Using push up variations can allow you to work the upper body from many different angles.
With gyms closed and people looking for ways to stay strong and in shape, having some solid body-weight exercise variations in your arsenal can be invaluable.
The Push Up
The push up is a staple upper body exercise.
Dating back thousands of years, it’s been used to build upper body strength and endurance for warriors and athletes.
Today, it continues to be used by the military as a measure of upper body strength and endurance (and punishment).
There are countless ways to perform the push up, and variety is a good thing. While most variations work the chest, shoulders and triceps, we can do so in ways that challenge the whole body, including the core.
Disclaimers: 1. Talk to your doctor before doing any type of exercise program. 2. This article contains affiliate links.
Ok, glad that’s out of the way… let’s move on.
Using Push ups to keep your gym gains
In the absence of a gym, you may be left with nothing but your own body weight and whatever you have in your house. Use this time as an opportunity to work on new strengths.
If you’re trying to hold onto (or build) strength and muscle, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Use explosive exercises like Depth push ups, plyometric pushups and jumping push ups. This will stimulate the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are the largest and most powerful.
- Use deficit push ups to get a deep stretch of the chest and shoulders and work through a full range of motion.
- Use BFR Bands to stimulate additional muscle gains. Use science to your advantage! Check out my article on BFR to learn more.
- The same principles would apply to lower body exercises. Use explosive movements like high jumps, bounding and box jumps.
20 Push up Variations
#1-5 Hand Placement
Simply changing your hand placement can have a dramatic effect on how the push up movement works the upper body. Here we’ll use the standard push up, close grip, wide grip, fingers out, and reverse.
Remember to try and keep your body in a straight line, from head to foot. Slouching or arching your back is a sign that there’s a break in the chain, usually indicating a weak core.
#6 Banded Push ups
Resistance Bands are cheap and extremely versatile. Get yourself a few of varying resistance and you’ll be able to do a lot more from home. Here’s a Solid Set of Bands at a pretty good price from Amazon. (updating this regularly as bands have been selling out recently because of the quarantine.)
You can vary your hand placement with bands as well. Do standard push ups, wide grip push ups and close grip. Use heavier bands for more resistance.
#7 Sphinx Push ups
Sphinx push ups force the triceps muscle to do most of the work. These can be tough if your triceps strength isn’t up to par.
One way I like to do these to challenge myself: Do sphinx push ups to failure, then remain in the plank position (you’re already there) for 30 seconds to a minute.
#8 Slide Board Push Ups
Slide board push ups are one of my favorite push up variations. They really force one arm to take on most of the pressing responsibility, while the other arm is outstretched, forcing the core to work hard to stabilize the body.
You can use a towel on any smooth surface, like the floor. In the video, I’m using Core Sliders, as the floor mats in my home gym are not smooth.
These just feel awesome to do. You have to focus on pressing back up and stabilizing your body all in one movement. It’s a challenging movement for sure.
#9 Deficit Push ups
Deficit push ups are another favorite of mine. They are a unique variation, as they allow you to go beyond the normal range of motion you’d use in a bench press or regular push up. You should feel a good, deep stretch of the chest and shoulders at the bottom portion of the movement.
#10 True Push ups
Number 10 is an extension of number 9. True push ups are the same as deficit push ups, except you also elevate your feet on a platform, usually at the same height as your hands. This will be harder, as you’ll be pushing more of your body weight back up. It’s basically a push up with a deeper range of motion.
I’m using 45lb plates in the videos, but you can use whatever you have around your home. Books, Dumbells… be creative!
#11 Depth Push ups
Depth push ups are an explosive push up variation. Starting with both hands elevated on a platform, you’ll drop down and control your descent briefly before exploding back up.
Depth push ups utilize the stretch-shortening cycle (plyometrics). The rapid generation of force stimulates the fast twitch muscle fibers, which are the largest and most capable of growth. This type of movement teaches the body to generate force quickly, increasing power.
