The push-up is the gold standard for bodyweight exercises that work your upper body pushing muscles (chest, triceps, and shoulders).
It’s super convenient due to needing no equipment (unless doing certain advanced variations), and there are so many different variations that it’ll blow your mind. And you can certainly build heaps of muscle, increase your strength and improve your athletic performance by incorporating this very beneficial exercise.
But before you can implement fancy new variations, you should be able to perform a proper standard push-up for multiple repetitions. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to do advanced techniques.
So, we’ll show you how to work up to the push-up, how to do it, and some amazing variations which are a must-have for getting a jacked upper body.
But first… here are the benefits of doing a push-up…
- Builds muscle
- Increases strength
- Improves power and explosiveness
- No equipment needed (bodyweight)
- Plenty of variations
As you can see, there’s little to not love about this bodyweight upper body exercise. It’s a go-to exercise for developing primarily the chest, although the triceps and shoulders are also involved.
But it’s a great movement for developing functional power and explosiveness since you’re learning how to maximize force production by utilizing your own body mechanics.
Not to mention, you can do it anywhere. And by simply manipulating body position, you can emphasize the upper or lower chest while also increasing the difficulty of the movement.
“By adjusting the speed you perform a push-up, the angle of your body, and even hand placement, you can add more or less intensity, or focus on specific muscles,”
Explained Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. (1)
But interestingly, one very recent study published by JAMA Network Open showed that active men who could do 40 push-ups were significantly less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and other heart problems over the next ten years than those who could only do fewer than 10. (2)
So, it appears that the push-up is also a viable test for certain aspects of health.
Proper Body Mechanics For a Push-Up
The push-up is a rather simple exercise to do but for many people, a lack of upper body strength is a big limiting factor for even being able to do one.
But that’s not a problem at all. In fact, by elevating your upper body, mostly anyone can do a push-up. For example, you can lean against a wall and easily rep out a few push-ups. Heck, you can even do it on your knees and this will allow you to develop the strength that you need to progress.
According to an article from Harvard Medical School, a standard push-up utilizes 50% to 75% of your body weight. (This varies slightly between individuals), while with the knee and inclined push-up, you’re using about 36% to 45% of your body weight (again, this can vary slightly, based on several factors). (1)
Either way, the push-up is possible for everyone.
Now let’s just go over the simple form rules…
Note: Proper form for the push-up should be the same as bench press form to ensure joint safety, proper body mechanics, and optimal performance.
- No matter how you perform the push-up, you always want to ensure that your entire body is neutral including your head. This is important for proper spine positioning and optimal performance.
- Your shoulder blades should be retracted and down. This is crucial for avoiding shoulder impingement and too much shoulder involvement which takes away from the ideal primary chest activation.
- Avoid lifting your shoulders up toward your head as this will place your shoulder joint in an undesirable position and limit your strength potential.
- Keeping your elbows slightly tucked inward will allow you to push with more force than if you were to flare your elbows out.
- Keep your glutes tight throughout the movements as this will provide you with a strong lower-body base to press from in the opposite direction.
- Your hands should be positioned near your mid-chest area and aligned with your shoulders.
- When lowering your body down during the push-up, allow your body to move forward so that when you press up, your shoulder aligns safely with your arms. This allows for natural joint motion.
- Perform each rep by using only the muscles involved. No bouncing or cheating!
13 Must-Have Push-Up Variations
1. Single-Side Alternating Isolation Push-Up
This is one of the best variations you can do when you need more of a challenging. Not too mention, you’ll get an amazing squeeze and contraction of the pectorals.
But it’s actually like a less challenging version of the one-arm push-up. However, it’s very doable for most people who can do normal push-ups.
- To do this exercise, you’ll get into a standard push-up position on the floor, or elevate your upper body on a platform (e.g. bench, countertop, wall, etc) to make it easier. Do a regular push-up and as you come up, rotate your torso toward one arm so that you’re able to isolate one side of your chest.
For example, push up and turn your torso to where you’re facing your left arm. You should feel a killer contraction in your left pec muscle. Then, perform another rep and turn your torso so that it’s facing your right arm.
2. Pike Push-Up
The pike push-up is as good as it gets for targeting the upper chest, although the shoulders will get some involvement here as well.
To do this exercise, arch your body so that the movement of the push-up follows a downward path.
3. Pendulum Push-Up
This is definitely harder than most push-up variations but if you want a killer chest contraction then look no further. This variation will place a bigger unilateral (affecting one side) load on each individual pec muscles and it’s a must in any challenging push-up routine.
Like a pendulum, you’ll perform this variation in a half-circle motion, shifting the load from one side to the other. Keep your hands a little wider and position your hands outward.
