The 17 Best Exercises to Do Instead of Push-Ups

Upper-body and core exercises — like planks and chest presses — are great push-up alternatives that work the same muscles.

Push-ups are a staple in many strength-training workouts, but not everybody is willing or able to perform them. Thankfully, there are many other upper-body and core exercises that train your muscles in similar ways.

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Below, we share some of our favorite push-up alternatives you can substitute into your workouts.

Push-Up Modifications to Suit Your Current Ability Level

Many people don't like to do push-ups because they aren't good at them yet. And that's totally fair — push-ups can be really hard. But before you give up on them entirely, consider modifications to make them more accessible. Using one of the following push-up variations will help you become stronger and more confident with push-ups over time.

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1. Elevated Push-Up

Elevating your hands is the best way to get better at push-ups. You practice moving your body as one unit, which helps build the core strength necessary to eventually rock push-ups from the floor.

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However, because you are pushing less of your body weight against gravity, elevated push-ups feel significantly easier than floor push-ups. This is great for building confidence.

You can use any stable surface for elevated push-ups. If you're at the gym, you can use a Smith machine, a barbell in a power rack or place your hands on a box or bench. If you're at home, try using a sturdy couch, table, chair or windowsill. If you're outside, look for a park bench or something similar.

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Pick a height that allows you to use a full range of motion, meaning you can touch your sternum to the bar, bench, couch or box on every rep. As you build strength, you can gradually use lower and lower surfaces. In time, many people will be able to work their way down to the floor using this method.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin by finding a sturdy surface on which to place your hands.
  2. Get into a high plank position by straightening your legs out behind you and fully extending your arms. Imagine there is a straight line running from your head to your hips to your heels.
  3. Keep your elbows within 45 degrees of your sides (or as close as possible) and do not shrug your shoulders.
  4. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the bar or bench.
  5. Finish the rep by pushing yourself away from the bar or bench until your arms are fully extended.

Tip

To maintain proper form throughout your elevated push-up reps, make sure to stay on your toes and squeeze your glutes. Don't allow your hips to drop or your butt to stick up in the air.

2. Knee Push-Up

If you don't have access to a stable surface needed for elevated push-ups, you can also practice with knee push-ups. Some coaches don't encourage these because you use your core less and don't practice moving your entire body. However, these can work as a push-up substitute as long as you use a full range of motion (touching your chest to the ground.)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on the floor with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees on the ground behind your hips. Spread your fingers apart and try to actively grab the floor with your hands.
  2. Keep your elbows within 45 degrees of your sides (or as close as possible) and do not shrug your shoulders.
  3. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground.
  4. Finish the rep by pushing yourself away from the floor until your arms are fully extended.

Tip

To maintain proper form throughout your knee push-up reps, make sure to squeeze your glutes and don't allow your hips to drop or your butt to stick up in the air.

Horizontal Pressing Exercises to Do Instead of Push-Ups

A push-up is a horizontal pressing movement. Any movement where you are pressing weights out in front of your chest (as opposed to overhead) counts as a horizontal pressing movement.

If you aren't a fan of push-ups or can't perform them, substitute other horizontal pressing movements to get a similar training effect.

If you can comfortably lie on your back and get up from the floor or a bench, dumbbell chest press exercises are a great push-up alternative. Use different body positions and bench angles to mix things up or accommodate the equipment you have available.

3. Dumbbell Floor Press

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Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting upright on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you and a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Carefully place one dumbbell upright on top of each thigh.
  2. Keeping the weights close to your chest, lie backwards until your back is flat on the floor. You can use your knees to help push the weights back with you.
  3. Bend your legs 90 degrees and plant your feet on the floor.
  4. Your upper arms, from shoulders to elbows, should be flat on the floor. Keep your elbows around 45 degrees from your sides (or as close as possible). Try to keep your wrists directly above your elbows.
  5. Initiate the movement by pressing the dumbbells up away from your chest until your elbows are fully extended.
  6. Finish the rep by lowering your arms all the way back to the floor in a controlled manner.
  7. When you're done with the set, lower the dumbbells to the floor before sitting up.

