My 7 Favorite Push-Up Variations and the NF Push-Up Challenge!

The push-up is my favorite bodyweight exercise.

Although I personally love training with free weights in gym, a big portion of my workout revolves around bodyweight exercises- and that means lots of push-ups.

In fact, I once spent a year exercising around the world and did so without setting foot in a gym – it gave me a chance to really focus on bodyweight exercises as the only way to get fit, and changed my perspective on working out.

Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite variations of the push-up that show you just how versatile and fun they can be. With this one movement and its variations, you’ll never have an excuse for not getting stronger again 🙂

Let’s crush push-ups!

Push-ups: Basic Scaling Variations!

pushup lego

I’ve already written a whole article on how to do a proper push-up years ago, but here’s a quick refresher! First, ZERO equipment is needed. This means you have no excuse not to do them. Second, they are an all-star compound movement: they work all of the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and arms, and even help strengthen your core (it’s practically a moving plank!).

If you are doing a proper push-up, your elbows should be tight at your side, not flared way out. Keep your arms at your side, and your core and butt tight so your body forms a straight line from head to toe.

One of the best things about push-ups is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re 200 pounds overweight or built like King Leonidas; there’s a type of push-up you can do TODAY. You can make them easier or harder, depending on your skill and your needs.

Let’s look at a basic level and work our way up:

Level 1: The wall push-up: Stand facing the wall, a few feet from the wall. Think of this like a vertical push-up. The further away from the wall your feet are, the more challenging it is! Too hard? Get closer!

Level 2: If you can complete wall push-ups with ease, level up to a lower surface. Place your hands on an elevated surface like stairs or the back of a bench, and complete a push-up with your arms close by your side. The higher the platform, the less difficult the exercise will be. The best part about the elevated push-up is that you can do it anywhere: use a kitchen counter top, a couch, or whatever floats your boat!

And here’s Staci with a more elevated platform:

Here’s me, with a lower platform:  Level 3: Now, if you don’t have access to a wall or elevated platform, or you’re ready to start working towards a classic push-up, consider the next step up: the knee push-up. Make sure you keep your body tight: from the top of your head to your knees should form a straight line. Depending on your current level, any of the above variations can get you started. The goal is to continue to progress the difficult as you gain strength, and then you can move up to the classic push-up! Dominated the classic push-up? move on to elevated push-ups!

Level 4: Elevated Push-Ups

Elevating your feet puts an increased amount of emphasis on your upper chest, shoulders, and triceps. Now, make sure you continue to keep your body tight and in a straight line – don’t let your butt sag! The higher your feet, the more of an emphasis on your shoulders and triceps, and less on your chest (thus the greater difficulty). Once you’ve mastered the classic push-up and started elevating your feet, you can mix in some challenging variations to keep things interesting!

The diamond push-up

When people think of building bigger arms, they probably think of doing more bicep curls. Actually, because the tricep is a bigger muscle, you’ll get bigger arms faster with a greater emphasis on building your triceps. And there’s no better way to do that than with a diamond push-up (or a triangle push-up, as pictured below):

Really focus on solid form here – diamond push-ups challenge your triceps and even your wrist tendons and flexibility. You can also do these on your knees if you’re looking to isolate your triceps more:

The Side-to-Side Push-up

If you are trying to work your way up to a one-handed push-up, a great place to start is by building up your shoulder/chest/and tricep to collectively support more and more of your body weight. Here’s what I mean:

Get into the classic push-up position and move your hands farther apart. Now, lower yourself down towards one arm only – you should feel like you’re supporting a lot of your weight. To complete the rep, slide horizontally over to the other arm, and push up. The farther apart your hands, the higher percentage of your bodyweight will be supported by that side of your chest/shoulder and arm (thus getting harder)! Think of this like a Level 3 movement on the way up to Level 10: one-handed push-ups.