Be careful with these. I’d recommend not trying to go to failure to avoid injury, in particular of the wrists. In general, with explosive movements, you want to do as many reps as you can feel powerful for. When you slow down, end the set.
#12 Hindu Push ups
I learned these many years ago when I was at an MMA seminar. It was led by Matt Fury (author of Combat Conditioning.) These push ups hit the shoulders really good, and the triceps as well. They also give you a good lower back and hamstring stretch (notice the yoga-like positions).
#13 Med Ball Push ups
Here, you’ll have one hand on a med ball (or other platform), and the other on the ground. This elevates one side of the body, forcing the core to work harder to stabilize the body.
#14 Superman Push ups
These are deceivingly challenging. Superman Push ups really force the core to work hard to stabilize your body. The position is similar to the extended position using an ab wheel, with your arms outstretched in front of you.
#15 Explosive Push ups
Also known as clapping push ups, although you really don’t need to clap. Simply push up as explosively as possible. I prefer to keep my hands ready to land vs clapping or touching my chest. This is to avoid landing wrong and injuring a wrist. When you’re fatigued, you may not come up as fast as you anticipate.
Similar to other explosive movements, these will work the fast twitch muscle fibers and are excellent at improving rate of force production (power).
#16 Jumping Push ups
These are an extension of number 15. However, now you’ll explode your entire body off of the ground on each rep. This can take a little coordination, but is a fun one once you get the hang of it.
#17 Fingertip push ups
Ok, if you’re feeling brave.. here’s a challenging one for you. Perform the standard push up on your fingers. Doing them on your fingers actually puts less stress on the wrist, as it is not in flexion. Martial artists have been using these for a long time. Be careful, you may have to build up to doing several reps of these.
#18 Prison Push ups
I spent a lot of years working in a prison, and I used to watch the inmates work out on the yard all the time. As I’m sure you know, they stay in pretty good shape. This is one variation they use a lot. After each set (4 push ups), try standing up and jogging in place for 10 seconds. Then repeat for a set period of time. (Inmates do it for hours).
#19 Shoulder Taps
Shoulder taps start with a standard push up. At the top of the movement, put one hand on the opposite shoulder for a second, then return to the push up. The brief time at the top with one arm extended forces the core to keep the body in position. This can be tougher than it looks.
#20 Chest Elevated Push ups
I saved these for last because they’re best done as a finisher (or a warm-up). They look easy, and they are… for a while. Try doing 100 reps unbroken (without pausing). It’s a good way to get some low impact volume in at the end, and to get a good upper body pump going.
If you have a barbell, put it at knee level and actively squeeze the bar inwards throughout the entire movement. It’s actually a rarely utilized but really beneficial finisher to use.
There are endless ways to make up body weight workouts at home. In general though, keep a few principles in mind:
- Start with a good warm up, including some regular push ups
- Use explosive exercises first. You want to have your full energy for the most demanding movements.
- Don’t go to failure on explosive movements. Save that for the other exercises.
- Make it interesting. Pick 4 or 5 variations and see how many you can do in 10 minutes, for example.
- Incorporate push up variations with other exercises, like pull ups, squats, abs or even sprints.
BFR (blood flow restriction) bands are a well researched, inexpensive implement you can use along with body weight exercises to increase muscle. I highly recommend getting a pair to get the most out of your higher-rep training. Look them up yourself if you like. I also have a whole article on them.
German 50 Push up workout
This is just one example of many of a push up workout, but it’s one I like, and it uses some of the variations we learned about in this article. It’s 10 reps of 5 push up variations using different hand placements, and Supermans. Pretty tough to do multiple unbroken sets of this.
If you want to see all the push up variations in one video, I’ll leave that here too.
I hope this article was helpful. These are just 20 of probably hundreds of variations of the push up. If you’re stuck at home, or traveling in a hotel room.. these can be a great way to get an effective workout in.
If you don’t have access to the gym for a while, use the time as an opportunity. Work on some weaknesses, learn some new exercises.. Improve yourself. Work with what you’ve got.
As always, I hope this article helps you get a little closer to that best version of you!