PUSH-UP (PART ONE)
Begin in the high push-up position, but spread your legs out to the side, rather than positioning them directly behind you.
ROONEY PRESS PUSH-UP (PART TWO)
Lower the head and chest out as far in front of the hands as possible.
ROONEY PRESS PUSH-UP (PART THREE)
Drag the forehead as close to the ground as possible while pressing the body backward and hips upward.
ROONEY PRESS PUSH-UP (PART FOUR)
Finish with your hips up, the head down and the elbows extended. Then return to the starting position and repeat the cycle again. For each of these exercises, begin with sets of 5 reps, and gradually work your way up to doing sets of 10. Work on your regular push-ups first, and slowly incorporate these modifications into your routine as you build strength.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MARTIN ROONEY, MHS, PT, CSCS
Rooney is the founder of Training for Warriors, trained athletes from the NFL, MLB, NBA and several Division I colleges, and has lectured for the American College of Sports Medicine and many other professional strength and conditioning organizations. He created the Pushup Warrior app, which features 120 push-up variations and 80 workouts. He has also written seven books, including “Warrior Cardio,” which is now available on Amazon.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you tried any of these variations? Which one was your favorite one and which one the most difficult one? Do you know any other variations that were not included here? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Nutrition, Workouts & Tips