I’m sorry to say but if you’re still doing 50-100 push-ups every morning hoping to grow your chest you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not going to make your chest any smaller, but by itself the push-up isn’t effective over the long-term because our body adapts to it extremely quickly – like most bodyweight exercises. This is where push-up variations come in.
By learning how to fully utilize every area of your chest, arms, and shoulders with these alternatives to the classic push-up, you can expect to seem great results in as little as a few weeks.
Now, before we jump into the list a quick word of warning. I’ll talk about this further down but please don’t read this article and start doing 50 of every push-up variation every day for the next month. Not only will you injure yourself, but you can’t do press-ups alone and expect to build a great body and lose weight. They need to be incorporated into a proper full-body program that focuses on every area of the body in order to be truly effective.
The 9 Best Push-Up Variations to Take Your Home Bodyweight Workouts to the Next Level
Outside the weighted push-up, all of these variations are designed to be done at home with no equipment. You could also do the weighted push-up without equipment if you have your kids sit on your back, but I’ll leave you to work that one out.
Each variation will be labelled as beginner, intermediate, or advanced, depending on their difficulty level. If you’re just starting out I would try to build up enough strength so that you can easily do 20-30 standard push-ups in one set before trying out these alternatives. If you’re comfortable with multiple sets of 50+ push-ups, you’ll probably be able to handle the more advanced ones, just try not to rush into them too quickly.
They’re listed in order of difficulty, but depending on your current physique you might find some easier than others. For example, if you have strong triceps compared to your chest you’ll find the close-grip push-up easier than the wide-grip push-up, whereas I’m the opposite.
The most important thing to prioritize is form. It’s easy to over-exert yourself with push-ups, but there’s no need to let ego get in the way of things. Consistent progress over a year will always trump intense weeks followed by months of no activity.
Lastly, to find out how to incorporate these push-up variations into an effective chest workout I’ve included a free guide at the bottom of this article.
Tricep Push-Up/Close-Grip Push-Up
Muscle Focus: Inner Chest, Triceps, Front Deltoids
This push-up alternative can feel strange at first if you’re never done it before. The important thing is not to force yourself too much, and ease into the exercise. It might take a bit of warming up before you can do it with correct form.
I like starting off on my knees, and once I’m comfortable I’ll do a few reps like normal to really work the triceps.
- Start in a normal press-up position on your knees
- Move your hands so that they’re inside your shoulders instead of outside
- For beginners, I’d recommend staying on your knees
- Steadily lower your body down, ensuring your arms stay tucked into your body
- Once you reach the bottom just push yourself back up for one rep
- Don’t flare your elbows outside your body. This goes for any push-up. For this variation they need to stay tucked in to your body.
- Start off on your knees on a soft surface before progressing into standard push-ups.
- Try out different positions for your hands and knees. Depending on your height you may need to put your hands further forward than you would for a normal press-up, or your knees further back.
Muscle Focus: Chest, Shoulders
This variation is basically the opposite of the close-grip push-up, and it’s very effective for working the chest without as much involvement from the triceps. Some people may struggle with this one more than the close-grip, or you may find it easier, all that matters is that you ease into it and test your limits slowly to begin with.
- Start in a normal push-up position
- Move your hands out and away from your body by a few inches
- Lower your body in a controlled fashion, keeping your elbows in
- Push back up to complete one rep
- Don’t go down too far, otherwise you’ll be putting too much pressure on your shoulder joints. This is something that can be improved over time.
- Try to feel yourself pushing from the chest, instead of the triceps.
- Controlled reps and good form is crucial, don’t try to do too much or go too fast.
Muscle Focus: Chest, Triceps, Front Deltoids, Forearms
The knuckle push-up is a lifesaver for anyone that struggles with wrist problems. However, you won’t be able to do as many reps as a normal push-up to begin with. Like everything, this will improve with practice.
Also, don’t do this variation on a hard surface unless you live in some kind of Shaolin monastery that punches trees all day.
