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June 03, 2022 2 Comments
With an endless variety of exercises available, it can be hard to put together a workout routine that a) effectively hits all of your muscles and b) prevents you from spending all day in the gym pushing through a long list of exercises. Enter compound exercises. And at the top of our compound must-dos? The push-up. It's a strength training powerhouse move you can do anywhere. As if that wasn’t enough, the classic move offers an endless assortment of push-up variations, saving you from exercise boredom and strength plateauing.
With this many push-up variations, no upper body muscle will go ignored.
In this article, we’ll cover:
Finish this list, and you’ll feel inspired to drop and give us 20.
Fitness fanatics everywhere appreciate the push-up for its challenge, versatility, and lack of required equipment. And as a compound exercise that requires multiple joints and muscles, it certainly gives the bench press a run for its money.
Many of the push-ups featured in this article require starting in a similar position (high plank), so it's a good idea to master the classic move's form.
How to do the standard push-up (aka a regular push up):
Push-ups activate the pectoralis muscles, deltoids, triceps, and serratus anterior. And due to maintaining a plank position the entire time, the abdominals, erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings contract isometrically throughout the movement.
Make an effort to retract your shoulder blades a bit, and the latissimus dorsi, traps, and rhomboids will also engage. It doesn't get much more full-body than that.
The great thing about this list is that with variation comes the opportunity to work more - or target different - muscles. Moving your hands closer will put more weight on the triceps while widening them targets the entire chest. Move the butt up to a pike push-up, and now the back muscles are engaged. Whatever your muscle strengthening goal, we promise there is a push-up variation here that will help you hit it.
There is no shortage of push-up variations, as you can see by our list of 33. Ordered from easiest to hardest, you can use your fitness level to guide where you jump in here. Newcomers to the strength training game should start with the wall push-up. If that's no big deal, give the wide version a shot to see how that ranks for difficulty.
The training variables for each are highlighted, including body positioning and the muscles worked. One last note before you dig into these variations: There are multiple names for many of these moves, so you may notice that one of the push-ups on this list is called something different elsewhere. Whether you want to refer to it as a diamond or tricep push-up, we promise it'll work the same muscles in the same way.
In the beginning stages of your strength-training journey? Start with the wall push-up. It will strengthen your entire upper body like a standard push-up but with more stability.
Place both palms on a wall with your wrists in line with your shoulders. Keep your body in a high plank position, retracting your shoulder blades to activate the lats. Bend your elbows as you lower to the wall. Once your forehead is close to the wall, straighten your arms. The chest, triceps, shoulders, and lats are all activated, and the core, glutes, quads, and calves will also engage to hold that high-plank position.
There are two great training benefits to the incline push-up. One: The positioning takes some stress off your elbow and shoulder joints. Two: The pectoralis muscles do the bulk of the work, making it a great chest exercise.
Grab a box or bench or something stable of similar height. Opt for something taller to place your hands on to make it easier. For an extra challenge, find a box or bench lower to the ground. Your hands will be about shoulder-width apart, placed on a box. Step back into a plank position, lowering your chest to the box. To hit your chest a little more, push your body forward so your hands are a little further down.
You’re progressing to the ground for wide push-ups, a variation targeting the pectoralis muscles, more so the outer chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps. Research has found a wide hand placement activates the serratus anterior more than a traditional push-up, a muscle that helps move the arms and shoulders while supporting the neck and back1.
Your hands need to be wider than your shoulders for this movement. From there, move into a high plank and lower to the ground.
Switching your hand placement from a wide grip to a closer one creates a higher muscle activation for the inner chest and triceps. The narrow push up is also going to work the shoulders and back.
Challenging? Yes. Worth it? We’ll let your developed chest and defined triceps speak for themselves. And when you pair it with other killer arm exercises, like in this shoulders and arms workout, you'll see crazy good results. The palms should be narrower than shoulder-width and almost touching. Maintain a plank position, and start to lower down.
Push-ups aren't just for the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Enter: the reverse hand version, which engages the biceps by placing the hands with the fingers facing the feet and the palms outward. In addition to the front upper arm muscles, the deltoid major and minor, pectoralis major and minor, and triceps are activated.
For your hand placement, put your hands wider than the shoulders with palms flat on the floor and fingers pointing toward your feet. If you feel any pain, turn the hands a little inward.
The diamond push-up does a great job of taking the work out of the chest and placing it on the triceps. In this triceps-focused push-up version, the hands make the shape of a diamond on the floor. The outside triceps head gets the most work (we can thank this guy for that nice-looking horseshoe shape), while the chest and deltoid muscles work to a lesser extent.