4. Dumbbell Bench Press

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting on the edge of a bench. Place a dumbbell upright on each thigh.
  2. Use your legs to help push the weights up to your chest as you carefully lie back onto the bench. If you have a spotter, they can hand you the weights once you're lying on your back.
  3. At the start of each rep, your arms should be fully extended above your chest. Keep your feet flat on the floor. If you can't, place weight plates or blocks underneath your feet.
  4. Initiate the movement by lowering your elbows down toward the floor in a controlled manner. Keep your hands and elbows at a 45-degree angle from your sides (or as close as possible).
  5. Lower the weights to chest height, then finish the rep by driving them back up toward the ceiling until your elbows are fully extended.
  6. When you're done with the set, lower the dumbbells to the floor before sitting up. If you're using a spotter, have them carefully take the weights out of your hands before you sit up.

5. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting up on the edge of a bench. Place one dumbbell on top of your thigh.
  2. Lie back onto the bench and use both hands to push the weight overhead. Be careful when you take your second hand off the dumbbell — make sure it is fully secured first. If you have a spotter, they can hand you the weight once you're lying on your back.
  3. At the start of each rep, both arms should be fully extended above your chest. Make a fist with the empty hand and keep it in the upright position throughout the set. Keep your feet flat on the floor. If you can't, place weight plates or blocks underneath your feet.
  4. Initiate the movement by lowering the elbow with the dumbbell down toward the floor in a controlled manner. Keep your hand and elbow at a 45-degree angle from your side (or as close as possible). Do not allow your body to rotate on the bench as you lower the weight.
  5. Lower the weight to chest height, then finish the rep by driving it back up to the ceiling until your elbow is fully extended.
  6. When you're done with the set, lower the dumbbell to the floor before sitting up. If you're using a spotter, have them carefully take the weight out of your hand before you sit up.

6. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting up on the edge of a bench. The bench should be at a 30- to 45-degree angle. Place a dumbbell upright on each thigh.
  2. Use your legs to help push the weights up to your chest as you carefully lie back onto the bench. If you have a spotter, they can hand you the weights once you're lying on your back.
  3. At the start of each rep, your arms should be fully extended above your chest. Keep your feet flat on the floor. If you can't, place weight plates or blocks underneath your feet.
  4. Initiate the movement by lowering your elbows down toward the floor in a controlled manner. Keep your hands and elbows at a 45-degree angle from your sides (or as close as possible).
  5. Lower the weights to chest height, then finish the rep by driving them back up to the ceiling until your elbows are fully extended.
  6. When you're done with the set, lower the dumbbells to the floor before sitting up. If you're using a spotter, have them carefully take the weights out of your hands before you sit up.

Tip

If you are not able to easily get up and down from the floor or a bench, you can replace push-ups with seated or standing horizontal pressing movements, such as banded or machine chest presses.

7. Banded Chest Press

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Activity Resistance Band Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Secure a band to a spot behind you at about chest height. You can use a doorway band anchor or loop the band around a power rack or another stable surface.
  2. Grab the handles or ends of the band so the band is between your upper arms and your sides.
  3. Take a moderate step forward. You can adjust your position to find the appropriate amount of resistance. Stand with your feet together, or stagger your stance to help with balance. It's OK to have a slight bend in your knees.
  4. Begin the rep with your hands at your armpits. Try to keep your elbows about 45 degrees from your sides (or as close as possible).
  5. Press out until your elbows are fully extended. Do not shrug your shoulders as you press. It can be helpful to aim a little lower as you press out.
  6. Finish the rep by returning your hands to your chest in a controlled manner.

Tip

If you don't have a doorway anchor or anywhere to secure your band, you can also perform banded chest presses with the band looped around your back. You might need to adjust your hand position to find the appropriate amount of resistance. It can also help to twist the band once behind your back to prevent it from slipping.