The Plyometric Push-up

An explosive and powerful body is a healthy body.StevePlyoPushUp And building explosive strength (power) helps with every other kind of strength! A plyometric movement recruits muscles to fire very quickly and rapidly, creating a ton of force in a little bit of time. Thus, power! Get into a classic push-up position, lower yourself to the bottom of the movement, and then EXPLODE up by forcefully pushing your hands off the ground. If you push hard enough, you should launch yourself up in the air. Boom. See here: Most people can’t start off doing regular plyometric push-ups. A great variation is to do them on your knees. You can even elevate your hands if necessary to make the exercise a level easier.

 

The Divebomber Push-up

A fun push-up name for an incredibly challenging push-up variation. If you’re working your way up to handstand push-ups (see the next variation!), this is a great place to start. Be warned: these are brutally difficult 🙂

Get yourself into a downward dog (shameless Nerd Fitness Yoga plug here!), and then move your head towards your hands. The rest of your body should follow. As you finish descending, push up through to a cobra yoga pose.  You’ll REALLY feel these in your shoulders and triceps, as your head moves towards your hands.

To complete the rep, reverse the process back to the start.

As you develop strength here in your shoulders and triceps (which are emphasized more than your chest in this movement), you’ll get closer and closer to being able to pull off the mother of all push-ups: the handstand push up.

The Handstand Push-up

Oof. That’s the sound of me falling on my head as I tried to learn how to do a proper handstand push over the past few years! Here on Nerd Fitness we’ve already written an extensive article on how to do a handstand, and we’ve covered push-ups, so we might as well combine the two, right? Before you work on handstand push-ups, you can start by working your way up by doing Pike Push-Ups, which turns a push-up into a pretty difficult shoulder and tricep exercise! Once you’ve mastered that movement, you can work your way up to the handstand push-up.

Kick up against a wall, and without flailing your elbows way out to the side (which can wreak havoc on your shoulders and elbow joints), slowly lower yourself down until your head touches the ground softly. Then raise yourself back up.

If this is too challenging for you, consider just working on the negative portion: lowering yourself as slowly as possible, and then kicking back up into another handstand and repeat the process.

The Nerd Fitness push-up Challenge

stormtrooper pushups

The most important part of using bodyweight exercises for strength training: consistently and progressively increasing the difficulty.

Not only that, but on days when you are training your upper body (or any day when you are doing a full bodyweight routine, mixing in push-ups at the end of a workout is a a challenging way to close things out.

Remember – we all have to start somewhere, but we have to start. Doing a crappy push-up is better than doing no push-up.

So I challenge you:

Complete 30 push-ups TODAY.

I don’t care which variation you do. I don’t care if you do one every 30 minutes for the next 15 hours, or if you do all 30 at once.

But I want you to do 30 push-ups today.

And then leave a comment letting us know which type you did and how it went.

If you’re looking for more specific instruction, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy, where most of the videos in today’s article came from. The Academy has workout plans, diet advice, and a leveling system where you earn experience points when you complete quests.

So, drop and give me 30!

-Steve

photo source: themofojt: Stormtrooper Pushups

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  • Mark Dowding

    Having read this, I examined my technique and realised my arms weren’t correct. I made the necessary adjustment and found that the movement was easier and I was able to dip lower – almost feel ready for a level up to full push ups now.

  • brandmed

    I did 30 hand release push ups. I know that wasn’t mentioned in the article, but (in case anyone doesn’t know and is wondering) it’s just a standard push up where you raise your hands off the ground for a second when you are the bottom position. This forces you to make sure you are going all the way down, chest to ground, before pushing back up.

  • Bouncer333

    Didn’t want to read this article, but super glad I did in the end. 30 wall push ups, during the Basic strength workout throughout the single circuit I did.

    My question is I didn’t see anything about how to help your wrists? I know cupping your hands in a certain way helps with the stress, but feels like my right wrist is almost too week for this.

  • Mark M.

