Push-ups don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. There are enough variants for you to be spoilt for choice! You can start off with simpler modified push-ups ideal for beginners and work your way up to push-ups that challenge your core more. If you’re in great shape already, some advanced and plyometric versions can help build power and pose more of a stability challenge into what was once just a basic push-up.
1. Standard/Classic Push-Ups
The standard or classic push-up can really work your core as well as pectorals in the chest, shoulders, and arms. Get your technique right for the classic push-up by following these steps, taking care to maintain form and alignment so you don’t risk injury and properly use all your muscle groups:1
- Go down on all fours with your feet together, toes pointing to your shins (flexed), hands shoulder-width apart, and palms flat on the mat and aligned just below your shoulders. Your knees and hips must not bend. Your torso must be stiff – engage your core/abdominal muscles to do this. Keep your head aligned with the spine.
- Slowly bring your body down to the floor, ensuring your head stays aligned to your spine and your core is engaged. Your lower back mustn’t sag and your hips should not move upward. Your elbows can flare out.
- Keep lowering your body until you feel either your chin or your chest touching the mat.
- Now press your body up through your arms as you retain the strength of your torso and alignment of head and spine. Again, ensure your hips don’t hike up and that your lower back does not sag. Keep pressing up until your arms are totally extended at the elbows.
2. Wall Push-Ups
For beginners or older adults/seniors, the wall push-up can be a good way to start. This variation of the push-up also works your chest, shoulders, and arms.2
- Stand about an arm’s length from a wall with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Lean your entire body forward toward the wall and place your palms flat on it at shoulder height and shoulder-distance apart.
- Inhale, bending at the elbows, as you lower your torso to the wall slowly. Your feet must remain completely flat on the ground throughout this controlled movement. Pause and hold for a moment.
- Exhale as you push yourself slowly back till your arms are straightened.
3. Incline Bench/Chair Push-Ups
An incline push-up can reduce the stress on the ligaments on your shoulder (anterior glenohumeral ligaments) and discomfort experienced in your wrist. Do this from a regular push-up position. If you cannot manage that, kneel down. The grip for the push-up can be adjusted so it is narrower and the decline movement is smaller, making it an easier variant. All you need is a standard weight bench in the gym or a stable flat bench or surface in the park or at home.3
- Face the bench/platform you’re using. Put your hands on the edge closest to you, at a distance a little more than shoulder-width apart. If you need to reduce the load on the shoulders, keep your grip narrower.
- Move your feet back so your arms and body are straight, with arms perpendicular to the rest of your body and the balls of your feet touching the ground.
- Bend your arms to lower your upper body/chest towards the bench/chair.
- To rise up, extend your arms as you would with a normal push-up.
Note: The bent knee push-up is used for beginners or those with less upper body or core strength who find the regular push-up challenging. They are sometimes also referred to as women’s push-ups or modified push-ups. However, there’s been some flak around how this is not a good simulation of or right build-up to the full push-up and doesn’t allow you to properly engage your glutes and spine or maintain the right form. Instead, the incline push-up is a better choice.
4. Suspended Push-Ups
A suspended push-up is a more challenging version of the push-up that uses your abdominal as well as latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles to keep the stability of the movement. This is better suited for advanced workouts.4
- Put your feet in the foot cradles of suspended stirrups of suspension trainers. Point your toes away from your shins and lie on your stomach with hands below your shoulders, shoulder-distance apart. The tips of your fingers must face forward. Engage your core, glutes (buttock), and thigh muscles. Keep your feet together throughout and ensure the straps don’t swing wildly by controlling your movements.
- Breathe out as you push your body up so your elbows are fully extended. Your spine and head must be aligned and hips not sagging or hiking up.
- To lower yourself, inhale and bring your body toward the ground until your upper chest or chin grazes the floor.
5. Medicine Ball Push-Ups On A Changing/Unstable Surface
A medicine ball push-up is good for those with an advanced level of skill and fitness. It engages your core to keep that stability needed for a push-up. Research has also found doing your push-up on a labile surface like a ball can significantly raise the levels of chest muscle and tricep activity compared to when you do a basic push-up on a stable surface.5
According to one piece of research, it can activate your abdominal muscles 2.5 times more. However, for those prone to lower back problems, this is better avoided as it places greater load on the lumbar spine/lower back.6 The pressure it places on your wrists can be reduced by using an alternative ball that isn’t as hard on them.7:
- Kneel on the ground with your feet together and behind you. Put your hands on either side of a medicine ball. Move your weight so your shoulders line up over your hands as well as the ball.
- Extend your legs fully, taking care to not allow any sagging or hiking at the hips. Your core must be engaged, head aligned with the spine.
- Bring your body down toward the medicine ball – you should feel your butt and thigh muscles contract to keep your body stable. Lower until your chest is close to the ball. Maintain alignment of head and spine throughout, keeping elbows close to your side or gently out.
- Press yourself up from your arms to return to the original position with arms fully extended at your elbows.
6. Stability Ball Push-Ups Below The Leg
This variant of the push-up may reduce load on the upper body since the ball bears some of the weight. It makes it a good push-up for those who are overweight or obese or are finding the classic push-up too difficult to perform.8:
- Position the stability ball so it is under your quads (the front of your thigh). Place your hands flat on the floor in front of you, arms fully extended.
- Now proceed with a normal push-up form, lowering your torso to the ground, bending your elbows as you do so. Ensure your head, torso, and legs are aligned and at an angle to the floor.
- As you get better at this variant of the push-up, try placing the ball below your shins. Eventually, you may be able to do away with the ball altogether and do a standard push-up unaided.