- With your hands on a soft surface, assume the push-up position but place your weight onto your balled-up knuckles with your thumbs on the outside of your hands
- Your palms should be facing each other, or pointed slightly inwards
- With a controlled descent, press yourself back up with your arms as the driving force
- You may be able to get away with doing this on a hard surface if it’s smooth, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Just put a towel down or something.
- I like to use this as a good warm-up before doing regular push-ups due to wrist problems.
- Make sure your hands are facing the right way, and don’t flare your elbows out.
Muscle Focus: Upper Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
This is one of my favourite variations simply because I love working the upper chest. It’s a highly neglected region of the body, yet it provides the best return on investment if you’re looking to improve your physique. It’s great for building chest and shoulder thickness, which has a powerful effect on the way you look.
The only caveat is that you need some way of raising your legs. This can be done with a chair, sofa, box, or table.
- Assume the regular push-up position, making sure there’s some kind of platform you can put your legs on behind you
- Carefully manoeuvre so your feet are on the raised platform, and your arms are shoulder-width apart
- Do your push-ups like normal for controlled repetitions
- If this is your first time trying the variation, it may take a bit of practice knowing the best place to put your hands. This won’t take long to learn, though. Just make sure you’re pain-free and everything feels good when you drop.
- As you change the height of the platform you’re putting more dependence on the shoulders to do work. I recommend having a platform a few inches higher than where your head will be on a push-up, so your feet are slightly above.
- Be careful of your hands or furniture slipping if you’re doing them on a smooth surface.
Muscle Focus: Chest, Triceps, Front Deltoids
Weighted push-ups are your bread and butter when it comes to increasing max reps, breaking through plateaus, and packing on mass. It’s akin to increase the weight of your bench press, except it requires much less equipment. Because bodyweight exercises require more complicated moves or higher reps in order to progress, it can be difficult to get results once you reach a certain point. However, if you can keep loading on extra weight, you can keep making gains with just your own body (and a bit of equipment).
I’d recommend getting hold of a weighted vest, or having one of your kids sit on your back for some added fun. You could even wear a backpack with some heavy things in it, or a big coat with stuffed pockets. Try to add weight gradually until you feel comfortable, and don’t add too much at once. I’d try 5-10 kg to see how it feels, and stay on that weight until you can do 20-40 reps with ease, then move the weight up a bit.
- Weighted push-ups are best used at the start of a workout in order to build as much muscle as possible. The, after a few sets of these, you’ll move to normal push-ups or push-up variations in order to target other parts of the body and to increase your volume.
- Don’t add too much weight at once. If you can do 40 normal push-ups and only manage 5 with the weights, it’s probably too heavy.
- Correct form needs to be a priority due to the increased strain you’re putting on your joints.
Muscle Focus: Inner Chest, Triceps, Front Deltoids
If you try this variation before building up your triceps or improving on the close-grip you’re going to be in trouble. The first time you try a diamond push-up it might seem impossible, but I can assure you it’s not that bad once you get the hang of it.
- Put your hands flat on the ground next to each other, so the thumb and index fingers of boths hands are pressed together and form a diamond shape.
- From a push-up position, carefully lower your weight to the ground ensuring you keep pushing your two hands together and without letting your elbows go too far out
- Push as hard as you can to get back up to the start for one repetition
- This exercise can be tough to begin with, but once you get a feel for the mechanisms behind it you’ll become much more comfortable.
- Your saving grace is keeping the pressure on the diamond. Don’t push them together so much that it hurts or they break or you lose your grip, but use it as a lever to help get yourself back to the starting position.
- Try to keep your elbows fairly neutral. Too far inside or outside and the exercise will be impossible, and you’ll be rotating your shoulders too much.
Muscle Focus: Shoulders, Upper Chest, Triceps
This is where we start getting into the truly challenging push-up variations that you won’t be able to do until you’ve built up enough strength and mobility.
The handstand push-up is primarily a shoulder exercise, but it’s amazing for building a powerful physique and something that makes an excellent addition to your weekly routines. There are a couple of ways you can progress through this exercise, starting from slightly easier and becoming much more challenging. Take your time, work through the motions, and progress at your own pace.