8. Machine Chest Press

The machine chest press is a great option for people who have difficulty getting up off the floor or bench or balancing. Because the machine provides all the stability for you, you can focus exclusively on building your horizontal pressing strength.

  1. Adjust the seat on the machine so you can sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. The seat should be high enough that you can press without shrugging your shoulders.
  2. Select your weights on the machine and sit down. Place your hands on the handles and bring your hands forward so they're just in front of your armpits.
  3. Press out until your elbows are fully extended.
  4. Finish the rep by bringing your hands back to your chest in a controlled manner.

Vertical Pressing Exercises to Do Instead of Push-Ups

Most people can easily replace push-ups with horizontal pressing movements. But if you can't perform horizontal pressing movements — people who have had mastectomies are sometimes instructed to avoid heavy horizontal pressing, for instance — you can swap out push-ups with vertical pressing movements.

Proceed with caution with vertical pressing if you have a history of shoulder pain or injuries. If you're not sure whether or not you should be pressing overhead, consult your doctor or physical therapist.

9. Landmine Press

A landmine is a barbell secured at one end. Many gyms have landmine attachments at the bottom of power racks where you can slide one end of the bar into a rotating metal sleeve. If you don't have one of these, you can create a makeshift landmine by placing one end of a barbell in the crease where the wall meets the floor.

Landmine pressing is a great middle ground between horizontal and vertical pressing. You get many of the benefits of vertical pressing without having to get into a true overhead position. This means you can probably safely perform landmine presses even if you have prior shoulder injuries or limited overhead mobility.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Barbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin standing upright with one hand on the end of a landmine barbell.
  2. Position yourself so there is a 90-degree angle between your forearm and the bar. Your elbow should be even with your side. Make a fist with your empty hand and keep it out to your side throughout the set.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the bar away from your body. Think about reaching your hand up toward the ceiling in front of you. Do not shrug your shoulder or arch your back as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the bar back down in a controlled manner until your elbow is once again even with your side.

10. Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press

A single-arm overhead press is a true vertical press, which means you'll be using a lot more shoulders and less chest than you would for push-ups or other horizontal pressing movements. For these reasons, avoid using this as a push-up substitute unless you are unable to perform any of the options above.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Region Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin standing upright with a dumbbell in one hand, your palm facing slightly in toward your midline. Your elbow should be down by your side and your forearm should be vertical.
  2. Make a fist with your empty hand and keep it out by your side throughout the set.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the weight up to the ceiling. Allow your arm and hand to naturally rotate as you press. Do not shrug your shoulder or arch your back as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the weight back down in a controlled manner until your elbow is once again even with your side.

Tip

If you struggle to press overhead without arching your back, or you want to increase the core and hip demands of the movement, try pressing from a half-kneeling position. This position works well for landmine, dumbbell and kettlebell overhead pressing.

The half-kneeling position resembles the bottom of a lunge: One knee is down on the floor directly beneath your hip, and the other foot is out in front of you so your knee forms a 90-degree angle. Press with the arm that's opposite your front leg.

Core Exercises to Do Instead of Push-Ups

Push-ups are not just an upper-body exercise. Your entire body — especially your core — is involved with each push-up. So, core exercises can be great substitutes for push-ups if you choose anti-extension core exercises, which are movements where you resist extending (arching) your lower back.

A strong core resists unwanted extension while performing movements in the gym and daily life. If your core strength isn't up to par, you might notice your hips sagging and lower back arching as you perform push-ups. You can address this by performing core exercises that force you to resist arching and focus on keeping your torso still.

11. Dead Bug

Dead bugs are the best exercise to start with if you want to build anti-extension core strength. They are easier to perform than planks because you get external feedback from lying on the ground. As a result, you'll have more direct clues about whether you're performing the exercise correctly or not.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended above your chest, your legs rolled off the floor and your knees bent at 90-degree angles. Your hips should be tilted backward and you should press your entire back into the floor.
  2. Take a deep breath, then exhale and slowly extend one leg and the opposite arm away from your body. Keep your other arm and leg as still as possible. Don't allow your lower back to arch or pull off the floor as you extend your limbs.
  3. Finish the rep by inhaling and slowly returning to the starting position.
  4. Take a deep breath, then exhale and slowly extend your other leg and opposite arm away from your body. Keep your other arm and leg as still as possible. Don't allow your lower back to arch or pull off the floor as you extend your limbs.

