Exercise Guides: 27 Push-up Variations For Building Strength
Regular Pushups—The Foundation Stone Of Muscle Building
Pushups are as old-school as it gets. People have been doing this exercise since forever and will continue doing it till the end of time.
Pushups hit your pecs, but also train your triceps, shoulders, and even upper back muscles. They also require you to engage your core, and even glutes and quads, as your body needs to be tight.
However, what makes pushups so great is the fact that you don’t need any equipment, and you can do them anywhere. While you can do pushups with weights too, there is more than enough variations to keep you busy just with your bodyweight.
Lastly, pushups are safe. Because you have the floor below you, it is very hard to put shoulders in a compromised position. So unlike with bench press and flys, your shoulders are safe, as long as you don’t flare out your elbows.
Which Push-ups are the best
Best for Chest Mass – The Standard Pushup
Best for Beginners – The Knee Push-up
Best for Stronger Athletes – Decline Push-ups
Best for Forearm Strength – Knuckle Push Ups
Best for Pec Isolation – Triple Stop Pushup
Best for Outer Pecs – Wide Hand Pushup
Best for Triceps – Diamond Push up
Best for Obliques – Spiderman Push-up
Best for Stability – Medicine Ball Pushup
Best for Explosive Power – Clap Push ups
Best for Raw Power – Pushup Off the floor
Best for Trapezius Muscles – Push-up Plus
Best for Fingers and Wrists – Finger Tip Push ups
How to do them and Muscles Worked
We start with the basics. To do a pushup, get on the floor, and assume the pushup position. You should have only your palms and toes touching the floor while holding your body in a straight line. Engage you core and glutes. Your arms should be just below your shoulders, but slightly wider.
Now, start lowering yourself to the ground, until your chest almost touches the floor. Pause for a brief moment, and push yourself back up. Don’t let your hips sag, your upper and lower body should remain rigid throughout the movement. Pause at the top, and continue to rep two.
The standard push up will move your pecs through their full range of motion better than any other version of the exercise. Concentrate on a full range of motion, going all the way down until your nose touches the floor and then power up through pec contraction.
The standard push up is a tremendous overall upper body strength and muscle builder. It primarily targets the chest, providing contraction and expansion of the pectorals through their entire range of motion.
Secondary muscles worked are the front deltoids and the triceps. The core stability required to keep your torso in place also makes this a good worker of the rectus abdominis muscles.
Use the standard push up as your core bodyweight workout upper body strengthner and mass builder. Once you can do 5 sets of 50 reps with no more than 2 minutes rest between sets, look for a more advanced version of the push up to keep challenging yourself.
Standard push ups are an excellent finishing exercise in the gym. After you have completed your last set of dumbbell presses or cable presses, drop to the floor and pump out a set of push ups to failure. If you have been hitting your pecs with sufficient intensity, you shouldn’t get more than a dozen full reps!
Knee Push Up
The knee version of the push up reduces the amount of bodyweight that you have to push, making it a good starting point for those who are unable to do a full standard push up.
Get down on all four on your knees and perform the push up from that position.
The knee version of the push up will work the same muscle as the standard version – the chest, shoulders, triceps. You will not get much core activation with this one, however.
Decline Push ups
Once you can do 50 standard push ups, its time to make the exercise harder by elevating your feet. The higher you place your feet, the harder the exercise is, as it requires you to lift more weight. Many people believe that doing push ups on an incline or decline will allow you to target either the upper of lower portions of the chest. This is not the case.
All pectoral muscle fibers have the same origin and insertion points. That means that when you do a chest exercise you will be activating all of the together. What the decline angle will do is to palace more prioritized stress on the front deltoid and a little less on the pectoral muscles. If you are trying to develop your delts more than your pecs, I recommend going with this version of the push up. If not, stick with the standard version to keep the primary stress on the pectorals.
This version with place more emphasis on the front deltoids and triceps than on the pecs.
Doing pushups on the knuckles is not only badass but is a valuable option for people who have wrist issues. A clenched fist puts your wrist in a more neutral position, which will spare them. Knuckle pushups are a good option if you don’t have pushup bars, which also save wrists, and let you go a bit deeper.
The knuckle push up is very good way to develop the strength of your fists. It will also work the forearms more than the standard push up. If you are a boxer or martial artist, you should include the knuckle push up as a regular part of your workout routine in order to develop strength and hardness in the fist area.
This version takes advantage of isometric eccentric holds to strengthen your chest at different points through its range of motion.
For those of you who are more advanced, try a triple stop pushup. The first stop should be halfway down, the second should be at the bottom, and the last should be when you almost locked your elbows at the top. Hold each position for 2-3 seconds. This is very hard, and don’t expect too many reps.
