Sick of push-ups during your strength training workouts? Time to switch it up. Luckily there are plenty of push-up variations to try. By adding variety to this traditional bodyweight move, you can nudge your entire body to new muscular heights while building strength and coordination.
“The most common types of push-ups are regular, where you’re in plank position up on your toes with your booty tucked under, back flat, and your hands and wrists underneath shoulders,” says Aaptiv trainer Kelly Chase. “The modification is the same—just drop your knees to the floor and lift your toes toward the ceiling.”
But there are a slew of other push-up variations. Chase’s favorite? Spider push-ups. “You’re in a plank position, with wrists and hands under shoulders, but as you lower yourself down, you bend one knee and bring it out to the side towards your armpit or elbow,” she explains. Chase suggests doing three sets of 12 each (or as many as you can do), alternating each side, to work your core, obliques, pectorals, chest, triceps, and deltoid muscles.
Looking for other push-up variations to try? Check out these options.
If you’re brand new to push-ups, try . . .
• Wall push-ups—Stand facing a wall and stretch out your arms to lean forward. Keep your feet shoulder-width wide and place your palms on the surface. Bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the wall. Keep your elbows in, and then press back to your starting position.
• Knee push-ups—From your knees, put your hands right under your shoulders with your fingers pointing straight ahead. Toes can rest lightly on the ground or point upward. Keeping your gaze in between your palms, lower your chest to the point your shoulders align with your elbows. Avoid dropping your belly; be sure to engage your core. Press up as you imagine maintaining a straight line through your entire body.
• Incline push-ups—Find a raised platform, like a kitchen counter or stair step, and then follow the usual push-up form. Because your body is not entirely parallel to the ground, you’ll experience less pressure on your shoulders and triceps and less resistance overall.
If you’re targeting core and ab strength, try . . .
• Shoulder taps—From a plank position, keeping good form in mind, lower into your push-up. As you rise back to plank, lift your right hand and tap your left shoulder. When you bring your right hand back to the ground, lower into another push-up. Repeat with your left hand tapping your right shoulder.
• Rotating-to-side-plank push-up—Start in a plank position. Perform a traditional push-up, and then when you return to plank, shift your weight to one side, rotate your body, and raise your arm into the air. With control, return to plank and do the other side. Keep alternating!
• Single leg push-up—From plank, bend your elbows while lowering into your push-up as you lift your right leg a couple inches from the ground. Press up, keeping your leg raised, and then place your right leg on the ground as you return to your starting position. Do the same thing with your left leg. Focus on controlling the movement and keeping your core active to protect your lower back.
• Single arm push-up—Similar to a single leg push-up, but with your arms (crazy, right?) A couple tips: take a wider stance for a little more ease, and prioritize form versus how far you lower down. You can also do this on an incline for more success as well, especially as you’re working to build upper body strength.
If you need more overall strength, try . . .
• Staggered hand push-up—From a standard push-up position, walk one hand forward, then perform your push-up. The further the distance between your hands, the more challenging it will be to complete the push-up. Make sure to balance yourself out on both sides.
• Diamond push-up—Spread your fingers so that your thumb and index fingers make the shape of a diamond, and then straighten your arms. You can be on your knees to make it easier, or toes to take it up a notch. Then, bend your elbows while lowering your chest toward the floor. Keep your back flat, then press back up to extend your arms.
• Isometric push-up—In all push-up variations, consider simply moving very slowly or holding your push-up halfway through. Trust us, your muscles will start to shake very quickly! See how long you can hold each push-up with solid form.
If you feel like hitting your max, try . . .
• Elevated push-up—Experiment with your feet lifted onto a surface (like a step, workout bench, or sturdy end of a couch at home) as you tackle a regular push-up. You can also play around with placing one hand on a medicine ball or kettlebell as well as utilizing an exercise ball under your feet to test your balance and strength capabilities.
• Side-to-side push-up—Your starting position begins as a regular push-up. Walk one hand out to the side, lower into your push-up, and then return to center. Do the other side and continue to shift back and forth.
• Handstand pushup—With your back against a wall, kick or lift up into a handstand. (Note: this is a good one to do with a trainer or workout partner for safety purposes, especially if you’re brand new to this exercise.) In your handstand, fully extend your arms and legs. Keep your head lifted toward the wall, rather than looking down. Slowly lower yourself toward the ground as you bend your arms like a push-up, then push yourself back to fully extended arms. Be mindful during this variation; if you start to come out of your handstand, land gently and protect your head.
• Explosive push-ups—To shape better endurance, do at least 10 seconds of super fast push-ups. Rest for 30-45 seconds, then repeat 3-5 times. If you want to clap in between each push-up, boxing-style, feel free!