What Is an Uneven Push-Up?

Fit and attractive athlete is performing a one-handed push-up on a medicine ball at the gym.
Use a medicine ball for a variation of the uneven push-up. (Image: MeikePetri/iStock/Getty Images)

Just when you think you've mastered the push-up—surprise! Other variations pop up. You may be familiar with incline or decline push-ups, and even clap push-ups, where you explode up from the ground to smack your hands together before lowering back down, but you've become aware of another version of this ever-varied exercise: the uneven push-up.

This push-up off-shoot is quite simple, really. You get into a regular push-up, but one hand is elevated on a higher surface while the other hand remains just slightly outside your shoulders on the ground. This position increases the challenge of the exercise for both your core — to keep you stable in the cocked position — and the shoulder, tricep and pecs of the side that remains on the ground.

Options for Elevation

The uneven push-up is just like a regular push-up, but one arm hand is elevated — but, on what can make all the difference. You don't want to choose something taller than about 8 inches, as this will strain your shoulder joint and limit your range of motion. Otherwise, you have lots of options. An aerobic step with zero, one or two risers works. A stair step, dumbbell, folded towel or phone book will also do.

Athlete performing one-handed push up on a medicine ball at the gym.
Roll the ball back and forth between push-ups to increase the difficulty. (Image: MeikePetri/iStock/Getty Images)

To increase the instability of the exercise and challenge the muscles of your core to fire extra hard, place one hand on a medicine ball or a balancing disc. For a real challenge, do an alternating uneven push-up with a medicine ball:

  1. Place your right hand on the ball and left hand on the floor. Extend your legs behind you and brace your core muscles to keep your body straight.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower down into the push-up and as you rise up, roll the medicine ball to the left hand and put your right hand on the floor.
  3. Bend and extend your elbows to do a push-up with the left side elevated.
  4. Continue to pass the ball back and forth for 10 to 15 reps.

Note that if you find any variation of the uneven push-up too challenging, even the alternating uneven push-up with a medicine ball, modify by placing your knees on the floor.

Why Try It?

You might try the uneven push-up because you like a challenge. Your body also benefits from mixing exercises up a bit — if you've mastered the push-up, you get limited gains continuing to do it in the same way over and over. You can't easily add weight, unless you gain serious pounds, and your body moves in the same pattern with each repetition.

An uneven push-up targets the muscles from different angles. It also introduces the added challenge to the core and increases the intensity for one side (the one with the hand on the floor). If you're careful to do equal sets on each side, it could even lead to upper-body strength gains.

Confident muscled young man wearing sport wear and doing one hand push-up while exercising on the floor in loft interior
Use uneven push-ups as a step toward learning the one-armed version. (Image: g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

The uneven push-up also serves as part of a progression to learning how to do the advanced one-arm push-up. Once you've worked up to full push-ups, do them with narrowly placed hands to increase the activation of the triceps and core — these are known as triangle push-ups. Once you can easily bang out 12 reps, or more, of triangle push-ups, aim to conquer uneven push-ups with a hand on a medicine ball. Next, you'll take other variations, including half one-arm push-ups in which you wrap one arm behind your back as you bend the other elbow to lower halfway to the floor (rather than all the way) .

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