4. Divebomber Push-Up
The divebomber is performed exactly like how you’d think. And it’ll emphasize your chest from top to bottom while also working the pushing muscles of your arms.
To do this exercise, you’ll use a rocking motion forward and backward dipping your body low during the main portion of the movement.
5. Diamond Cutter Push-Up
The diamond cutter is a common variation but it’s definitely more difficult than the conventional push-up. Plus, with more adduction of your arms, you’ll get a better squeeze. Not to mention, your triceps will be highly activated as well.
For this exercise, form a diamond or triangle with your hands touching and do a standard push-up motion.
6. Archer Push-Up
The archer push-up is a great way to overload one side of your chest at a time. It’s an alternating exercise that really stimulates growth. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart because you’ll push yourself to the limits with this exercise.
You’ll shift your body from side to side so that one arm is extended out to your side while the other pushes you up and to the opposite side.
7. Jump Clap Push-Up
This is a plyometric type push-up variation and it’s amazing for building your explosiveness for sports and other similar activities.
Start in a standard push-up position but nearly on your knees and then explode upward using your chest, arms, and legs to propel you upward by utilizing momentum.
8. Spiderman Push-Up
Here’s a push-up variation which mimics the movement of your friendly neighborhood Spiderman. But we warn you, it’s tough!
Get into a standard push-up position and as you lower your body, lift one knee to the same side elbow. Then, move it back as you push up and repeat with your other side.
9. Fingertip Push-Up
You have to be somewhat advanced to do this one but you’ll definitely strengthen your fingertips while testing your mental grit. If you have a strong grip then this variation should be a breeze.
To do this, hold yourself up on your fingertips in a standard push-up position and perform them as you normally would.
10. Rolling Plyo Push-Up
This is another explosive variation which you can implement for size, strength, and function.
- To do this exercise, perform a push-up, then roll onto your back and rock yourself forward into another push-up.
11. One-Arm push-Up
The one-arm push-up is notorious for being one of the most difficult forms. You need a good amount of upper body strength and there’s no way around this.
However, you can utilize a wall or any elevated surface to post up on using your other arm to make performing it possible. The one-arm push-up is a great exercise for working on unilateral strength and it’s a great muscle-builder if you do it consistently.
- To successfully do this exercise, spread your feet a little farther than you would a standard push-up. Position your body parallel next to a wall and place one hand on the wall while you push with the other. Keep your pushing arm tight with your elbow slightly tucked in for a safe shoulder angle.
12. Superman Push-Up
You definitely don’t have to be Superman to do this variation but you’ll sure look like him if you do it correctly.
For this variation, start in a standard push-up position on your knees and explode upward, extending your arms forward and kicking up so that your entire body leaves the ground.
13. Extended Straight-Arm Push-Up
This variation is different from the others as your arms are extended overhead. This also poses a challenge but hey… easy doesn’t get you results, now does it?
Simply extend your arms in front of you in a push-up position and press your body up as much as you can.
Can The Push-Up Replace Weight Training For Pushing Muscles?
The push-up can definitely be an alternative to weight training. But you do need to implement continuous progressive overload while also working a muscle from several angles to reach your maximum strength and muscle-building potential.
And although there are several ways to accomplish this by utilizing the push-up, it can be rather difficult to do so after a certain point for most people interested in maximizing their physical capabilities. But it is, of course, relative to the goal/s of each individual.
For example, bodyweight exercises can become too easy for some people (unless you continue to add weight using a belt, plate, etc).
And you can get creative as well but you’ll need to advance your body skills in order to really maximize your push-ups (e.g. handstand push-ups, plyometrics, etc).
How To Effectively Incorporate Push-Ups
The push-up makes a great warm-up, finisher, or standalone exercise. How you decide to incorporate them into your training is entirely dependent on your goals and lifestyle.
Some people may not be able to get to the gym or they don’t have access to weights. Well, this is where the push-up really shines. Also, this means you’ll have to make the many different variations work to your advantage if you plan to keep progressing.
So, if using as a warm-up, do a few sets to get the blood flowing in your chest before you attack a bench press session. To use as a finisher movement after your weight training session, do as many reps as possible as a burnout or do three to four different push-up exercises as your main chest workout in you decide to skip out on the weights.
The push-up has stood the test of time for its effectiveness in developing the upper body and improving aspects of performance.
Is it an absolute necessary exercise? Well, if you don’t always have access to weight training equipment then we could argue that it is. But regardless, improving your bodyweight strength is certainly going to be to your benefit.
So, try out these different push up variations and remember to maintain good form to get the best results you possibly can.