- Put yourself into a push-up position in front of a wall or platform like a chair or table, but keep your knees on the floor
- One leg a time, lift them onto the platform or walk them up the wall until you’re roughly at a 90° angle – you may need to adjust your arm/hand position during this
- Keep tension in your abs and upper body, and ensuring your elbows don’t flare out too much
- Lower your head towards the ground using your arms and push yourself up
- When you’re finished just lower your legs down off the platform
In order to raise the difficulty of this just increase the angle between your arms and legs until you eventually hit 180°
- Take your time and make sure your joints are warmed up through normal-pushups before attempting it
- Don’t let your elbows go out to the site. Have them come back at a 45° angle like you would on a normal press-up
- This is a tough exercise to master, but it’s by far the best way to grow your shoulders using bodyweight
Muscle Focus: Chest, Triceps, Front Deltoids, Explosive Power
This is one of two explosive push-ups on the list. That basically just means you’ll be getting some air time, and why it’s called a superman push-up. The goal is to push yourself off the ground and hold a superman-like pose in the air before coming back down.
If you’ve never attempted a clap push-up before I’d highly recommend avoiding this exercise until you have some practice. That being said, it’s almost impossible to train for a superman push-up without extensive bodyweight work beforehand, so the only real issue you’ll have if you try this before you’re ready is falling flat on your face.
The key thing with the superman push-up is to be as explosive as possible in your movements. Every rep has 100% exertion, which is what makes it so difficult – along with the strength you need to do it in the first place.
- Start in a normal push-up position and lower yourself to the ground
- At the bottom, tighten up all of your muscles and push yourself up as hard as you can
- Lift your body into the air and as you’re going up, bring your arms out in front of you (like Superman)
- Quickly bring your arms back to the normal position to cushion your fall
- When you’re coming back down make sure your arms soften the fall gently instead of coming to an immediate stop.
- Start with clap pushups with a wide-grip to help build the strength for this exercise.
- You don’t have a lot of time to bring your arms up so do everything with as much intensity as you can.
- If you half-arse any part of this push-up variation it’s likely going to hurt.
Muscle Focus: Arms, Chest, Core, Shoulders, Everything
The last push-up on this list of variations isn’t challenging because it’s complex, but because you need to have such high strength relative to bodyweight that it’ll take a long time before you’re able to pull it off. As well as this, you’ll be using muscles that aren’t trained through push-ups alone, so you can’t just progress from one to the next. You have to train specifically for this exercise.
It’s also worth mentioning that the starting position for this push-up variation is completely different to a regular one. Your hands are in-line with your midsection, and facing the opposite way so your fingers are pointing behind you.
If you’re trying to work towards this variation you should start by learning how to do a basic planche. Over time you’ll be able to progress towards turning this into a push-up. However, because this is a list of push-up variations and not “how to do a planche” we’ll leave that for you to research on your own.
- From a planche position, with your hands shoulder-width in line with your stomach and fingers pointing behind you, lift yourself off the ground as you would for a basic planche
- While off the ground, ensure your muscles are tensed up and tight, and slowly lower yourself to the ground
- Keepign your body as straight as you can, using your abdominals to stabilize, push yourself back up to complete one repetition
- This is a very difficult exercise to do and is almost impossible if you’ve never attempted a planche before. Start there, and then work up towards this. If you build your strength in both the planche and the push-up this exercise will become much more doable.
- There isn’t a lot of risk with this one, but if you feel like you’re going to fall when you’re at the top of the movement just bring your knees or feet down instead of letting your whole bodyweight fall onto your face.
- This push-up variation is listed as advance-expert for a reason. It’s going to take a long time to master. Don’t rush into it, progress slowly, and you’ll get there eventually.
Push-Up Progression – How to Get Better Over Time Without Creating Muscle Imbalances
The idea of push-up progression is no different from how you would progress in a gym lifting weights – known as progressive overload. However, instead of adding more weight (except with a weighted push-up), you’ll be doing more push-ups in one set or carrying out more complex push-up variations.
In order for your numbers to improve, you need a combination of a few key things:
- Intense workouts that cause your muscles to tear so they can be rebuilt stronger
- Enough calories and protein to build muscle
- Plenty of sleep to help your muscles recover
If you can master all 3 of these you’ll find yourself improving much faster than someone that neglects any of them.
