February 28, 2014
Drop and give me… 82? That’s right. We at Greatist love — nay, adore — the push-up. It’s one of the simplest and most functional exercises around, and it works almost every muscle we’ve got: the triceps and chest get a great workout, but the movement also engages the shoulders, core, lats, lower back, legs, and glutes.
Doing the same old push-ups day in and day out can feel a little vanilla, so we’re here to shake things up. Variety can supercharge a workout and throw a whole range of new muscles into the mix. Ever tried a spiderman push-up (see No. 15 below!)? How about an alligator (No. 13) or a jackknife push-up (No. 34)? There might be no end to the different spins (and cool names) we can give this classic exercise, but we’ve done our best to bring you as many as we could find, arranged into five categories: beginner, intermediate, explosive, wxpert, and equipment-based. Just be sure to spend some time perfecting your form and nailing the basics before you jump into the variations that require increased strength, coordination, and balance.
Note: There is no International Push-Up Authority, Official Push-Up Certification Board, or anyone in charge of naming the different kinds of push-ups. Consequently what some might call a rotational push-up, others will call a T-push-up, and so on. We’ve strived for accuracy, but concede that some people might have different names for these movements than we do, and that’s why we linked a video for every one of the entries!
There’s no shame in starting at the beginning! These exercises will help build the foundation of strength required for the more advanced variations — plus, anyone who’s done a good old fashioned standard push-up knows that it provides a dynamite full-body workout all by itself. Remember, don’t take on an exercise unless you can manage a full range of motion — if taking a push-up all the way to the floor is too difficult, scale back to a modified push-up on your knees or a wall push-up (both of which are explained below!). Good luck!
1. Off the Wall
This is the first step on the path to push-up dominance. It’s basically a standing push-up done against a wall, which greatly reduces the amount of weight the muscles have to support.
2. Off a Table
The trick to building up to a standard push-up is to start from the wall and gradually get more horizontal. Push off of a table or chair on your way down, and you’ll be there in no time.
3. On the Knees
Nearly there! This is identical to a regular push-up, but performed on the hands and knees, with the feet raising off the ground as the push-up goes to the floor. This takes a lot of the work away from the abs and legs, making it a great way to practice for the real thing.
Congratulations! This is the real McCoy, one of the most fundamental bodyweight exercises on earth. Treat the push-up with respect, and it’ll be a friend for life.
5. Shoulder Tap
This is great for all the same reasons as the hand tap push-up, but it’s a slightly longer hold that’s better for improving balance.
6. Hand Tap
Pause at the top of the push-up and use one hand to give the other a friendly tap. Switch hands with each rep. That brief pause helps improve balance and makes the exercise more isometric, which is a great way to boost strength.
This involves rotating the body into a side plank when the push-up is completed, holding the upper arm straight in the air so that the body resembles a “T.” This works the shoulders and oblique muscles while also helping to improve balance.
9. Single-Arm Raised
It’s all about isometrically strengthening the stabilizer muscles, and by sweeping the arm out in front at the top of the extension, this variation makes it much more difficult to balance, so the core gets a nice workout.
10. Single-Leg Raised
This isn’t as crazy as it sounds! Perform a push-up, but extend one leg off of the ground so that it’s parallel with the floor. This adds some extra instability and recruits your abs for extra balance.
This is where you’ll earn your bachelor’s degree in push-ups and the kind of advanced bodyweight skills that will come in handy for the rest of your life. For those keen to up the ante, it’s good to remember that slowing down any exercise will make it more difficult, so don’t be afraid to relax the pace of your push-ups. Slowing down might even be more beneficial for fat loss, since it releases more lactic acid!
A favorite of martial artists everywhere, these bad boys strengthen the wrist, toughen the knuckles, and improve balance.
By staggering the hands (that is, by placing one hand farther forward than the other), one is able to emphasize one side of the chest — a super useful variation for those whose strength is lagging on their non-dominant side.
Some people use this name for staggered push-ups, but we’re using it to refer to a staggered push-up that walks the body forward, just like an alligator crawling along the ground. Have fun with these!
14. Slow Negative
This one’s simple: Lower the body very slowly, but keep the “up” part of the movement as fast as ever. This is called a “slow negative” movement, and it’s one of the best ways to build size and strength in any exercise.
This push-up brings out your creepy crawly side: Bring one knee up the side of the body toward the elbow during the “down” portion. This squeezes the obliques and will improve balance. Keep the knee in the same spot for a few reps before switching sides or bring it forward and back for each push-up.