Wide Hands Pushup
Wide hand pushups (about twice the shoulder width) are a great option for hitting your chest muscles more. Just make sure you don’t put your hands too wide, you don’t want to compromise your shoulders.
When you take your hands out wider than the standard shoulder width distance will place more of a stretch effect on the pecs.
Diamond pushups are a close relative of close-hand pushups. Here, you put your hands close together, your thumbs and pointer fingers forming a diamond shape. This will torch your triceps hard. This kind of push up is also known as Triangle Push-up.
The diamond push up puts 80 percent of the push up effort squarely on your triceps. While many people belief that this exercises prioritizes the outer head of the triceps, the reality is that you cannot work any of the triceps heads separately. The Diamond, or Triangle, Push Up will work all three heads together.
This is another push up variation that makes an excellent finishing exercise in the gym. Pump out a set to failure after your last set of your last exercise on your tricep workout to give yourself an awesome tricep pump.
Spiderman pushups are one of the coolest variations you can try. Here, at the bottom of a regular pushup position, you lift your right leg, trying to touch your right elbow with your right knee. Then you do the same on the left side with your next rep.
This is an excellent option for core development, but also for stability and balance, as well as flexibility, making it a really terrific exercise.
The Spiderman Push Up takes the emphasis off the chest (though it is still a secondary worker) and places it on the obliques and intercostals at the sides of the waist. This is, in fact, a very good all round core developer. At the same time this exercise will help you to develop balance, flexibility and proprioception.
Medicine Ball Pushup
Medicine balls are getting more and more popular, especially among CrossFit people. You can use this great piece of equipment to do pushups.
You can do them with one arm on a medicine ball, or with both arms on it. This will torch your abs, as it will require a lot of stability to perform. If you are doing the exercise with one arm, make sure you do an equal amount of reps with both hands on the ball.
The medicine ball push up is a very challenging exercise due to the instability factor. This makes the exercise much harder. You will really feel it in the pecs and triceps as well as the entire core region.
Explosive Pushup / Clap Pushups
To do an explosive pushup, just push yourself off the floor as hard as you can. The idea is to lift yourself off the ground, into a little hand jump. If you are strong enough, you can even clap hands, performing a cool trick. Explosive pushups are an excellent way to build explosive power, which translates well into other activities, such as punching. For more advanced athletes, you can try superman pushup which might be the most advanced pushup you can perform.
Pushup Off The Floor
This kind of pushup is very hard, as it kills off any momentum, making you start from scratch. Here, lie flat on the floor in the bottom position, lifting your hands up too. This is an anti-cheating pushup, and starting from a dead stop will be more challenging than doing sloppy form momentum-driven pushups.
Pushup plus is one of the healthiest forms of pushups you can do. To perform it, you need to perform a “shrug” with your scapulas on top of the pushup position. You do this by pushing your upper back towards the ceiling in the top position. This slight movement will target your serratus muscle, which is often neglected, but a critical factor in shoulder stability.
You can do this with your feet over a pilates ball too.
The push up plus will still place primary stress on your pectorals. The shrug movement at the top of the push up will also activate your trapezius muscles, which run through the upper part of your back. You’ll also involve the serratus muscles.
Finger Tip Pushups
Get down into the standard push-up position supporting your body with all your fingertips. Then perform this push-up just like the standard one.
Other Push Up Variations
Close Grip Push Up
Close hand pushups ( hands shoulder width apart ) will hit your triceps more, developing all three triceps heads. Don’t let your elbows flare, keep them tucked to your sides.
You can actually superset these two exercises, as they target different muscle groups, which will result in massive pumps.
The close grip push up will still work your pecs but it will also place more emphasis on your triceps muscles. Because this is a much smaller muscle group than your pectorals, the exercise is harder and you won’t be able to do as many reps.
Take your hands out wider than the standard shoulder width distance will place more of a stretch effect on the pecs. This makes it harder to go up and down but also shortens your range of motion.
Judo pushups are also known as dive bomber pushups, which is an excellent way of explaining the exercise.
Here, you don’t start completely straight, but rather with your hips elevated, and your hands a bit closer to your knees. Then, when you lower your chest to the floor, drop your hips while pushing your upper body up at the same time. Don’t let your hips touch the ground. Then reverse the movement the same way, back to the starting position.
This one takes some time mastering, but it is a great and unique movement, and we recommend you to try it.
You do a staggered hand pushup by placing one hand slightly higher, about face level. This will put more tension on your shoulders and core, and also force one side of your body to work extra hard. Just make sure to switch hands and do the same amount of reps, to avoid muscle imbalances.
Single-leg Raised Pushup
Also known as stacked feet pushup, this version is performed by placing one foot on top of other, heel to toe. That will put more weight on your chest, making it a bit harder. Just don’t forget to switch feet.