To form the diamond shape, place your index fingers and thumbs so they touch, forming a diamond shape. Put your body in a plank position, and begin lowering.
Your upper chest muscles and anterior deltoids (the fronts of the shoulders) put in the most work in the decline push-up. To perform the movement, place the feet on a box or bench (or something similar), maintain a plank position with hands under the shoulders, and bend the elbows to lower to the ground.
Curious as to what makes this move so challenging? The elevated foot position forces the upper body to push up more of the body’s weight than the classic move, making the muscles work even harder. Make this hard move even harder by raising your feet more.
Staggering the hands forces different muscles to work on each side of the body and is a progression for the one-handed push-up. In addition to putting more force on one arm, this variation works more on the chest and targets the core.
To place your hands, get into the plank position with your right hand above your right shoulder and your left hand below your left shoulder. Then reverse arm positions.
The pectoralis muscles and anterior deltoids are highly activated. This movement also supports a greater range of motion than most push-up versions.
Placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, lower your body to the ground like a normal push-up. Retract your shoulder blades, lifting your hands off the floor slightly. Bring your hands back to the floor, and straighten your arms to return to the starting position.
Full-body stability is a must for this advanced push-up. In addition to working the chest, shoulders, and triceps, the lower body is also engaged. The quads and glutes will contract isometrically to stabilize the body.
Starting in a regular push up position, with your hands under the shoulders and feet hip-distance apart, lift one leg in the air, keeping your hips and shoulders square toward the ground. Lower your body to the ground, and press up to the starting position. Be sure to alternate legs!
With the elevated push-up, the higher you are, the easier the push-up, while the lower you are, the more challenging it is. This move will work the pectoralis major and minor, deltoids, and triceps, and the slight incline will put more work on the chest than standard push-ups.
We like this movement because it allows for even more personalization. Move the blocks closer together for more triceps and shoulder work, and place the blocks further apart for more chest activation. Place your hands on the blocks, your body in a plank position, and lower down.
Ready to up your push-up game but not yet prepared to take on the single-arm version? The uneven variation is a great first step. The unilateral movement places more work on one arm, engaging the chest, triceps, and shoulders on the working side.
If this exercise is too hard, you can start by placing the knees on the floor. Place one hand on a bench or block, and put the other hand on the ground in a normal push-up position. Place more bodyweight on your hand touching the ground, and lower down.
Taking the uneven bench push-up up a notch, performing the exercise on a medicine ball places more weight on one arm while adding instability to the movement. Your chest, triceps, shoulders, and core will work even harder to balance the body as you work through it. Follow the same protocol as the uneven bench push-ups, and be sure to switch sides!
This version is a progression of the decline push-ups. It will activate the upper chest and shoulder while ensuring the triceps are engaged. And since there is instability to this movement (thanks, stability ball!), your abdominals will work twice as hard compared to a more stable variation. Start in the standard plank position required for push-ups, with one difference: The tops of your feet will rest on top of a stability ball throughout the movement.
The chest and shoulders have their fair share of work in this movement, while the abdominals work extra hard to keep your body stable. This movement is also great for shoulder stabilization. Place your hands on a stability ball, or BOSU ball, shoulder-width apart. Place your body in the plank position, and start to lower.
One-arm push-ups are not a feat mastered overnight. Rather than disbursing your body weight between the two arms, it places all of that bodyweight, around 70%2, on one arm. That requires a lot of strength! The single-arm version on the knees is a great movement to master first. But make no mistake, not all knee push ups are easy, and this one is proof. The pectoralis major, fronts of the shoulders - anterior deltoids - and triceps are highly activated, as are the abdominals and obliques as they work to stabilize you.
Start with your hands wider than shoulder-width with the hand you’re using first directly under the middle of your chest. Point that hand toward the opposite shoulder, and place your other hand behind the back.
Want to put a little more back and bis into your routine? The renegade row requires a dynamic pulling movement that activates the lats, rhomboids, biceps, triceps, chest, and shoulders while forcing the core to work to stabilize you. Another unilateral move that works almost all of the upper body muscles, it increases muscle activation on the pulling side. That leads to that hypertrophy we’re all striving for, and helps identify any muscle imbalances.
Grab a set of dumbbells for this one, placing them about shoulder-distance apart with the handles parallel. Grip a dumbbell in each hand, moving to the plank position. Keep the feet hip-width apart for extra support. Draw the dumbbell in your right hand toward the chest, and bend your elbow as you draw the dumbbell toward you. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the floor. Repeat on the left side.
This chest and triceps-focused move requires placement and elevation of the hands in a way that enables a forceful muscular contraction. This variation also improves grip strength, essential for handling heavy dumbbells. The abdominals, glutes, and thighs will also activate in this position as they contract to stabilize you, making this a great full-body bodyweight exercise.
