Regardless of whether push-ups kill you every time they’re in a WOD or if “drop down and give me 50” is music to your ears, they are an exercise you should be doing on a regular basis. Push-ups tend to be one of those things we underestimate — so simple, it seems impossible they could be all that beneficial. The truth is, though, they work multiple muscles and are an excellent exercise to increase strength. If you want to spice things up a bit, these push-up variations will send you on your way to stronger push-ups of any kind.
11 Push-Up Variations to Try on Your Own
1. Pause Push-Ups
Do a regular push-up, but stop to pause in the middle of your ascent or descent — or both. Identify the sticking points in your push-up. Where is it hardest for you to continue pushing? At what point do you stop controlling your descent? Stop at those places and hold yourself there for three to 10 seconds, before continuing the rest of the movement.
2. Staggered Push-Ups
If you find yourself favoring one side over the other, try staggering your hands. Place the side you want to strengthen in its normal position under your shoulder. Shift your other hand down so your fingertips are even with the bottom of your first hand. Now, do your push-ups.
You can get a similar targeting effect by elevating your weaker side on a stack of plates and leaving your strong hand on the ground. Elevating your weaker side enables you to work a greater range of motion, which strengthens your ability to do chest-to-the-floor push-ups.
3. Diamond Push-Ups
Challenge your triceps with this simple variation: instead of placing your hands under your shoulders, place them together under your chest so your thumbs and forefingers create a triangle. Push up, aiming for the greatest possible controlled range of motion.
4. Push-Ups With Dumbbell Row
Do your push-ups with one medium weight dumbbell clenched in each hand. At the top of each push-up, pull the dumbbells up to your armpit, one at a time. For added difficulty, at the top of the row, turn sideways and press the dumbbell overhead. Be sure to keep your core engaged throughout the movement.
5. Clapping Push-Ups
Plyometrics for the upper body, clapping push-ups develop explosive strength in your arms, chest, shoulders, and back. To perform, begin at the bottom of a push-up, drive with your arms, and explode upward. Clap your hands beneath you before dropping back into the push-up.
6. Decline Push-Ups
Prop your feet up on a box, a chair, or bleachers, and do your push-ups from that position. This will place more of the weight in your upper body, making it harder to push up from the bottom. For added difficulty, place your feet in a pair of low gymnastics rings. This variation requires more core and leg stability and is truly a full-body workout. You might need to spend time working up to this one before attacking it with full force.
7. Ring Push-Ups
Adjust a pair of rings so they are just a few inches off the floor. Grasp them with your hands and stretch your body out so it’s about parallel to the floor. Push up, keeping your shoulders and wrists stable throughout the movement.
8. One-Arm Push-Ups
To start, try them Rocky-style with your legs spread in a V behind you. If you can do a one-arm push-up this way, increase the difficulty by bringing your feet closer together. To work against muscle imbalances, perform one-arm push-ups on your weaker side first.
9. Weighted Push-Ups
Get into the top of your push-up and, with your back braced, have a friend place a plate just below your shoulder blades. Start light and gradually work your way up to heavier plates. Remember: form is important. If your core is sagging and you can’t maintain that tension, you’re not ready for that weight.
Note: you can also use a weighted vest.
10. Pike Push-Ups
With your feet and hands on the ground, fold your body at the hips to take an A-frame position. Your hands and feet should be shoulder-width apart. As you lower yourself to the ground, you should be looking through the space between your legs. Throughout the movement, your back should stay flat and rigid, and your head should stay in a neutral position. Most of the force should be produced by your shoulders.
11. Handstand Push-Ups
Once you’ve decimated pike push-ups and your core is rock solid, go for the handstand push-up. Kick up into a handstand position against a wall. With your head facing forward and your neck in a neutral position, slowly lower yourself to the ground. Once you’re at the bottom, lower your knees so they’re parallel to the ground. Pause. Then drive your feet up and toward the wall, using the momentum to bring your body up as you also push through your hands.
As you get stronger, drive yourself up more with your arms and less with the kip, until you can do strict handstand push-ups — no kip whatsoever.
What are your favorite push-up variations? Share them with us!
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