    I hope it isn’t too late to enter. 10 side-to-side, 10 elevated, and 10 diamond

  • Gagan H

    I am at 80kg, 5’8″; I used to follow the hundred pushups workout program, but I would always plateau at week 4 and wouldnt be able to push muself any further. Now I knoe why! I wasn’t doing the pushups properly. My elbows would flair out, my neck would bend forward, and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I tried them again yesterday evening after reading this article and I can proudly say that I went from 25 consecutive bad form pushups to 7 consecutive good form pushups! It was a bit discouraging at first because I felt like I had gotten weaker, but,like the article explains, its hard to quantify bad form against good form. Thanks for the article!

  • Paul Black

    15 regular style (? level 3.5) and 15 diamonds. One of my New Year’s resolutions is one armed push-ups with either arm. Thanks for showing the side-to-side. I’m 60 years old, 5’7″, 195lbs.

  • Mike Moline

    Thanks for the challenge! Did 20 divebombers, lost my form, did 5 Hindu pushups, then 5 more divebombers. Part of integrating these challenges into my workday.

  • Mike Moline

    Amber – congrats on being here! I am having fun integrating these into my work day – I would encourage you to consider doing the same – even five at a time at your desk.

  • Push ups are the clear winner when it comes to keeping your upper body posture in symmetry and strong at the same time. Irrespective of whether you are doing the dive bomber push up, the hand-stand, the plyometric, side to side, the diamond shape, wall push ups, the elevated, or the regular style, sticking to a daily routine of even 30 push ups, is sure to keep your body in good shape. Moreover, if you do this in the morning each day before you leave from home to work or college, you are sure to have a better mood, improved confidence and more general alertness.

  • mdy

    I did it. after reading the article and also the how to do a proper push up I realised that for as long as I’ve been doing them my form has been wrong. Thanks for the articles.

    30 proper press ups done for the first time and will be keeping the form in the future

  • Ann Plicque

    One thing about Body Pump. They get us to do at about 50 pushups per session. I do mine on my knees because of a shoulder injury, but I can add my elevated legs to that pushup to add a little more umph or the diamond factor. Have to consult my exercise physiologist about doing more.

  • Ann Plicque

    I like the variety of push ups, but with a shoulder injury, I have to be very careful about doing push ups gently.

  • greyarea

    Completed, twenty regular and ten kneeling. Yikes, i’m out of shape.

  • Shawn Selders

    I did 6 sets of 5, that way my young children could participate also. They like doing yoga with me, so I figured it wasn’t that much of a stretch. They loved the idea of stormtroopers doing pushups (one of the article images).

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  • Claire

    Thought I could do knee pushups, then read this: “If you are doing a proper push-up, your elbows should be tight at your side, not flared way out. Keep your arms at your side, and your core and butt tight so your body forms a straight line from head to toe.” Shucks. Humbled back to the wall pushup, but happy to be working with proper form. 15 wall pushups, then 25 second plank, then 15 more wall pushups. Then dumbbell rows with a 1.25 gallon laundry detg bottle filled with water.

  • Mike

    I used to find alternative ways to workout on my own until I joined the Brilliant Fitness Club. It seems to be the best value in fitness as I can have access to over 7500 fitness moves with demonstrations, 400+ pre-built workouts from a certified personal trainer, and over 500+ fitness videos. I can now workout and consult an online personal trainer 24/7/365!

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  • Johann Hinck

    20 regular, 10 side-to-side, booyah!

  • Robert

    haha, not that much of a stretch. I get it.

  • Great Challenge! I love the different types of push ups and the degree of difficulty of each! A great way to change up your work outs!

  • There are so many more fantastic push up variations! They are fun to do, and can provide a never ending challenge. Visit us over at http://www.heavyarmorfitness,com for more!

  • IamDoll

    I did a handstand…im lying… wall push ups. Just really weak wall push ups. I had to rest between every 10. ; m ;

  • Mitch Stevens

    great post!

  • Russell Parfitt

    I did a descending pyramid of 8 one legged, 7 dive bombers, 6 knee to chest, 5 clap, 4 spiderman, I find the pyramid tiring but it works all the angles ;-

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