Knee To Opposite Elbow Push Up
Here, you perform a standard pushup, but then at the top of the movement, bring your knee up to the opposite elbow. This will contract your core muscles, and also burn extra calories, especially if you do this exercise fast. Switch knees on every rep.
Rocky, anyone? If you are strong enough to perform a single arm pushup, kudos to you! This iconic movement is an excellent muscle builder and a true test of upper body strength. If you can do ten pushups on one hand, you are one badass person! Not to mention that this is one of the coolest moves you can perform.
To do it, your feet should be wider than in standard pushups, and your hand should be placed more centrally. You can place the other hand over your back. Also, it is OK to lean a little bit laterally, to put more weight over your working hand if you want to try more advanced push-up variations.
Bodyweight Shoulder Press and Handstand Pushups
While pushups are primarily chest-builders, slight push-up variations of the starting position will convert them into a bodyweight shoulder press.
All you need to do is to assume a pushup position with your feet close to your feet, looking like a reversed V. You want your torso to be almost perpendicular to the floor. Now flex your elbows, and go as far as your head allows you until it almost touches the floor.
If this is too easy for you, you can try placing your feet on a bench or bed, which will put more weight on your shoulders.
Also, if you are advanced, you can do the same exercise from a complete handstand, which will put the most weight on your delts.
The handstand push up will put the primary stress on the front deltoid. This exercise is, in effect, a body weight reverse position version of the overhead press. Be aware that this is a challenging exercise as you are, effectively, shoulder pressing with your entire bodyweight. Remember, the further you walk your hands away from the wall, the easier the exercise will be. As you get stronger on this exercise you can always walk your hands back in closer to the wall.
Lastly, if you want to push your pushups to another level, introduce resistance. This can be anything from having a backpack, or holding a plate over your back, to inVESTing, and getting a weighted vest.
Doing your pushups weighted will allow you to overload this exercise progressively, and your muscles and strength will continue to develop. Of course, these kinds of push up variations require equipment or at least books, but it will tremendously help your development.
Break Dance Pushups
Get in the standard push-up position. This is a four-count exercise.
Count 1: Perform a standard push-up.
Count 2: Take your right hand over your body and cross your opposite leg under your body to flip over into the crab walk position.
Count 3: Cross back over into the push-up position. Perform one push-up.
Count 4: Take your left hand over your body and cross your opposite leg under your body to flip over into the crab walk position.
The plyometric push-up is a push-up with a bounce. Get into the standard pushup plank position. Lower your body and bounce up with hands briefly off the ground. To add an additional challenge to this exercise, alternate between a standard push-up and a triceps pushup. You can also perform plyometric push-ups in the knee push-up position which makes it ideal for beginners as well. Another variation of the plyometric push-up would be to use it for wall push-ups.
Pushups with Dumbbells
This push-up requires a set of dumbbells. The dumbbells will be used just like push-up stands to support your hands. Get in the traditional pushups position holding the dumbbells with the bars parallel to your body, which means your palms are facing one another and your wrists straight. Five- pound dumbbells will work for this. In this starting position with your arms slightly bent at the elbows but straight, perform a regular push-up while maintaining your grip on the dumbbells.
The dumbbell push up will work the same muscles as the standard ush up. However the dumbbells provide your body with greater depth potential so that you are able to go down lower than on a standard push up. This allows you to get a deeper contraction on the pectorals in the bottom position of the movement.
Start in the traditional pushups position. Use a three count to get all the movements.
Count 1: Bring your body to the lowering phase plank position.
Count 2: Bend your right leg to the side of your body until your knee reaches your right elbow. The right leg remains elevated for this move until it’s back to the starting position with foot on the ground.
Count 3: Lift your body back to the standard push-up position. With the next alternating rep you will use your left leg. Continue your repetitions by alternating between using your right and your left leg for count two. Use the three count to help you stay with the rhythm of the exercise.
Start in the traditional pushup position with your shoulders directly over your hand. Use a three count to get all the movements.
Count 1: Lower your body to the down position.
Count 2: Raise your right arm while turning your body to the side. You left arm is supporting your right arm is extended. It looks like a T on its side, hence T-Push-up.
Count 3: Lift your body back to the standard push-up position. With the next alternating rep you will raise your left arm. Continue your repetitions by alternating between using your right and your left arm for count two. Use the three count to help you stay with the rhythm of the exercise.
The T Push Up works all of the muscles that are activated when you do the standard push up. The addition of the T rise movement also brings into play the obliques, intercostals, deltoids and latissimus dorsi muscles. This is also an effective upper body stretching and flexibility exercise.
Leap Frog Push Ups
Get down on all fours with your butt somewhat in the air and legs spread wider than your arms with knees and arms bent. Prepare to spring into the air by bouncing up and downward two to three times with feet and arms still on the ground and then from the down position, with explosive energy, push your body up to where your feet and hands are briefly airborne and then land back in the starting position. Note that your knees will bend just inside of your bent elbows when going down. Your elbows will be bent outwards and your hands are a little more than shoulder width apart while going down.
