My 7 Favorite Push-Up Variations

Last Monday, I wrote a post called The Push-Up Is A Plank, where I touched on the importance of proper posture during the push-up exercise.  Push-Ups are one of the best exercises you can do for your body, but they’re often butchered.  Before we continue, let’s make sure your push-up looks like this:

Looks good, eh?  No, not at all!  Seriously, was anything cool about that video? Hell, I even felt a little lame recording it.  I get it; push-ups, are not that sexy.  No one likes to do them, not even this adorable puppy:

What if I told you that there are nearly infinite options for push-ups?  It’s not a profound Morpheus moment, but there are so many variations of push-ups, that you should never get bored doing them.  It’s as simple as finding a variation that’s appropriate for your ability level, and conducive to your goals.

Once you feel proficient with the basic push-up, it’s imperative that you pursue a plethora of push-up variations to best allow progress.  Capishe?  Let’s go.

Once someone has mastered the hands-on-the-floor push-up, I prefer the BOSU ball push-up as their first progression.  It provides a noticeable level of instability, but keeps the hands connected and helps bridge the gap before a suspension trainer push-up.  Here’s a BOSU variation:

Before you elevate your feet, make sure you feel comfortable with your feet on the ground.  Once you’re set there, elevating your feet can help counteract the slight angle change caused by the BOSU ball.

Eventually, the BOSU push-up becomes easy, and I like to suggest a suspension trainer push-up.  Those who are bench-happy and neglect their upper back will get a rude awakening from these guys, and it helps to do them at a higher angle before you get all the way down to the ground.  I use a TRX, but you can easily do these on any suspension trainer or ring system.

In the variation above, you’ll see that I’m lowering myself much lower than would be possible if I was on a floor or BOSU ball.  The opportunity for extending the range of motion is one of the things I like about using the suspension trainer, but it can be problematic for those with poor shoulder range of motion.  If you’re looking for a variation without the suspension trainer but with additional ROM, you can use hexagonal dumbells to create a similar effect.  Here’s an example:

Eventually, the symmetrical push-up is going to get too easy, regardless of implement instability and added range of motion.  in those cases, one of the simplest things you can do is use a band to increase the difficulty.  It’s fairly common to see guys stack up one or two plates on their back, but I’m not the biggest fan.  From a logistics standpoint, you need someone there to put them on and take them off, and you also have to worry about balancing them; who wants to have multiple 45lb plates slide off their back onto their hand?  Not me.  If you have access to a weighted vest, I’m jealous, so I hope you’re putting it to good use.

Using a resistance band is far simpler, and be applied to each of the above variations:

These are some great ways to turn the ‘basic’ push-up into a more advance horizontal pushing exercise.  Who says you need to bench to get strong?  However, maybe you’re not looking for a symmetrical push-up; you want to use some variations that include anti-rotation components so that your core has to work even harder.

I’ll share three of my favorite variations with you, the Push-Up/Fly Combo, the Superman Push-Up, and the Spiderman Push-Up.  Each variation forces your shoulders, trunk, and hip to resist rotational force as you complete your push-ups.  It’s a great bang-for-your-buck movement, and awesome for guys like me who really hate don’t like to do direct core work.  Let’s start with two variations of the push-up/fly combo:

Here’s a version of the Spiderman Push-Up.  There’s a big anti-rotation component in the hips because you’re moving one leg at a time, but you’ll feel it in your upper body too as your weight shifts.  It’s a great variation that rocks your core and is slightly more friendly to your pressing muscles:

Finally, here’s an Alternating Superman Push-Up.  While it looks relatively simple, you’ll find the lat/obliques on the sliding side really have to work to resist rotation.  It’s great functional training for flying, and when the gym is packed and you’re trying to get your Clark Kent on.  The Wolverine get-up has nothing to do with the exercise though.

Alright folks; those are some of my favorite push-up variations that I like to use on my own, implement in client’s programs, and recommend to those who randomly approach me in the gym looking for the best way to really feel it in their pecs, bro.  If you’re keen to skip push-ups in favor of the latest machines, rage against them and try out some of these variations.  You’ll have a blast, get a great workout, and I bet you won’t need to wait nearly as long for equipment.

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