12 Incredibly Effective Push-Up Variations

May 20, 2016

The standard push-up is a terrific (and underrated) exercise for the upper body and abs, but if you want to work a wider range of muscles, you should try some of the more interesting push-up variations.

Here are 12 awesome push-up variations that provide a challenging workout:

1. The Rocky push-up


If a title bout against Apollo Creed is in your future, you might want to train the way Rocky Balboa did. Rocky push-ups are a series of one-armed push-ups, except you switch hands each time.

As you lower down, your free hand moves quickly behind you to the area of your back above the tailbone. These push-ups are performed fairly quickly, preferably with stirring theme music playing in the background, and a grizzled old boxing trainer leaning on the ropes, watching your every move. You’ll also want a pair of boxing trunks with stars and stripes on them.

2. Side to side push-ups


Start in the standard push-up position. Instead of lowering yourself straight down, shift your body to the side, so your right pectoral muscle makes contact with your right thumb.

Then come back up. For the next push-up you’ll slide to the left, so your left pectoral muscle brushes your left thumb at the bottom of the push-up.

Alternate your arms for each push-up. This push-up is much harder than it looks, because the majority of your body weight is being lifted and lowered by one arm at a time.

3. Leg kick push-up


Perform a normal push-up and hold your position at the bottom. Extend your right leg out from your body (and parallel to the floor) at a 90 degree angle.

Your knee should not be bent, and the extended leg and foot must not touch the floor. Once the leg has been fully stretched out, bring it back to its original position and raise yourself back up.

Use slow, precise movements. This push-up comes from the Netherlands, and it’s a great choice if you want to get your legs involved in the action.

4. Knee to opposite elbow push-up


If you’re after a great push-up for the entire torso, this one is really effective. As your body lowers toward the bottom of the push-up, bring your right leg forward and across your body until the knee is close to your left elbow.

As you come back up, return the leg to its original position. On the second push-up, move your left leg so the knee comes close to your right elbow.

As with any push-up involving leg movement, it’s important to use slow, controlled movements for maximum benefit.

5. Diamond push-up


In this push-up, you place your hands flat on the floor, with the index fingers and thumbs of each hand touching each other. This creates a diamond shape between your hands.

Having your hands closer together than normal means your triceps will get a more intense workout, and different muscle groups will be used.

You can vary this push-up by moving your hands a few inches forward, or a few inches back. Maintain the same straight back and rigid posture that you use in a normal push-up.

6. Legs on medicine ball push-up


Elevate your feet by placing them on a large medicine ball. Your starting position will be with palms on the ground, back perfectly straight and both feet supported by the top of the ball.

Perform regular push-ups from this position. By elevating the legs, you put more weight on your arms than usual.

By using an unstable medicine ball instead of a firm support, you add the challenge of staying balanced during the exercise. The closer together your feet, the harder it is to maintain balance.

7. Superman push-ups


The starting position for this push-up is a little different. Your feet should be shoulder length apart, and your hands extended out in front of you (imagine what Superman looks like when flying).

Separate your fingers for extra push and balance, and lift up from there. Because your arms are up past your head, you’ll only lift two or three inches off the ground with each push-up.

It’s important to have good grip on the toes of your shoes, because the act of lifting your body from this position tends to make your feet slip.

8. Clapping behind your back push-ups


You’ve probably seen the military push-up where the soldier claps his hands in front of him in the middle of each push-up.

This is similar, except you explode off the floor a little higher, giving yourself enough time to clap both hands behind your back instead.

Once you have mastered that, you can advance to the greater challenge of clapping once in front and once behind your back, all before your palms return to the ground. The explosive push needed to achieve the extra height makes this push-up especially good for chest development.

9. Tilted torso push-up


The starting position requires that you use some sort of object (or objects) to raise one hand four or five inches higher than the other.

You can use a medicine ball, a couple of bricks or a stack of phone books. Having this disparity in hand height gives your body a tilt at the start of each push-up, and places slightly different stresses on your arm muscles.

Perform ten repetitions with your right arm raised off the ground, and then switch to the left for ten more. Use a slow, steady pace.

10. Leg stretch push-ups


To perform these properly, start from a standard push-up position, except with your legs a foot or so apart for stability.

As your body lowers, lift one leg off the ground and extend it up in the air, pointing it straight at the ceiling (or as high as you can manage).

When you push off with your arms and raise yourself back up, lower your leg back to the ground. Switch legs for the next push-up and continue from there. This variation requires good balance, and gives the muscles in your thighs a workout.

11. Push-up with three chairs


Arrange three chairs in a triangle. Your starting position is off the ground, with your feet elevated by one chair and your hands resting on the edges of the other two.

Being further from the floor allows you to dip your body much lower than with a regular push-up, creating a wider range of shoulder movement.

You can perform a similar push-up on the ground by resting both palms on a couple of large bricks on the floor. However, using chairs is a little tougher because your body is more parallel to the ground.

12. Sliding arm push-up


Before starting this push-up variation, place a paper plate (or upside-down Frisbee) underneath one hand; this will allow your hand to slide freely along the floor.

As you lower yourself, the hand in the plate smoothly moves out and away from your body. When your chest is just an inch from the floor, that arm should be fully extended at right angles to your body.

As you come back up, slide your hand back toward you, so it returns to its original position when you reach the end of the push-up.

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