Place one dumbbell on the floor in a standing position, grabbing the head with your hands. Get into a plank position with the arms straight, directly below your chest. Lower your body down, and push back up.
A hybrid of two killer moves - the mountain climber and the push-up - the knee drive push-up does a great job activating the pectoralis muscles. The shoulders, triceps, and abdominals will all be working as well. It's really a great move for your entire body. The push-up portion of this exercise replicates a standard push-up, but the added core work comes in with the knee drive. As your knee drives toward the chest, your abdominals will contract as they work to stabilize the body.
Assume the standard push-up position. Lower to the floor, and then push back up. Once you reach the top, drive one knee toward the chest. Repeat the movement with a knee drive on the opposite side.
Also referred to as the tricep plank press, we bet you can guess which muscle is highly activated. You got it - the triceps! While pushing from a low to a high plank, the range of motion activates the triceps and engages the pectorals, shoulder, and abdominal muscles.
To perform this exercise, start with a high plank, lowering your body to your forearms. To move the body back to the high plank starting position, rotate your shoulder blades outward and push the palms of the hands into the ground to push yourself upward. Squeeze your triceps to straighten the elbows.
In addition to supporting 70% of your body weight, band push-ups force you to work even harder by adding some extra resistance. Which muscles are put to work? The same as a class push-up - chest, shoulders, triceps, and serratus anterior - but they work extra hard thanks to the band's resistance.
Wrap a resistance band around your back, just under the armpits, holding an end in each hand. We suggest wrapping the band around your hands an extra time to make sure it's nice and tight. Get in the plank position, and lower down.
Related: Resistance Band Push Up Variations
A weighted vest is another great way to add more weight to the push-up. It’s the same concept we discussed in the resistance band variation. You’re going to work the chest, shoulders, and triceps, but it will be infinitely harder due to the added weight. The vest will lead to some serious strength and mass gains and manages to activate the lats and scapula more than other variations.
The clapping push up, also referred to as the plyo push-up, works the chest, triceps, primarily the front of the shoulders, and abs. In addition, the high-intensity interval training element adds improved muscle endurance to the list, burns fat, and builds strength and speed. Research shows that HIIT training leads to improvements in body composition, meaning less fat and more muscle3.
Start in the high plank position, and lower your body down. As you raise yourself back to the high plank, push up with additional force, enabling your hands to leave the ground. You can just start with lifting your hands, but for an added challenge, clap your hands together. Place the hands lightly on the ground before moving back down to the push-up position.
This is when we really start getting into the advanced push up variations. Grab a box and two thick mats (the kind used for aerobic steps work great) and get ready to feel the burn. The pectoralis muscles will be highly activated, with the shoulders and triceps contracting. Place the aerobic mats slightly outside the shoulders.
Put your hands inside the mats, and your feet on the box to move to an incline position. Bend the elbows, lowering the body toward the ground. Place force through your hands to push your body off the ground. As you leave the ground, put your hands on the steps, bending the elbows.
The chest tap push-ups activate the anterior and medial deltoids, pectoralis major and minor, and triceps while combing strength and plyometrics. The lats, scapulae, and glutes must also stabilize the body throughout the exercise. And due to the HIIT component, you’ll blast fat and burn calories simultaneously.
Start in the plank position, lower down, and push through your palms to raise your body in the air. While in the air, tap your chest with both hands, quickly placing them back down to lower into another one.
Spiderman push-ups target the pectoralis muscles, shoulders, and triceps, working them extra hard as they keep you stabilized while the knee drives out to the side. The obliques contract as the knee drives up, and the hip flexors help lift the knee. In addition to improving your range of motion and anti-rotational core strength, it’ll also get you one step closer to the ultimate push-up goal: the single-arm version.
Start in the high plank position with hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Bend your elbows to lower, while simultaneously bending your right knee, drawing it forward and outward toward your right elbow. Straighten your right leg while pushing up to the starting position.
Prepare to work the shoulders, serratus anterior, upper back muscles, and triceps. The overhead pushing motion makes it a shoulder move, while also recruiting the traps and core. The glutes are also activated as they contract to keep your body stabilized.
Start in a plank position, elevating your feet on a bench (or something of similar height). Looking down, lift the butt into the air, and keep your arms straight. You should be in the shape of an upside-down V. Bend your elbows to lower the head toward the floor and straighten your elbows to rise back up.
This variation is also referred to as dive bomber push ups. The primary movers in this exercise are the shoulders, chest, triceps, erector spinae, and glutes. The hamstrings and calf muscles will activate as they stabilize the body through the transition from plank to cobra, and then back again.