You could also place the ball below your flexed feet and hands on the floor to change this into a challenging decline push-up. Alternatively, use a bench on which you keep your flexed foot and lower yourself down into a push-up with the help of this more stable surface.
7. Stability Ball Push-Ups Below The Stomach
This is an intermediate difficulty exercise that works the chest and shoulders. Here’s how you can do one with the ball below your stomach:9
- Lie down on your stomach on a stability ball, keeping your feet (hip-width apart) and hands (shoulder-width apart) firmly on the floor.
- Engage your core so your torso stiffens as your abdominal muscles contract. Walk your body back so that your arms rest on the ball and your legs are extended, with feet planted on the ground hip-distance apart. Keep your head, legs, and torso aligned. Your hands must be directly below your shoulders (close to the top of the ball) with elbows to the side.
- Breathe out as you raise your body up in a controlled manner until elbows are completely extended. Take care not to let them lock. Throughout, ensure your leg, torso, and head alignment is not lost and your elbows remain to your sides. Pause in the raised position for a moment.
- Breathe in as you lower your body back down.
You can squeeze the ball in your hands to help stabilize yourself. To make the push-up harder, keep your feet together behind you instead of hip-distance apart. Also, raise one foot off the ground as you lower yourself to make it more of a balance challenge.
8. One Arm/Single Arm Push-Ups
The single arm push-up is the hallmark of fitness and one you’ve probably seen ripped gym buffs perform with ease on fitness videos. This type of push-up is no walk in the park, but if you can get it right, it is a great workout that really pushes you and helps build strength. It also needs you to get your form and skill spot on, so take it one step at a time. Fitness experts suggest progressing from doing an elevated single arm push-up using a stable bench or box first, before moving to lower and lower elevations until you are able to do the standard push-up on one arm on the floor.
The steps for this form of push-up are exactly like with an incline push-up, with one difference – one arm is raised off the bench throughout, so your weight rests on the hand in contact with the bench/box. The other arm is tucked neatly behind your back. It requires you to engage your core to stabilize your body and is harder without the balance from the second hand.
9. Diamond Or Triangle Push-Ups
Another challenging push-up option, the diamond or triangle push-up can be done by beginners in a kneeling position. However, for best results this needs to be done in a standard push-up position with legs extended fully behind you, balancing on your feet with toes flexed. At first, you may not be able to lower yourself all the way to the ground, so slowly work your way to the point where you can let your nose graze the floor in the lower position.
When you do this push-up, everything else remains the same as a standard push-up. Just change the way your hands are positioned.10 Keep your hands in front of you to create a diamond/triangle shape. Your index fingers and thumbs of both hands should touch each other. By doing this, you use your inner chest muscles as well as triceps more during the push-up.
10. Clap Push-Ups
In clap push-ups, you introduce a clap as you push yourself off the ground. This makes it a more explosive movement and is good for those looking for a plyometric push-up variation. Athletes who are involved in sports needing fast or explosive movements (sports that involve throwing movements like basketball, volleyball, or even tennis) will benefit from this, though anyone looking to up the challenge on a push-up will also enjoy this version.11
- First lower your body down in a normal push-up position.
- As you press your body upward, do this with more force than normal. It should feel like you are pushing yourself forcefully into the air.
- By doing so, you should get a split second to clap your hands together, before they come back down to the ground.
- Then slowly lower your body back down to the ground as with a normal push-up.
- During the upward phase, again push yourself with force to allow for the clap, and so on.
11. T Push-Ups
The T push-up incorporates a modification to the upward movement that can strengthen your shoulders and open up the back during the outward movement. The T push-up can be made more challenging with the use of two dumbells – one in each hand, as you perform the movement, for added resistance. Here’s how you do one:12
- Start in the usual push-up position, body properly aligned from head to toe.
- Lower your body the ground as with the basic push-up.
- As you push yourself up, start to rotate your body so that one side is turned outward with the arm on that side raised up to the ceiling. Your body will now form the trademark T shape that gives this push-up its name.
- Pause at the top position before lowering yourself back to the ground, rotating the side and lowering the arm in as you do so.
|↑1||Push-up. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑2||Wall Push Up. Go4Life, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑3||Durall, Chris J., Robert C. Manske, and George J. Davies. “Avoiding shoulder injury from resistance training.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 23, no. 5 (2001): 10.|
|↑4||TRX ® Suspended Push-up. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑5||Sandhu, Jaspal S., Shruti Mahajan, and Shweta Shenoy. “An electromyographic analysis of shoulder muscle activation during push-up variations on stable and labile surfaces.” International journal of shoulder surgery 2, no. 2 (2008): 30.|
|↑6||Beach, Tyson AC, Samuel J. Howarth, and Jack P. Callaghan. “Muscular contribution to low-back loading and stiffness during standard and suspended push-ups.” Human Movement Science 27, no. 3 (2008): 457-472.|
|↑7||Medicine Ball Push-ups. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑8||Exercise Progressions for Clients Who Are Overweight or Are Affected by Obesity. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑9||Stability Ball Push Up. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑10||Diamond push up. Women’s Health And Fitness Magazine.|
|↑11||Moore, Laura H., MICHAEL J. TANKOVICH, BRYAN L. RIEMANN, and GEORGE J. DAVIES. “Kinematic analysis of four plyometric push-up variations.” International journal of exercise science 5, no. 4 (2012): 334.|
|↑12||Adam Bornstein, Editors of Men’s Health. The Men’s Health Big Book: Getting Abs: Four Weeks To A Flat, Ripped Stomach. Rodale, 2003.|