16. Knee to Chest
This movement is similar to the spiderman push-up, but the knee is brought up under the body, rather than around the side, so the abdominal muscles are worked more than the obliques. The name is a lot less cool though.
17. Pseudo Planche
A regular push-up has the fingers pointing forward and in line with the chest, but this variation has them pointing toward the feet and sitting a little farther down the torso. This hand placement makes the shoulders and biceps work much harder.
18. Outside-Leg Kick
Hi-ya! At the top of the extension, kick one leg out to the side hard to strengthen the quads, fire up the abs, and improve flexibility. Try to get the foot as far forward as possible.
There’s actually no hopping involved with this one — it’s similar to a corkscrew push-up (No. 18) but one leg stays straight while the other bends and turns with the body as it lowers. This is a great way to work the obliques and abdominal muscles.
20. With Toe Tap
At the top of the movement, simply bend one knee to the side and bring the foot closer to the hip, then give the sole a tap with the opposite hand. This will give some extra work to the abs and legs.
Like it sounds: twist the body and bring a knee to the opposite elbow at the top of the movement. This is another great move to work the rotational muscles that run from the rib cage to the hips — yep, that includes the abs!
22. Corkscrew Push-Up
No wine with these push-ups (though maybe a little whine). They’re performed with the butt raised in the air, the feet together, hands under the chest, and the knees bent at about 45 degrees. The torso should be parallel to the ground at the top of the movement. As the body comes down to the ground, twist both legs sideways without further bending the knees, as shown in the video. This adds a whole new dimension to the abdominal workout while also working the quads and calves.
This is the
gold diamond standard of tricep exercises. Simply put the hands together so that the thumbs and index fingers form a diamond, place the hands below the center of the chest, and start busting out reps.
Place the hands placed farther out to the side of the body than they are for a regular push-up and you’ll put a lot more emphasis on the chest muscles, particularly the outer chest.
25. Cross-Leg Kick
This is even trickier than the outside-leg kick push-up (No. 18). At the top of the movement, turn the body to the side and kick. For example, the left leg should kick toward the right of the body. This will add some explosive power to the legs and obliques while firing up the core.
At the bottom of the push-up, flatten the forearms to the ground while raising the butt into the air and pulling the body slightly backward. This should look a little like a tiger ready to pounce. Reverse the movement and push up. Congratulate the triceps for all their hard work.
This is just like the tiger push-up (No. 26) but the body stays parallel to the ground at the bottom of the movement, so the butt doesn’t raise into the air. It’s a little harder, but you feel less like roaring.
Pike push-ups could be a category all of their own; they’re one of the best bodyweight exercises for the shoulders. Raise the butt into the air so the body forms a triangle with the ground. It looks a little like the downward dog, but the arms are more perpendicular to the ground. This is a fantastic way to work up to a handstandpush-up — just gradually elevate the legs!
30. Lateral Step
Time to get mobile! This push-up steps the body sideways across the floor and requires a little more coordination and agility.
Also called side-to-side push-ups, these require lowering the body to one side (so the chest is close to the hand) and then sliding the body over to the other hand, keeping the body just above the floor, then pushing up from that side. Come back down, slide the body over to the right, and push back up. To make these more difficult, slide left and right a few extra times before pushing back up.
33. Uchi Mata
Similar to the single-leg raised push-up (No. 32), but bend the knee and push the foot up into the air as hard as possible when the body lowers. This variation increasesthe activity of the lower back, hamstrings, and core.
Bend the hips and jump both feet forward at each extension to work the abs and legs.
35. Single-Arm Off of a Table
The best way to work up to a one-armed push-up is the same way one would work up to a regular push-up: Start by pushing off of a wall, then move to an elevated surface like a table or chair. Keep the feet wide and the core engaged — even when elevated, this move requires considerable work from the obliques and triceps.
Also known as Hindu push-ups because of their origins in India, this variation requires great form, strength, and flexibility. It’s a little like the yoga move chaturanga dandasana: From a downward-facing dog position, lower the body and pull the head toward the hands, then push upward into a cobra pose — but keep the body off the ground. Don’t reverse the move: Keeping the arms straight, bend the hips and come back to the starting position.
38. Dive Bomber
These look a lot like yoga/Hindu push-ups, but the dive-bomber requires you tobend your arms to get back to the starting position, effectively reversing the movement and bringing the head back past the hands and elbows.
Because they work the fast-twitch muscle fibers, explosive exercises are great for building muscle, power, and speed. Mixing explosive sets into a workout, eitherbefore or after regular exercises, is a great way to improve strength.