Plank variations of all kinds are also great substitutes for push-ups. Begin with forearm and high planks held for time. Once you can hold a solid plank for 6o seconds, increase the difficulty with moving variations, such as pledge planks and mountain climbers (more on those below).

12. Forearm Plank

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Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on all fours with your forearms and knees on the floor. Engage your back muscles by reaching your elbows down into the ground.
  2. Straighten your legs behind you so you are up on your toes. Place your feet about hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and point your "belt buckle" toward your chin.
  3. Hold this top position for time.

Tip

During a forearm plank, try to breathe normally and don't hold your breath. Focus on maintaining as much full- body tension as possible. Don't allow your hips to drop, but also don't stick your butt up in the air. Imagine a straight line running from your head through your hips to your heels.

13. High Plank

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. Your arms should be fully extended and reaching into the floor. Spread your fingers apart and try to actively grab the floor with your hands.
  2. Straighten your legs behind you so you are up on your toes. Place your feet about hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and point your "belt buckle" toward your chin.
  3. Hold this top position for time.

Tip

During a high plank, try to breathe normally and don't hold your breath. Focus on maintaining as much full-body tension as possible. Don't allow your hips to drop, and also don't stick your butt up in the air. Imagine a straight line running from your head through your hips to your heels.

14. Pledge Plank

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. Your arms should be fully extended and reaching into the floor. Spread your fingers apart and try to actively grab the floor with your hands.
  2. Straighten your legs behind you so you are up on your toes. Place your feet wide and outside your body. Squeeze your glutes and point your "belt buckle" toward your chin.
  3. Slowly pick one hand off the floor and tap your opposite shoulder. Try to resist rotation or weight shifting when you do this. Don't allow your hips to drop but also don't stick your butt up in the air.
  4. Slowly return your hand to the floor and repeat on the opposite side.

15. Mountain Climber

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. Your arms should be fully extended and reaching into the floor. Spread your fingers apart and try to actively grab the floor with your hands.
  2. Straighten your legs behind you so you are up on your toes. Place your feet about hip-width apart. Squeeze your glutes and point your "belt buckle" toward your chin.
  3. Slowly pick one foot off the floor and pull that knee in toward your stomach. Try to resist rotation or weight shifting when you do this. Don't allow your hips to drop but also don't stick your butt up in the air.
  4. Slowly return your foot to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

16. Bear Crawl

Bear crawls are a great push-up substitute because they're essentially a moving plank. Crawling builds upper-body, core and lower-body strength and is a great way to practice coordinating your entire body.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the floor. It's easiest to begin with your left hand and knee together and your right hand and knee apart.
  2. Curl your toes under and push through your hands and toes so your knees come off the floor an inch or two. Keep your core engaged and hips level so you don't stick your butt into the air.
  3. Crawl forward with your right hand and left foot.
  4. Then, crawl with your left hand and right foot.
  5. Continue to crawl forward, alternating sides.

17. Kettlebell Front Rack Carry

The front rack carry is a fantastic push-up substitution because it helps build impressive levels of strength in the front of your core. It can also improve shoulder health and stability. Because you need basic kettlebell skills to safely clean the weights into position, this option may not be ideal for beginners.

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Activity Kettlebell Workout
Region Core and Upper Body
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin by cleaning a pair of kettlebells into the front rack position. The kettlebells should sit on the outside of your forearms, which should be vertical. Don't bend your wrists. Keep your elbows down at your sides. Think about engaging your core and upper-back muscles.
  2. Carry the weights around for time or distance. Breathe normally and do not hold your breath. Do not arch your back as you walk. Don't let the kettlebells touch each other.
  3. When you have completed your set, return the bells to the ground by swinging them through your legs and placing them in front of you.

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