The push-up is almost the perfect exercise, challenging your chest, arms, shoulders and core all at once. If you're looking for a way to spice up your exercise game, these 10 different types of push-ups give you a world of possibilities to explore.
Push-Ups and a Plan
Each of the following different types of push-ups depends on having a firm grasp of proper technique for the full push-up — which just happens to be the building block for every variation:
- Position yourself on your hands and knees, palms underneath, and slightly wider than, your shoulders.
- Straighten your legs so that now you're balancing on your palms and toes. Your body should be straight from head to heels.
- Squeeze your abs to keep your body straight as you bend your arms, lowering your chest toward the floor. Stop when your shoulders break the plane of your elbows (for the conservative), or at the bottom of the comfortable range of motion (for the less conservative).
- Use the muscles of your arms, shoulders and chest to press yourself back up to a straight-arm position. This completes one repetition.
How many push-ups should you be doing, anyway? For basic strength-training purposes, doing one or two sets of eight to 12 push-ups, at least twice a week, is plenty. If doing eight push-ups with proper form is hard, do one of the easier variations to start out; if you can do 12 with proper form, consider challenging yourself with one of the harder variations.
With that said, you certainly can do more push-ups as part of your goal to build strength or get fit. And if you were weighing whether or not it's worth the effort to drop and do a few push-ups, consider this: In a February 2019 issue of JAMA Network Open, researchers followed 1,104 "occupationally active" adult men for 10 years. They found that of those men, the ones who were able to do more than 40 push-ups during the initial assessment were much less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease during that 10-year period.
1. Easier Types of Push-Ups
Not up to doing full push-ups yet? No problem: Use one of these easier variations to build up the strength and confidence for tackling regular push-ups.
Move 1: Knee Push-Ups
This modified push-up doesn't require any special equipment and allows you to maintain the same hand/shoulder position you'll use for full push-ups.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees, palms underneath and slightly wider apart than your shoulders.
- Scoot your knees back until your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees. If you're not doing this exercise on a soft surface, like a yoga mat or carpeted floor, consider putting a folded towel under your knees for cushioning.
- Bend your arms and lower your chest toward the floor, as in full push-ups; then straighten your arms to complete the repetition.
Move 2: Wall Push-Ups
You may also see these called counter push-ups or even bench push-ups — really, you can use any horizontal, stable surface that will support your weight. The lower the surface, the more challenging your wall push-ups will be.
- Stand facing the wall, counter, weight bench or another sturdy surface.
- Place your palms on the surface you've chosen and walk your feet back until your arms form a right angle to your body. Or, to put it another way, your body and arms should form the shape of an "L."
- Bend your arms to lower your chest toward the wall or other surface; straighten your arms to complete the repetition.
Doing this variation against a wall generally works well if your hands are placed high up on the wall. But if you're ready to move your hands lower, you'll eventually hit a point where the friction of your hands on the wall doesn't offer enough stability. When that happens, it's time to switch to a lower surface like a kitchen counter or a weight bench.
2. Harder Push-Up Variations
Once you can do a complete set of regular push-ups without a problem, it's time to continue challenging yourself with harder variations.
Move 1: Decline Push-Ups
Elevating your hands for wall push-ups makes the exercise easier — so it might not be surprising that adopting the opposite position, with your feet higher than your hands, makes doing push-ups harder.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees, next to a suitable elevated surface — a few examples include a plyo box, an aerobics step and a weight bench.
- Assume the push-up position, but this time instead of walking your feet out behind you, place them on the elevated surface. Take a moment to double-check your body position: Your body should still be flat like a board from head to heels, even though your heels are now higher than your head.
- Squeeze your core muscles to keep your body straight as you bend your arms, lowering into the push-up; then straighten your arms to complete the repetition.
Move 2: Triceps Push-Ups
During a normal push-up, your chest muscles are the primary movers, while your shoulders and triceps assist. But by changing your hand position, you can shift much of the emphasis to your triceps and shoulders, which makes the exercise even more challenging.
- Assume the normal push-up position on your hands and toes.
- Walk your hands in until they're directly under your shoulders; then walk them back until they're level with your ribs.
- Bend your arms, keeping your elbows tucked close against your side. Stop when your shoulders break the plane of your elbows.
- Straighten your arms to complete the repetition.
Move 3: Triangle Push-Ups
Want an even more challenging push-up variation for your triceps? According to an evaluation of eight triceps exercises sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, the triangle push-up — sometimes called a diamond push-up — recruited the most muscle involvement from the triceps.
- Assume the normal push-up position on your hands and toes.
- Walk your hands closer together until your fingers and thumbs come together to form the shape of either a triangle or a diamond. (The only difference between the two is how you position your thumbs.)