40. Explosive Staggered
Remember the staggered push-up (No. 12)? Start out in that position, push into the air and switch the hands back and forth on each rep. This makes sure each side of the chest gets a proper workout, and it’s a lot of fun.
41. Explosive Jacks
It’s not quite a jumping jack… Kick your feet to the side as the body lifts from the ground, then kick them back together on the way down. Some people like to simultaneously sweep their hands past the head as the legs spread, which looks more like a standing jumping jack (but a lot harder!).
42. Explosive with a Clap
Push off so hard the hands are able to clap together before landing.
43. Explosive Full Body
Get your whole body to leave the ground with each push so that you’re briefly in mid-air. Fly safely!
44. Explosive Double Clap
Sure, you could just clap twice in front of the chest, or you could up the ante even more by clapping once in front of the body and once more behind it before landing back down. Needless to say, that requires a lot of practice and considerable power.
45. Explosive Triple Clap
Clap in front, clap behind, clap in the front, and land. This is some elite-level stuff!
47. Double Thigh Tap
Push the whole body off the ground and slap the thighs with both hands before landing.
We’d like to go on the record saying that the risk of injury might be too high for this one. Nonetheless the Marine in this video makes it look deceptively simple: Push into the air, bend the hips and touch the feet to the hands, spring back and land. There’s a good chance that this move requires some of that Crouching Tiger flying magic.
As always, be careful when attempting new exercises. Remember that it can take years to work up to some of these, so only give them a try once you’re positive you have the strength and coordination to perform them safely.
50. Wall-Braced Single Arm
This makes a one-armed push-up slightly easier by bracing the body against the wall and taking some of the load off of the pushing arm. This exercise is no cake walk though!
51. Feet on the Wall
There’s probably a cooler name for these, but we don’t think they need one. Brace the soles of the feet against the wall and perform a push-up, a pike push-up (No. 28), a feet-elevated push-up (No. 29) or anything in between. This puts extra emphasis on the legs and ab muscles, as well as the upper chest and, well, the whole body.
52. Yoga on a Wall
All the difficulty of a yoga push-up (No. 37) plus the difficulty of a feet on the wall push-up (No. 51)? Pinch me, I’m dreaming!
53. Single Arm
The all-time classic. Exercises No. 35 and No. 50 on this list are good ways to work up to this advanced variation. Having the legs spread wide will make it a little easier to balance, while keeping the elbow close to the body will make it more difficult.
Feeling like a Man of Steel? Then lie on the ground and stretch your arms way out ahead of you like you’re flying through the clouds. Then put the palms to the ground and, keeping the arms relatively straight, raise and lower the body by bending at the shoulders. This is a difficult exercise that’s great for the abs and back.
55. Feet Elevated, Single Arm
Like No. 29, but with one arm and a lot more work from the obliques. Not for the faint of heart!
This variation requires a huge amount of strengh in the forearms and fingers — you can find some tips (get it?) here. The fewer fingers on the ground, the more strength is involved. Bruce Lee was known for performing one-armed push-ups on one finger, but we’re not recommending anyone try that at home!
57. Jack Lalanne Fingertip
Jack Lalanne is one of the world’s first fitness celebrities When Lalanne beat Arnold Schwarzenegger at a push-up competition, the Governator called Lalanne “a real machine.” Plus, Lalanne is often credited with opening the world’s first modern health club. The Jack Lalanne fingertip push-up is as tough as its namesake. It is a Superman push-up (No. 54) performed on the fingertips. This exercise requires of finely tuned functional strength, from fingers to the toes.
A move worthy of an elite gymnast, this push-up is performed with the hands closer to the waist and the feet hovering above the ground. This takes a lot of work to build up to, but follow these pointers if you’re game to try.
PUSH-UPS WITH EQUIPMENT
Push-ups rule the world of bodyweight exercises, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved with supplemental equipment. These variations make use of medicine balls, resistance bands, dumbbells, and more.
59. Single Hand on a Medicine Ball
Place one hand on a medicine ball and one on the ground to perform this push-up. It is a great way to strengthen a particular side of the body while also building balance and coordination.
60. Alternating Side Medicine Ball
This is a more explosive variation of No. 59 and requires a good deal more coordination and balance. Without rolling the ball, push up and over to the side so that you can switch the elevated hand. These can also be performed off of a box or another object of the same size.
61. Both Hands on a Medicine Ball
Managing a push-up with both hands on two separate medicine balls requires an enormous amount of stability, control, and body awareness. Plus, it really fires up the abs.