Without proper recovery, your muscles are never going to grow. This is why it’s bad to work the same muscle multiple days in a row. The only way muscles can grow is if they’re torn apart and given the necessary environment to rebuild and rejuvenate stronger.
The workouts listed below are designed to give you enough time between days so your body can recover, but enough workouts in the week to remain challenging. In general, though, I would recommend carrying out a push-up focused workout at least twice a week, provided you’re also working the other areas of your body – back, shoudlers, abs, and legs. They can be done as part of a full-body routine, or on there own, the important thing is not to get too carried away.
If you only train chest you’ll end up with a horribly imbalanced body, resulting in back pain, poor posture, and trouble walking. Muscles should be trained in opposites, so if you have a chest-focused day it should be complemented by some back exercises and vice versa in order to balance things out.
3 Push-Up Workouts to Build a Bigger Chest
These push-up workouts are pretty simple, and a lot of the specific programming is going to be left up to you based on your abilities. The idea is just to give you some structure to make workouts more enjoyable and growth-focused, instead of randomly doing whatever exercises you feel like on the day.
They’ll either be built around time or reps/sets, and it’s pretty difficult to go wrong.
This is a simple but intense push-up workout designed for when you’re strapped for time. It should only take 5-10 minutes, and all you need is a way to keep track of time i.e. stopwatch, timer, phone.
- Choose 4 push-up variations from the list above that are in your skill level, and if you’re still a beginner I would recommend using standard push-ups in at least 2 of the blocks
- Turn on your timer and do 5 reps of each exercise
- Once you finish, rest for 30-60 seconds or until the next minute starts and then repeat until you’ve been going for 5-10 minutes
So, if you’re still in the beginner-intermediate your workout might look like this:
- 5 standard push-ups
- 5 wide-grip push-ups
- 5 standard push-ups
- 5 knuckle push-ups
- Rest 40 seconds and repeat
You could also do 20 standard push-ups as well if you feel like it. The important thing is to force yourself to keep starting the routine again when your rest period is over. Personally, I like to start every minute on the dot. So, I’ll get all of my push-ups done, and whatever time I have left until the minute starts is my rest period. This ensures I keep the pace up, and allows me to get a very intense workout in a short amount of time.
Tabata Push-up Workout
Tabata is an excellent method to keep up the intensity in your workouts, and is based around the idea of doing hard exercise for 30 seconds and then resting 40. It’s similar to the 5/5/5/5 workout, except you have some more freedom in your movements.
Basically, you’ll do one push-up variation for 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds, do another variation for 30 seconds and repeat.
Also, if you’re in the beginner stages you can change the periods to 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off or if you want to punish yourself you can do 40 on 20 off.
Here’s a sample 10-minute push-up workout for beginners:
- Standard push-up 20 seconds
- Rest 40 seconds
- Wide-grip push-up 20 seconds
- Rest 40 seconds
- Close-grip push-up 20 seconds
- Rest 40 seconds
- Standard push-up 20 seconds
- Rest 40 seconds
- Rest 60 seconds
I included a double rest period at the end of the set to give some extra time for beginners to recuperate. It’s also extremely easy to scale up to 15 or 20 minutes, as you can just repeat the 4 exercises as needed. You could also add in a 5th push-up variation if you’d like to increase the challenge.
Pyramid Push-Up Workout
The last workout on the list is a bit more complicated, but works really well for progression. It’ll have you dying for a break by the end of it.
Pyramid workouts are pretty common in the fitness industry, and can be very effective if done well, which is why I love doing them for push-ups.
The basic idea is to start off the workout just doing 1 rep of a few different variations, and then doing 2 reps, 3 reps, and so on until you do 5 reps of each after which you can take a break.
Here’s a sample pyramid push-up workout before I explain it in more detail:
- 1 rep of standard, wide-grip, and close-grip push-ups
- 2 reps of standard, wide-grip, close-grip push-ups
- 3 reps “….”
- 4 reps “….”
- 5 reps “….”
