If everything you’ve read in this series has bored you so far, this should be what you’ve been waiting for. I said that pushups were one of the most versatile and adaptable exercises, and I wasn’t kidding. Here is a list of several variations.
Wide Arm Pushups
Emphasis: The chest. Don’t keep your elbows in to your ribs.
Emphasis: Triceps. The closer your hands are to each other, the harder it gets. Small diamonds are tougher. You can also keep your arms parallel if the traditional diamond shape hurts your wrists.
Emphasis: Triceps and wrist strength. Whenever my wrists flare up, I switch to knuckle pushups. They’ll strengthen your wrists and hands more than normal pushups will, but be careful about the surface that you do them on. I recommend a sturdy but comfortable surface like carpet or grass.
Dive bombers/Chest Sweeps/Hindu Pushups
Emphasis: Kicking your ass. Seriously, they have a much greater range of motion and require a lot more muscle involvement. Under the wire for dive bombers and Hindu pushups. For a conditioning workout, do chest sweeps. The difference? A dive bomber pauses at the top (high arch), and a chest sweep revolves.
Emphasis: Triceps and shoulders. These are evil and I don’t do them often, but they’re unique.
Emphasis: Hand strength. Be cautious with these. Do a couple at a time (3-5) until you build up confidence and strength. People have been known to pop tendons from being overzealous.
Jack LaLanne Pushups
Emphasis: Shoulders. Jack LaLanne was a legend, and with good reason. These require using your muscles in a whole different way. The farther forward your hands are, the tougher it gets. Just try it, you won’t be disappointed.
One Arm Pushups
Emphasis: Unilateral strength, coordination, and balance. Rocky may make these look easy but they can be anything but. Progress with your free hand on a bench or a medicine ball and stagger your legs for balance. When you can do 10 on each arm you’ve built up some serious pressing power. Don’t be afraid to get creative or overload them. Over time, move your legs closer to a regular pushup stance.
Stability Ball Pushups – Feet Suspended
Emphasis: Core. Many a lifter has laughed at these and ended up on the floor in disbelief afterwards. Start off with your feet flat on the ball and work up to toes or one even one foot. When that gets easy, start doing pushups with your hands on medicine balls or foam rollers. Personal note – My first time doing those particular pushups my lower body twisted and sent me flying off of the ball.
Stability Ball Pushups – Hands on the Ball
Emphasis: Warm up and endurance. I like to do these as a warm up or a finisher. They burn your chest more than normal pushups, similar to resistance tubing or a Bowflex. For a finisher, have a partner continuously kick the ball while you do pushups. It’s tough at first but a great way to build balance, endurance, and it’s chaos training at it’s finest. Courtesy of my boxing coach.
Pike and Handstand Pushups
Wheelbarrow Pushups with a Partner
Emphasis: Shoulders. Similar to a piked pushup. Your partner can hold your legs at any height to alter the difficulty. Try a pyramid with your legs at their waist, their ribs, and then with you feet on top of the shoulders for near-handstand pushups.
Emphasis: Everything. The planche is one of the most difficult gymnastic presses and for good reason. It’s my lifetime goal to be able to do these, and it’s a worthy goal for you too. Incorporating gymnastics is a great way to build freakish strength.
Medicine Ball Pushups
Emphasis: Whatever you like, but commonly balance or plyometrics. One hand on a medicine ball, two hands on one medicine ball, two hands on two medicine balls, feet on a medicine ball, the possibilities are endless. One of my favorite finishers: Arrange three different sized medicine balls in a triangle about 12-14” apart. Start with both hands on the left ball, do a pushup, move the right arm to the middle ball, do a pushup, move the left hand to the middle ball, do a pushup. Move to right and then back across in the same manner. That’s 1 repetition.
Emphasis: Balance. These can be done with a piece of paper and a bit of creativity. Do a pushup while sliding the hand on paper in front of you or to the side. Try not to fall on your face.
Mixed Height Pushups
Emphasis: Progression to a one-armed pushup or preparation for plyometrics. Keep one hand on a medicine ball, a step, even a book. Alternate hands in a shuffling manner for one variation. If you put the step at arms length away it will increase the load on the pushing arm, making it an excellent progression for a one-armed pushup.
One Legged Pushups/3 Point Pushups
Emphasis: Core/Stability. For the 3 Point Pushup, put one foot on top of the other. Or simply let the leg hand midair. Put it out to the side to add more of a balance challenge.
Suspended Pushups (Blast Strap Pushups)
Emphasis: Stability. Made popular by TRX, these can be done with either the feet or hands suspended. You can rig up your own set ups, however.
Emphasis: Increased load on the shoulders, increases the % of bodyweight pressed. Put your feet up on a chair, a bench, a wall, anything. The higher the angle, the greater the load on the upper body.
Emphasis: Core. Do a pushup and bring your right knee to your right ribcage. Repeat with the left side.
Emphasis: Core and explosiveness. Do a pushup and forcefully push off and pivot to one side. Pause at the top by stabilizing and repeat on the other side. Add weights if you want something tougher.
Emphasis: Speed and explosive ability. The most common is the clapping pushup, which can develop into a double or even a triple clap. These will be covered in a section later.
Emphasis: Conditioning. Do a pushup and then reach the right arm out in front of you before bringing it back in. Do a pushup and repeat with the left arm. Alternatively, touch the hands or out to the side. You can also stay in the beginning or plank pushup position and just reach out with the hands without doing pushups for a shoulder endurance workout.
Emphasis: Variety of effects. The biggest drawback of pushups is that they can get stale once you are too strong. If you’d rather not delve into the variations or gymnastics, or even just to further the benefits of regular pushups, it’s time to add weight. This can be done with a weighted vest fairly easily, but it can also be done with chains or weight plates (use a partner and common sense). If you really want a challenge, convince somebody to lie on your back.
Emphasis: Full-body conditioning. You can thank my boxing coach for this wonder also. Crouching low to the ground, move your right arm in conjunction with your left leg about half a stride forward. Pause, do a pushup, and then move your left arm and right leg in a similar manner. Repeat. If that confuses you, think about how an alligator moves. It’s a simple exercise but when done for 30-40 yard shuttles it’s a killer.
Pushup With Scapular Retraction (Push Up Plus)
Emphasis: Scapular mobility and upper back strength. Rehab. These aren’t a true pushup, but they can be added to the top of every rep for added difficulty. At the plank/top position, pull your shoulders back, hold for a second, and return to the tensed plank position. Do them 8-12 times as a warm up before pressing activities, or as a finisher for some rehab work. Alternatively, add these to every pushup by focusing on scapular retraction on the negative and protraction during the positive.