Start in a plank position, then raise your butt and look down. Bend at your elbows to lower the head down toward the floor. Rather than stopping here, continue lowering your body to a low push-up position. The tops of your legs can rest on the floor, as you continue moving through the exercise by lifting your chest off the floor. Roll your shoulders back, keeping your elbows at the side. Push back into the starting pike push-up position.
Consider yourself one step closer to mastering the single-arm push-up. Also called the side-to-side push-up, this move activates the anterior deltoids, pectoralis muscles, triceps, and serratus anterior. The range of motion is much deeper, making it a far more intense exercise than the classic version. It requires the abs, spinal erectors, iliacus, and psoas major to stabilize the body.
Start in a strong plank position with your hands wider than the shoulders. Rotate your hands outward to point the fingers away from the body. Rotate your shoulders outward, shifting your upper body toward the right side. Pull your right chest toward the right hand while bending the right elbow. The right shoulder and hand can rotate inward as you lower into the push-up. Lower toward your right side, while straightening your left arm. Fully extend the left arm to the side. Begin to push up, as you straighten your right arm and move the left arm back to the starting position.
The triceps are the primary activator in this movement, while the chest and front shoulder muscles also work significantly. The obliques contract and work together with the hips to allow body rotation, making it a great abdominal move. The biceps, rectus abdominis, and quads must also contract to keep the body balanced.
Start in a plank position with your fingers pointing outward and the insides of the wrist touching. Lower down, bending your elbows to point outward with your forearms touching the ground. Push back up.
Neglected in many gym workouts are the very used and frequently ignored hand muscles. And as a good grip is essential in helping you grasp heavy barbells and dumbbells, they need some attention also. Fingertip push-ups, which are among the most advanced push-up variations, strengthen the wrist, hand, and finger muscles. This move also activates the forearm and triceps muscles, and of course, chest.
To start, lay on your stomach with your toes on the floor and arms outstretched with palms down. Lift your bodyweight onto the palms and toes, and then raise it on your fingertips. Staying on your fingertips, lower down to the ground and push back up. Don't be surprised if you only get a few reps (if any).
Muscle strength, agility, and balance are just a few of the benefits of superman push-ups. It is a major muscle builder and plyo move that requires creating enough force to push the body into the air, landing in a push-up position. The abdominals will work the hardest in this exercise, but the chest, lats, obliques, shoulders, and triceps will also activate.
Lay down on your stomach with your arms above your head and legs straight. Put your hands close together on the floor, and the feet together. Press your hands and feet down to raise the body into the air, parallel to the floor. Keep your arms straight in front of you, in a flying position. As you lower to the ground, land gently in the starting position.
We’ve reached the holy grail of push-ups: the one arm push up. This unilateral movement requires the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and triceps to work excruciatingly hard, as the core and hip muscles must contract to keep the body square to the floor and stabilized. It’s also going to be the best movement for observing any muscle imbalances. If the right side can perform three single-arm push-ups, but the left side can only complete one, you know there is work to be done.
Get into the push-up position, with feet wide. Keep one hand on the ground, shifting your weight to that side, while placing the other hand behind your back. Lower your body down until your chest is close to the floor, and push back up. Don’t forget to do both sides!
Now, too much of something is not always a good thing, so there's no need to fit eight push-up variations into your next gym session! Instead, think strategically about your current upper-body routine and the muscles you’re trying to grow. If you are an absolute beginner and your goal is to hit each muscle evenly, we suggest starting with the wall push-up.
Or, if you want to stick with one push-up variation, you’ve been at the gym game a long time, and the ultimate goal is to master the single-arm version, try the uneven push-up on a medicine ball. Master that, and skip to the next push-up variation that encourages unilateral movement. Maybe you're looking for a move that gets the heart rate nice and high - in that case, perform push ups of the plyo variation, like the clap push-up gets you to your goals.
You may even want to incorporate a few types of push-ups into your regimen, as seen in our Calisthenics Chest Workout, besides just regular push ups (which are great). The incline push-up is great for pecs and shoulders, whereas the diamond one targets the triceps. Add them both in, and you’re well on your way to a killer upper-body routine. Or you could use a push-up board to get a greater range of motion and remove some stress from your wrists and shoulders. If you want to take your push-up game to the next level, make sure to check out our post that covers the Best Push-Up Boards on the market.
No matter the types of push-ups you select, we know one thing: Any move on this list will yield some serious upper body strength gains. And as you get stronger and develop power, be sure to incorporate more challenging push ups into your exercise routine.
Other Bodyweight Exercises:
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September 21, 2023
September 21, 2023
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