The great thing about this style of workout is that it starts off incredibly easy, but by the end you’ve done a surprising amount of push-ups – in this case you’ll rack up 45 push-ups! It’s also very scaleable.
If you want to make it more challenging you can add on a 6 rep set to the end, and if you want to make it easier just take one set off.
You can also inverse the pyramid, but this is mostly just personal preference and won’t affect the workout too much as you’ll still be doing the same volume just in a different way. So, you would start with the 5 reps of each exercise, then 4, 3 and so on until you do just 1 rep of each to finish up.
It’s going to challenge you, especially if you’re not used to such a high volume of push-ups, but it’ll work incredibly well for building your strength in a short space of time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Push-Ups
Just to finish off I thought I’d include some quick answers to the most common questions we get about push-ups to help you out if you’re stuck.
What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?
Push-ups primarily work the chest, triceps, and front deltoids. However, they can be adapted using variations to target different parts of the upper body such as the outer/inner chest and shoulders.
How Many Push-Ups Should You Do Every Day?
The basic answer is however many you want. If you’re following a weekly routine of full-body workouts I don’t recommend doing push-ups every day. Alternatively, if you’re just looking to do a few push-ups in the morning then do whatever you’re comfortable with, generally this is between 10-30.
Can I Do Other Exercises Alongside Push-Ups?
Yes! You should absolutely do other exercises. If you only do push-ups you’ll end up with a strong chest and front delts, but the rest of your body will be weak. It won’t just affect your posture, but having weak back, leg, and abdominal muscles will result in a whole number of problems down the line.
What Can’t I Progress Any Further/Why Have I Hit a Plateau?
There are a number of reasons why you’re not making any progress. The ones I see most common are:
- You’re not eating enough protein/calories, or you’re not sleeping enough
- You’re training effectively and pushing yourself far enough
The first one can be solved by putting yourself into a caloric surplus – if you’re not already – and giving your body the protein and nutrients it needs to build muscle. Building muscle takes energy, it can’t be created from nothing, so if you’re consistently eating below maintenance calories you’ll never be able to build muscle.
If you’re trying to lose weight and cut down on fat, two things will happen. Your relative strength will go up because you’re lighter, and you’ll find that you can do more push-ups. At the same time, your actual strength will go down because you’re unable to build muscle. So, if this is the case, you’re going to hit a plateau at some point and the only thing you can do is start to gain some more weight.
If the issue lies with your training, you can either increase the weight or increase the volume. If you’re trying to reach a new maximum for push-ups in one set I would recommend rest pause training. Basically, do as many push-ups as you can, but instead of resting you keep your arms locked and stay in the push-up position. After 5-10 seconds you’ll go down and do as many push-ups as you can again. Then, just do this until your body really can’t do anymore.
This is an effective way to break through plateaus.
Another way is to incorporate weighted push-ups and other variations. You’ll only be able to get so good at normal push-ups so challenging your body to build muscle elsewhere will be more effective instead of doing the same exercise over and over.
How to Deal With Wrist Pain When Doing Push-Ups
- Something I’ve struggled with for years, few options depending on severity
- Make sure you use correct form
- Use handles
- Do knuckle push-ups
- Fight through the pain and strengthen your wrists
I’ve struggled with this since I was a teenager and damaged my wrists through music & video games. There are a few things you can do:
- Use push-up handles
- Get good at knuckle push-ups
- Make sure you’re using the correct form
- Fight through the pain until your wrists strengthen and adapt
Hoenstly, I’ve tried all of these and the most effective one for me was the last one. While handles and knuckles were a great alternative, it wasn’t until I finally realised that the cause of my wrist pain was weak muscles combined with a lack of stretching. Once you manage to strengthen up the muscles going through your hands, wrists, and forearms you’ll find the pain completely disappears.
Until you reach that point, however, I would recommend investing in one of the other solutions first.
Hopefully you’ve learnt something from this article, and if you’re going to try some of these push-up variations out let me know in the comments below! Finally, if you want to incoroporate these exercises into a powerful weekly routine that’ll build an awesome physique using only your bodyweight, check out our ultimate guide to bodyweight HIIT workouts.