Four Man Push Ups
The four man push up is an awesome strength challenge to test out you and your buddies. Here’s how to do it.
First person: Get down in the standard push-up position.
Second person: At a 90-degree angle to the first person, get in the push- up position by placing your legs on the lower back of the first person.
Third person: The third person is parallel to the first person with his or her feet placed on the lower back of the second person. The first and third persons have head and feet in opposite directions. Each could look to the side and see the boots of the other not far from their heads.
Fourth person: The fourth person will place his legs on the lower back of person number three.
First person: The first person must now place his legs on the lower back of person number four. All four now have their legs elevated on the lower backs of each other and all four have their hands on the ground in a push-up position. On command
of a designated leader, all four will perform push-ups in sync with each other. From above, the four person push-up formation looks like a box with feet sticking out on the ends.
How to Work Up to a One Arm Push Up
Phase 1: To prepare for the one-arm push-up, you should be able to per- form a set of 50 standard push-ups with excellent form. Once you’ve accomplished this, move on to phase 2.
Phase 2: Practice asymmetrical push-ups. Get in the standard push-up position. Move the left hand back next to your abdominal region with your right hand in the standard push-up position next to the chest. Perform several push-ups in that position and then switch hand positions and do the same number of reps again.
Phase 3: Practice negative one-arm push-ups. Spread your feet wide with one hand on the ground in the one-arm push-up position. Lower your body as far as you can and hold that position for as long as you can, at the most 20 to 30 seconds. Get back into the start position and repeat.
Phase 4: Get in the one-arm push-up position with feet spread and one arm on the ground while holding your body in the up position. Your hand on
the ground should be centered while the unused hand is behind your back. Lower your body close to the ground, pause briefly and bring yourself back up to the starting position. This is the one-arm push-up.
Push Up Progression
If you want to make real progress with your push ups, you need set yourself a target and then systematically work towards it. Let’s say that your goal is to do 50 push ups in a row. Give yourself the goal of doing 100 push ups in as few sets as possible. Each set you should keep going until failure.
On the first set, you might get to 21 reps. Then on set two, you get another 14 reps. Now your total is 35 reps. Keep adding sets until your cumulative total hits 100. Allow yourself exactly 60 seconds between each set. Do this every second day. Each workout push to get more quality reps on each set and to reduce your total number of sets required to reach the 100 rep mark. You will eventually get to 50 reps on the first set.
Make sure that you are exercising through a full range of motion when you do your push ups. Cheating by only going down half way will get you nowhere.
Create Your Own Pushup Workout
Now that you have more than enough exercises, it’s time to do the work. Because pushups are a bodyweight movement, they don’t tax your muscles as much, which means you can train them more often, if you only do bodyweight exercises of course.
With pushups, the volume is your best friend. That means reps, reps, and more reps! Start with something basic like knee or standard pushups, and work your way up to five sets of twenty. Then, start introducing harder and harder variations, that will hit your muscles in a new way.
But remember, it’s not only about counting reps or adding weight. You can create time-based routines. For example, pick five exercises, from the hardest to the easiest, and do them in succession, 30 seconds each. When the timer ends, rest for 60 seconds, and reverse, starting from the easiest, to the hardest.
Do More Than Pushups
All of the exercises listed above will keep you busy for a while. However, every pushup variation is still only a pushup. That means it will train your chest, shoulders, triceps, and other muscles to a lesser extent. If you want to have a balanced physique, that’s not enough.
Include other bodyweight exercises into your routine. Squats, pull-ups, lunges, dips, planks and side planks, inverted rows, crunches, those are only some of the exercises you should perform to develop a great looking and healthy body.
And guys, if you have access to them, use weights. Too many people take the cult-like approach to fitness, only embracing calisthenics, or only swearing into barbells. The truth is that every exercise has its place and that you should use different movements in your development. That will not only get you results but will keep you interested along the way. Be S.M.A.R.T.
That was our take on the world of pushups and different push-up variations. As you can see, a lot of different species habit this ecosystem. They are all a part of one major pushup family, that is walking the fitness planet from the beginning of time. And it looks like the pushup will remain the bodyweight king of exercise for good, as there are no other species like pushup available to calisthenics fanatics worldwide.
Jokes aside, you should definitely embrace the pushup, and we are not only talking about the standard version. Switch things up, and once you master a movement, try some of the more advanced variation. You will notice some serious gains happening in no time at all. Pushups are effective, there’s no doubt about that, and that’s the main reason why they stuck in the fitness world for so long and performing different kinds of push-up variations will get you the best benefits from it. The great thing is that they are easy to include as part of your home workout routine.