- Bend your arms, lowering your chest toward your hands.
- Straighten your arms and return to the "up" position, completing the repetition.
Move 4: "T" Push-Ups
Any type of push-up makes a fantastic core exercise, but "T" push-ups go the extra mile by incorporating a side plank into the motion.
- Assume the usual push-up position.
- Lower yourself into the "down" position as usual.
- Straighten your arms into the usual "up" position, and then use your core muscles to rotate your body onto your straight right arm, bringing your left arm into the air.
- You should end up in a side plank on your right arm, with your feet stacked on top of each other and your left arm reaching straight up.
- Return to the push-up position and do another push-up, this time shifting into a side plank on your left arm, with your right arm reaching straight up.
- Return to your starting position to complete the repetition.
If you struggle with stability doing the side plank, you can place both feet on the floor. Having the inside of your upper foot and the outside of your lower foot each in contact with the floor will help you stabilize your body.
Move 5: Dive-Bomber Push-Ups
- Assume the normal push-up position. Check to make sure your feet are hip-width apart, and position your hands about the length of your palm farther back (toward your feet) than usual.
- Let your hips rise into a pike position so that your body forms an inverted "V," not unlike the downward dog position of yoga.
- Lower your hips toward the ground, keeping your legs straight but letting your arms bend so that your chest moves forward and down, almost grazing the ground.
- As you continue the motion, your chest will come up as your hips sink close to the ground. Your emphasis should be on maintaining a strong core, keeping your torso close to to the floor but not resting on it, and limiting yourself to a comfortable extension in your back as you straighten your arms, elevating your shoulders above your hips in a position reminiscent of the cobra pose in yoga.
- Reverse the motion, bending your arms to lower your chest as your hips come back up to the peak of the inverted "V." This completes one repetition.
Dive-bomber push-ups get their name from the way your chest dives down toward the floor and then back up again with each repetition, much like a dive bomber would do in combat.
Move 6: Clapping Push-Ups
If you're working on dynamic power in your chest muscles, it's hard to beat the demands of clapping push-ups. They also make a great bar trick.
- Assume the normal push-up position.
- Bend your arms, sinking into the "down" position as usual.
- As soon as you reach the bottom of your push-up motion, straighten your arms to explode upward, lifting your torso off the floor. If your motion is powerful enough, you'll be able to clap your hands together beneath your torso.
- Quickly return your hands to their usual position and use the muscles of your chest, shoulders and arms to catch yourself as you sink back into the "down" position for another repetition.
3. Suspended Push-Up Variations
Another way to make push-ups more difficult is by introducing instability, using suspension training equipment such as a TRX Trainer.
Move 1: Suspended Push-Ups
You can do suspended push-ups with either your hands or your feet in the suspension trainer; either way, the basic form is just the same as a full push-up:
- Assume the push-up position, either with your hands on the floor and your feet in the suspension trainer, or your hands in the suspension trainer and your feet on the floor.
- Bend your arms as you lower yourself into the "down" position. Pay particular attention to your body position, as introducing the element of instability makes this exercise especially challenging for your core.
- Straighten your arms, pressing your body back to the "up" position to complete the repetition.
Move 2: Suspended Archer Push-Ups
Still in that suspension trainer? Good — if you hang around a little longer you can do suspended archer push-ups, which boil down to doing a chest fly with one arm while the other does a normal push-up. The overall effect takes you into — then out of — the position of an archer drawing a bow.
- Assume the normal push-up position with your hands in the suspension trainer. This is a very challenging variation, so you might want to elevate the trainer handles at first. (That makes the exercise easier.)
- Bend your right arm as if you're doing a normal push-up. At the same time, keep your left arm almost straight and slide it out to the side, as if you were doing a dumbbell fly. Keep your body square to the floor; don't let your shoulders tip to one side or the other.
- Stop when your right arm is at the normal "down" push-up position, which should keep your left arm within an appropriate range of motion too.
- Straighten your right arm and swing your left arm back in to return to the "up" push-up position.
- Repeat the motion on the other side, bending your left arm as for a normal push-up, and swinging your straight right arm out as if doing a chest fly. When you return to the normal "up" position, this completes one full repetition.
The orientation of your straight arm makes a difference. There should be a slight bend in your elbow, and your elbow should point away from the suspension handles — not down toward your feet.
- JAMA Network Open: "Association Between Push-Up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men"
- American Council on Exercise: "Tone Up Your Triceps With These Three Exercises"
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE-Sponsored Research: Best Triceps Exercises"
- YouTube: "Bodybuilding.com: Dive Bomber Push-Up"