62. Triple Medicine Ball
Put both hands on two medicine balls, both feet on another, and don’t forget to breathe!
63. Off Four Medicine Balls
We all saw this coming. If you can manage one rep of this exercise, you have the balance of a stone statue — congratulations!
64) Feet on a Stability Ball
Ah, the old stability ball; a great way to challenge balance and add extra ab work to an exercise. By performing a simple feet-elevated push-up (No. 29) on one of these, the entire core needs to work extra hard to keep the ball from rolling away.
65. Two Hands on One Stability Ball
These are tough with the hands on top of the ball and even tougher when the hands are on either side of it, since you’ll need to push the hands together during the push-up, engaging more of the chest muscles.
66. Hands on a BOSU ball
Whether the hands are on the flat side or the squishy ball side, push-ups off a BOSU ball (the balance trainers that have a rubber dome on one side and a flat surface on the other) add in a lot of instability, coordination, and abdominal work — welcome guests in our workouts!
67. Feet on a Stability Ball, Hands on a BOSU Ball
I mean, we’ve come this far. Put the feet on a stability ball and the hands on the flat side of a BOSU ball, and push. Or put the feet on a BOSU and the hands on a stability ball, we won’t judge.
68. Dumbbells in Each Hand
Pushing off of dumbbells will help to strengthen the wrist, and if the dumbbells have screwlocks (you know, the screws that lock the plates in place), you can try loosening them slightly so that keeping them in place becomes more difficult and adds some extra instability to the move.
These push-ups are just like No. 68 above, but one dumbbell is pulled back into a row at the top of the movement. This fires up the muscles in the back, creating a true full-body exercise.
70. Dumbbell Rotational
This is just like the rotational push-ups (No. 7), but the dumbbell in each hand makes it far more challenging to the muscles in the back and core.
71. Dumbbell to Chest Flies
Keep the screwlocks loose enough that the dumbbells can roll, but not so loose that the plates clank around. Allow the dumbbells to roll out to the side as the body lowers, then reverse the move. It’s a chest fly on the ground! Simple, but not easy.
72. Both Hands on a Kettlebell
Balancing both hands on a kettlebell (or, for the fearless, on a kettlebell handle) is a great way to mimic a diamond push-up (No. 23), but with more instability.
73. Each Hand on a Kettlebell
Same as above but with two kettlebells. Pushing up off of kettlebell handles is a big challenge for the forearms and the rotator cuffs, and it’s easy to turn them into renegade push-ups (No. 69).
74. Each Hand on Two Upside-Down Kettlebells
Perform the previous exercise (No. 73) with the kettlebells flipped upside-down to amp up the intensity — kettlebells don’t balance well on their handles, so this takes an awful lot of stability and muscle control!
75. Feet on a Kettlebell
To add some tension to the legs, perch the toes on the handles of a kettlebell.
76. Feet on Two Kettlebells
As above, but with the feet on two ‘bells. It probably isn’t possible to do so with the kettlebells upside down, but props if you’ve got the control!
77. Kettlebell Uchi Mata
Let’s just go ahead and say that there are almost as many push-ups on top of kettlebells and medicine balls as there are push-ups without them. This variation has one foot on a kettlebell with the other pushing into the air. Browse through a few more variations of kettlebell push-ups here, here, and the rest of YouTube!
This can be performed off of a stack of weights, between two benches, or in any manner that lowers the body past the hands, which recruits more muscle fibers in the outer chest.
79. With Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are a super portable way to turbocharge any workout, and they’re great for improving explosive speed in push-ups. Simply lay one or more bands across the back and tuck the ends under the palms. Push.
80. With Chains
Chains work a lot like resistance bands in that the resistance increases the further you come off the ground. This makes you work harder at your strongest point and has great carry-over to the bench press, especially the top part of the movement (thelockout). It’s best to put the chains across the upper back; draping them across the neck will emphasize the rotator cuff muscles, but while Hugh Jackman is a fan, they might be a little risky!
81. With a Weighted Vest
Probably the best way to add resistance to bodyweight exercises, a weighted vest makes functional movements more challenging in all the right ways. Try them with as many exercises as you can.
82. Suspension Strap
Performing a push-up holding onto the handles of a suspension strap like a TRX orMostfit is one of the most challenging ways to add instability to your push-ups — after all, balancing off of two wibbly, wobbly handles suspended in air is no easy feat. Note that it’s also easy to turn these into deficit push-ups. (Although we wouldn’t exactly call them easy…)