5 Next-Level Push-Up Variations for Anyone Up for a Challenge
Work your chest, triceps, shoulders, back, and core with these creative variations on standard push-ups.
Push-ups are a classic, zero-equipment exercise with a whole lot of perks like serious chest, shoulder, triceps, and core gains–not to mention a visibly toned upper-body. Strengthening those muscles can help decrease symptoms like back pain, poor posture, and even not-so-perky breasts. But doing the same mighty, multi-tasking exercise over and over again can get a little boring.
Luckily, push-up variations abound. “Once you’ve mastered the basic push-up, incorporating different push-up variations will help engage and strengthen different parts of your body,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Laura Miranda, also a doctor of physical therapy and the creator of PURSUIT. Some will work your biceps or triceps more, while others will work your core and quads. “Adding variation means you’re strengthening your entire body in new ways” she says.
Below, Miranda demos five push-up variations that go way beyond the classic (and that means they’ll help sculpt your arms even faster). Whether you’re sick of standard push-ups or are just looking for new, creative ways to work your chest, triceps, shoulders, back, and core, try these moves below.
And don't be intimidated if they look challenging at first: If you’re not quite ready for these next-level moves, Miranda offers easier variations that’ll get you rocking the real thing in no time.
Narrow Grip Ball Push-Up
How to do it: Grip a medicine ball in front of your body in push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Keeping your body in one long line and your elbows by your sides, squeeze your core and lower your body until your chest touches the medicine ball. Then, exhale as you push back to start. That’s one rep. Aim for five to 10 reps.
To make it easier: Place the ball on an incline–like on top of a bench–so that your grip is the same, but the angle of your body is different. "Doing push-ups on an incline reduces strain on your body while keeping the integrity of the movement and prepping your body for the more advanced move,” Miranda says. You can also grab a larger medicine ball. "The bigger the ball and the wider your feet, the easier this movement will be," she says.
Why it works: "This push-up variation is similar to the Chaturanga push-up that you do in yoga because you're keeping your elbows and triceps as close to your body as possible,” Miranda says. This placement puts a greater emphasis on the triceps muscles. Plus, using a medicine ball, which is less stable than a flat surface, requires you to engage your core and improves overall stability and balance.
How to do it: Start in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, wrists stacked under shoulders. Keeping your body in one long line, bend your arms and lower yourself to the floor. Then, using as much power as you can, exhale and push back up, lifting your body up and off the ground and to the right. Aim to travel anywhere from two to six inches, and land so that your feet and hands return to the floor at the same time. That’s one rep. Try two reps per side, before switching sides. Rest as long as necessary between repeating for three sets.
This plyometric variation of the standard push-up requires not only strength, but explosive strength in the up-and-down and side-to-side planes of motion. It’s best reserved for people who can do at least five to 10 standard push-ups and who can comfortably walk 15 feet in a lateral-moving plank.
To make it easier: Practice your lateral-moving plank. To do that, start in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, wrists under shoulders. Then, keeping your body in one long line, practice walking four feet in one direction and four feet in the other.
Build up to a clapping push-up next. The clapping push-up requires the same explosive motion, without requiring you to move laterally. For this variation, after lowering your body to the floor, use as much power as you can in your arms to push up and lift your body high enough off the ground that you can clap or touch your hands together under your chest. This will help build explosive strength and power.
Why it works: “There’s power. And then there’s explosive power. It’s the explosive power that takes your strength to the next level," Miranda says. "The Cricket works on your explosive strength and power because it forces you to lift up while simultaneously moving your body laterally." That lateral movement is also a boon for your shoulder health. “When you only do the traditional push-up, you’re only training your shoulder in one plane of motion, which limits how your shoulder joint functions and strengthens. Moving laterally is another way to strengthen the health of that joint,” she says.
Inverted "Box" Jump Push-Up
How to do it: Start in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, wrists under shoulders, with your feet about five inches apart on a bench or other elevated surface. Shift your bodyweight into your upper body and core and lower your body as close to the ground as you can. Push back up to start. Then, squeeze your core and jump both feet down from the bench so that your knees and hips land in 90-degree angles. Keeping your back neutral, exhale and explosively drive your feet back up onto the bench to starting position. That’s one rep.
Aim for three sets of five to eight reps. “But if you can only do one or two reps, do [what] you can do, then put your feet on the ground instead of the bench and do a few more reps. This will help build the prerequisite strength,” Miranda says.
To make it easier: Do just a decline push-up or just an inverted box jump. The decline push-up is the same movement except without the jump. This will get your body used to the angle and the increased intensity. The inverted box jump will help strengthen your core and get your body used to the increased time under tension. Keep in mind the higher the elevation of your feet, the harder this variation will be.
Why it works: “This is a full-body movement with a high amount of time under tension,” Miranda says. Time under tension is a measurement of how long a muscle is taxed during a movement, and it helps increase muscular endurance and strength. “All push-ups activate your core, but this particular movement kicks it into high gear because it requires that your upper body, lower body, and core all work together,” she says.
How to do it: This movement combines a standard push-up with a mountain climber. Start in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, wrists stacked under shoulders. Your feet should be four to six inches apart. Keeping your body in one long line, bend your arms and lower yourself to the floor. Then, push back up to starting position. Next, while maintaining a neutral back, drive your left knee to your right elbow, then drive your right knee to your left elbow. That’s one rep.
This is an endurance-based movement, so Miranda recommends repeating for 30 seconds at a time. “This is a movement that is limited by the number of push-ups you can do. Thirty seconds is a lot of push-ups, even for the most advanced athlete, so when you can’t do a standard push-up anymore, go to an elevated surface like a bench, box, or even a wall and finish the remainder of the 30-second interval,” she says.
To make it easier: Do just a standard push-up or just a mountain climber. When you can do mountain climbers for 30 seconds and three to five reps of a standard push-up, you have the prerequisite strength for this variation.
Why it works: A standard push-up works your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, back, core, quads, and glutes; adding the knee drive increases the cardiovascular strain of this movement and incorporates your hip flexors and obliques.
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Animal Kick-Through Push-Up
How to do it: Begin in a high plank position with your hands flat on the floor about shoulder-width apart, wrists stacked under shoulders. Keeping your body in one long line, bend your arms and lower yourself to the floor. As you push back up to starting position, lift and bend your left knee and slide that leg under your body, kicking it to the right. As you do this, lift your right arm and rotate your body to the right. Hold for two seconds by squeezing your core.
Rotate back to starting position and return your left foot and right arm to the ground. That’s one rep. Repeat on the opposite side. Aim for three sets of four reps per side.
To make it easier: Hold a straight arm side plank for 30 to 60 seconds to help strengthen your shoulders and obliques.
Why it works: “This movement adds a rotation, which means in addition to working shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, back, core, quads, and glutes like the standard push-up, you’re activating and strengthening your obliques, hip flexors, and shoulder girdles,” Miranda says.