But nothing good comes easy, and push-ups are good for you. Primarily, they work your chest, anterior deltoids, and triceps, says Rob Sulaver, a Rumble Trainer on Equinox+. “You’ll also get some solid core engagement,” he says. And to a lesser extent, push-ups work your legs and hips, too. In other words, they’re a full-body workout, and one which, as Sulaver points out, requires no equipment. “You only need your body and gravity, which means you can do them anywhere,” he says.
There are push-up modifications to meet you at every stage of your fitness journey, too. “They’re scalable from easy to incredibly difficult,” says Sulaver. “Elevating your hands on a wall or counter top is going to make push-ups much easier. Plyometric variations like Superman push-ups are extremely difficult.”
Different variations of push-ups offer different outcomes, too. “Depending on the style of push-up you do, you can develop power, strength, or muscular endurance,” says Sulaver. “If you do lots of reps of an easier push up, you’ll develop endurance. If you do more challenging push-ups you’ll develop strength. And if you do explosive plyometric style push-ups, you can develop power.”
The next time you’re up for a challenge, work your way through the list of the best push-up variations—many of which you probably haven’t even heard of yet—below. There’s the hand-release push-up that makes grown men in the Army sweat bullets, the half-split push-up Kate Hudson makes look easily (even though it’s definitely not), and the Spiderman push-up that has you scaling the floor like a superhero.
And while attacking each variation, watch out for common form mistakes that can sabotage your efforts. Letting your body sag, for example, is a big one, says Sulaver. “People commonly drop their chin or hips towards the ground instead of staying strong and engaged throughout the set,” he explains. The trainer also advises paying attention to your elbows to make sure they’re 45 degrees from your midline. “Your torso and arms should make more of an arrow shape than a T shape,” he says.
With those tips in mind, it’s time to get started on this push-up challenge. Only one question remains: How far do you think you can get?
Beginner push-up modifications
1. Wall push-up
When you’re first starting out in your push-up journey, the wall version is the way to go. It’ll start to strengthen all the muscles needed to perform push-ups on the ground.
2. Knee push-up
When you’re still working your way up to standard push-ups, the most common modification is doing them on your knees. It helps you build up your strength before taking the exercise to the plank position.
A simple modification you can make between knee push-ups and standard push-ups is putting a Pilates ring vertically underneath your chest, which helps support your body so you can stay in a strong plank position during your push-ups.
Before moving onto any harder variations, you have to master the form of the standard push-up: body in a straight line, shoulders over your wrists, and hands mat-width apart.
Intermediate push-up modifications
Take regular push-ups to the next level by adding shoulder taps. It’s a simple addition, but it starts to put your strength to the test as you’re balancing between arms.
Next up are T-pushups. The exercise combines three tough moves—a push-up, plank, and side plank—to work your core and shoulders on a deeper level.
Tricep push-ups are specifically targeting the backs of your arms. Because the focus is shifted to your triceps and less on your chest, like in regular push-ups, they’re a more challenging variation of the standard exercise.
8. Pike push-up
If you think your triceps are already sore, just wait. The pike push-up puts even more weight on your arms and shoulders as you’re performing the exercise, upping the challenge.
9. Plank push-up
This plank-push-up hybrid has you moving from a high plank to a forearm plank with as much control a possible, working your abs, shoulders, arms, and more.
10. Toe tap push-up
This exercise hits strength and cardio at the same time. Between push-ups, you take turns tapping your foot in one quick, swift motion. Talk about working up a sweat.
Instead of facing your fingers toward your head in standard push-ups, pseudo planche push-ups involve facing your fingers toward your feet. “The orientation of the fingers pointing toward your feet and sitting farther down your torso places a greater demand on your shoulders and biceps, causing them work harder,” says Korey Rowe, trainer at Dogpound in New York City.
The hand-release push-up is part of the Army Combat Fitness Test, so you know they’re tough. Instead of simply going up and down, your chest goes all the way down to the ground where you release both bands an inch off the floor. That means there’s no way to cheat—you have to complete a full push-up every time.
13. TRX push-up
TRX push-ups work your upper and lower body at the same time. If you have access to a TRX suspension trainer, you complete the push-up by standing with your knuckles in line with your shoulders, then slowly bend your arms into a push-up position. Next, you straighten them to bring your body back up. You can up the challenge even more by performing the push-up at an angle.
This is hands-down one of the best push-up variations. Blast-off push-ups require you to shoot your lower body back into a crouch hover plank-like position between push-ups, and because of the extra coordination and strength it requires, it only takes a few reps before your entire body is feeling the burn.
Advanced push-up variations
Dive bomber push-ups are a combination of push-ups and yoga sun salutations, giving you a full-body challenge that doesn’t just involve your core, arms, chest, and back like in the standard exercise. “I think dive bomber push-ups are way harder than a traditional push-ups,” says Maillard Howell of Dean CrossFit. “It involves more pushing with the shoulder versus pushing with the chest, like in a traditional push-up. You’re also going to get a lot more hamstring and lower back stretch activation when you do dive bomber push-ups.”
16. Pylo-fly push-up
When doing a pylo-fly push-up, you start with a chaturanga (or tricep) push-up on a riser, then jump your hands outward to the floor on either side of the riser to do a standard push-up. Then, you finish by jumping your hands back up to the riser and starting again with the tricep push-up. Super hard, but super effective.
You can blame Kate Hudson for this push-up variation that will make your entire body shake. Created by her trainer Nicole Winhoffer, it involves pushing back into a one-legged downward dog, then as you’re lowering down into a push-up position, bringing that same leg to your side at a 90-degree angle—which is essentially a half-split. Ouch.
Spiderman push-ups are crazy-hard. Like, experts say they’re a good bridge exercise if you’re trying to develop the strength to do one-arm push-ups. “They require the person performing the exercise to engage the muscles of the core to a greater degree than a regular push-up, because one foot is off the ground while performing each repetition,” says Edward Rush, co-founder of Superior Fitness Lab. “It also requires a greater degree of upper body strength, because with each repetition, the majority of body weight shifts to the side of the body with the leg on the ground and the arm stretched forward.”
If you thought Spiderman push-ups were hard, wait until you try this amped-up variation. Something J.Lo’s trainer does during his workouts, you hold yourself up a few feet above the ground with stacked blocks while resting your feet on an elevated base. Then, you complete a mix of knee tucks and Spiderman push-ups. Yeah, it hurts… but in a good way.
20. One-arm push-up
The last on this list of the best push-up variations is the one-arm push-up, which is pretty self-explanatory. You’re using every ounce of your upper-body strength as you perform the exercise with one arm behind your back. Basically, it’s the black belt of push-ups, and if you reach this point you deserve some sort of award.
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