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!


photo source: themofojt: Stormtrooper Pushups

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248 thoughts on “My 7 Favorite Push-Up Variations and the NF Push-Up Challenge!

  1. So, who knew I’d been working hard on doing pushups incorrectly all this time? 🙂 I’d been doing elbows out to the sides (and have been stoked to recently build up to toes and the occasional pike). I find holding the elbows close to your sides and back is *much* more challenging! I did 5 against a wall, 10 on my toes (surprised myself!) then 10 on my knees and 5 diamonds on my knees. I feel stronger now – Thanks for the challenge! Now, I’m wondering what other moves I can tweak for more correct form…into the NF archives I go! Thanks again!

  2. I did 3×10 elevated push ups against the bathroom sink. I may make this a regular routine….

  3. I’m on vacation and just finished
    the last 11 mile hike of a 42 mile, four night backpacking adventure. I was vegging out in the hotel with my wife watching TV and I read your email. Just did three sets of ten, standard push-ups. Thank you for the motivation to keep ‘pushing’ myself.

  4. I did 30 elevated push-ups on the trunk of a cedar tree in the park behind the hospital where I spend most of my time. Before joining the rebellion I would have been too self-conscious to do that in a public place, but being a part of this community gives me courage and perspective. Who cares what anyone else thinks? It felt great!

  5. I did 30 wall push-ups. Sadly, I have a weak left wrist due to a break, and I need to train it up before I put too much weight on it. Slow and steady. 🙂

  6. Did 30 regular in total in a 15-10-5 decrease. The decrease is due to some over-confidence. Back in the day I could do thirty straight; today not so much.

  7. I did 60 different types of push ups throughout the day, although none of them were full push ups. I’m still working up to le fullers. 🙂
    20 negative only
    20 plyo-wall w/ long stance (looove these)
    10 diamond wall w/ long stance
    10 regular long stance wall push ups
    Today is lighter work out day so I decided to keep it easy. Have fun everyone!

  8. As soon as I read the challenge, I was motivated to try and complete it, though it’s a little out of my range of ability right now. I did one set of 15 knee push ups, but in my next set my arms kind of gave out after 7, so I had to give myself a minute before I could finish the last 8. Thanks for the motivation to push myself further than I otherwise would have (if you’ll pardon the pun)!

  9. When I injured my wrists in high school, I thought I was never going to be able to do push-ups again. But I just finished 2 sets of 15 wall push-ups, and it felt really good! Even if I did have to modify by going up on my fists instead of flat hands, it felt good to move again.

  10. I’ve done the bbww workout for a while and always struggled with push-ups. I can’t even do one normal one, so I’ve stuck to wall-push-ups so far. I watched the videos and realized I’ve held my hands way too high, so I’ve just done 30 wall-push-ups with correct form (in two sets of 15) and will try to work my way down from there 😉

  11. Hi everyone! I have some prior experience with pushups so 30 regular won’t be challendging enough, so I replaced them with dips (they are still sort of pushups). That took me about 5 sets with the last being 1 rep but it was totally worth it. Thank you!

  12. This was fun☺
    Did a mix of pushup diamond pushups and burpees whilst my toddlers were dancing to the black eyed peas.
    Mixing it up made it easier to do more☺

    Well pleased with myself! And the kids got a mini workout too!

  13. Since I am on holidays, it was a good start to train. I did 3 set of elevated push ups, maybe 40cm off the ground with 15, 12 and 8 reps.
    After that, I did 5 reps of a variation of the divebomber.
    Are there nore post like these in the future? Maybe variations of dips or squats, but exercises like the plank, L Sit or V Sit would be nice 🙂

  14. Just banged out 32 elevated push-ups. 1×15,1×12,1×5. I was considering not excercising today until i saw the challenge. More challenges please. Im already an academy member so in the slim chance i get picked, think I could get a t shirt? HaHa Thanks

  15. I could do with more like this… a challenge every day would be truly amazing… 3 sets of 10 regular push ups completed!

  16. 3×10 from my desk yesterday, plus an extra 5 last night off a half wall just for fun.

  17. Finding an empty spot of wall was a challenge, but I did 45 wall push-ups (3 sets of 15).

  18. Hey! I did 30 regular pushups spread out into 2 sets of 15. Love this site, and thanks, Steve, for all the motivational content, NF really helped me get motivated. Cheers, from Brazil, Pedro

  19. 30 knee push ups (well 7-interrupted by hungry dog, 12 – interrupted by crying baby, 11). Being overweight and with zero upper body strength (im as weak as a newborn kitten) i’m quite impressed. been playing with paleo and nerd fitness on and off for 2 years but determined to keep it up this time(already 20kg gone, 30 to go)

  20. 30 knee push ups in between interruptions from dog and baby. I have zero upper body strength and 3ks 9verwe8ght so quite proud. And now feel as weak as a newborn kitten

  21. I was about to go to bed, but instead busted out 30 wall push-ups. Yes, just a beginner level, but I gotta start somewhere!

  22. I did 20 regular, wiped the tears from my eyes and finished the last 10 on my knees. Good thing to because by the end I was praying. LOL!

  23. I did 15 regular pushups and 15 elevated pushups. I should have done them all elevated though cause it was a little too easy. We used to do pushups a lot at cross country practice so that our upper body could better manage the torque generated by our legs during running.

  24. Hello. I’m 6’4″, 297lbs, have been struggling since the start of this year to get healthier (hitting the gym about twice a week, average) and have been doing mostly chest/arm circuits. I was able to do 10 regular pushups, followed by 20 knee pushups, big gain since the start of this year!

  25. Two sets of 15 standard style, this coming off of the first week trying your beginner bodyweight routine. I couldn’t be happier with feeling good about getting up and exercising! It feels good to feel strong!

  26. I have lost 30 lbs now over 5 months, and it all started with the beginner bodyweight workout. Still have a ways to go, but slowly getting there. Bodyweight exercising is what I enjoy the most, right now with pushups I am doing pike pushups and diamond pushups. Just went up in progression, so each was 3 sets of 5.

    Excellent site, have recommended to others.

  27. I really wanted to challenge myself, so I opted to try the Divebomber push-up. It was quite the challenge, I had to do them in 6 set of 5 push-ups. My form was a little shaky but I felt great afterwards! I am working hard to train for my fourth Mud OCR (VA Rugged Manic) and this was just the push I needed to keep going 🙂

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  29. I did 3 sets of 10 regular push-ups. That’s my usual push up quantity on strength training day, so I guess it’s not much of an accomplishment but I’ m working to get stronger

  30. I’ve been struggling to achieve my optimal weight for years.

    Melissa Green from helped me out with some awesome reviews and articels.

    All I can say is, never give up!

  31. 30 pushups done. 3×10, next to my desk at work.
    Nice way to kick off my 6 week challenge 🙂

  32. Already tried it a while ago, and i’ll try again when my wrists’ll be better, you should ask on the NF forum man !

  33. Did a set of 25 standard and then 5 divebombers. I’m preparing for the Army Physical Fitness Test and have been getting bored with the standard pushups, so I’m excited to have some new variations to play with!

  34. I’m doing level 2 pushups on stairs these days though I have managed to get to lower stairs. I have mixed feelings about knee pushups. Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD says you can’t keep proper form while doing those. I’m encouraged to keep trying to level up my pushups though. Thanks!

  35. Great article. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it was pointed out to me a little while back that I’ve been doing push ups wrong all these years…….elbows flared way out, ass way up in the air. Hey you’re never too old to stop learning right.

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  37. 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.

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