Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! In the fitness world, push-ups are a classic. Whether they make you cringe or burst with confidence, they can be a great tool to strengthen your upper body. For this week’s Top 10 Tuesday, I’ve compiled a list of push-up variations that can spice up your lifting routine and leave your muscles saying, “Wow!”
Muscle Focus of Standard Push-Up: Chest, Triceps, and Front of Shoulders (Anterior Deltoids)
10: Knee Push-Up
Knee push-ups are a great option for both beginners as well as those looking to increase their capacity for standard push-ups (“standard” being push-ups on your toes). This variation is done with your hands flat on the floor, positioned outside shoulder width. Keeping both knees on the ground, lower your upper body down to elbow height, and push back up. By keeping your knees on the floor, you lower the intensity of a standard push-up, which is a good way to build upper body strength for those starting out.
For push-up enthusiasts, consider using the knee push-up after you’ve reached failure during standard push-ups. When you’ve done the last push-up with good form, drop to your knees and keep going. It’s similar to completing a drop set during weightlifting. Once you can’t lift that particular weight anymore, you lower the weight and keep going. Continuing on your knees is like lowering the weight.
9: Incline Push-Up
These are another excellent option for those new to push-ups. They shift the work to your lower chest, still working the triceps and anterior deltoids. Incline push-ups involve placing your hands on an elevated surface while your toes remain on the ground. In doing so, you angle your body and shift some weight from your upper body to your lower body, making the push-up less strenuous. You can do this using a step, box, Smith Machine, etc. Personally, I like the Smith Machine for incline push-ups because you can adjust your incline to create different levels of intensity. The lower you set the bar, the more intense the incline push-up becomes.
If you’re new to push-ups, these are a great way to develop strength. Set the Smith Machine bar high, place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, lower your chest toward the bar, and push yourself back out. When that level feels easy, lower the bar. Overtime, the bar will get lower and lower until you find yourself on the ground doing a standard push-up.
Push-up connoisseurs, consider using the Smith Machine as a tool to intensify your push-up routine. Start with standard push-ups on the floor and go to failure. Then, move to the Smith Machine and do more push-ups with the bar close to the ground. Each time you reach failure, raise the bar higher.
8: Decline Stable Push-Up
Opposed to their incline counterpart, the decline push-up shifts work into your upper chest. Start by placing your hands flat on the ground as though doing a standard push-up. Next, place your feet on an elevated, stable surface like a bench, box, etc. While incline push-ups lessen the intensity, decline push-ups increase it. Some of the weight supported by your lower body during a standard push-up is shifted to the upper body, creating more resistance. If you’re an experienced lifter looking for a greater challenge, give this variation a go.
7: Triceps Push-Up
The triceps push-up brings a different challenge by shifting more work into your triceps. It can be done on your knees or toes, and starts with your hands closer together. This time, place them shoulder-width apart. When you lower your body down, bring your elbows in right next beside your body, then press up to starting position.
6: Push-Up with One Arm Elevated
This variation is done with one hand flat on the floor and the other elevated on a flat surface. Again, this could be a bench or box. By elevating one arm, you are shifting weight onto the lower side of the upper body, requiring that side of the body to work harder. Do a full set on one side, then switch to the other.
5: Single-Leg Push-Up
This is one of my favorites. Position yourself in a standard push-up position, then lift one leg off the floor. You can bend the lifted leg or keep it straight. By lifting a leg, you now have three points of contact to support your weight instead of four; thus, you have to work harder to perform the same number of repetitions. Keeping your hips square and body flat while the leg is lifted also requires a little extra core work. Plus, your bum is working to keep that leg up.
4: Push-Up on Exercise Ball (Incline or Decline)
Incorporating the exercise ball in your push-up routine adds an element of instability. You can use the ball for an incline push-up by placing your hands towards the sides of the ball, palms facing in. You can also choose the decline option, positioning your hands on the floor with your feet on the ball. In both cases, you have the added bonus of improving balance and stability.
3: Spiderman Push-Up (Option: Bosu Ball)
Spiderman push-ups might be as exciting as they sound. Have you ever wanted to crawl up the side of a building? These push-ups basically mimic that motion. With your hands flat on the floor in standard push-up position, lower yourself down. As you do, drive one knee up towards your bent elbow. Upon pushing your upper body back up, return the leg to standard starting position. Continue with another push-up, this time driving the other knee. During the knee drive, your knee goes out so your inner thigh is parallel to the floor. Here, you’re working chest, triceps, anterior deltoids, core, some lower body, and your coordination. If you’d like to add stability to that list, position your hands on the flat surface of a Bosu Ball. Are your spidey senses tingling?
2: Handstand Push-Up
This variation is challenging as it places the work primarily in your shoulders and triceps. Place your hands next to a wall and kick yourself up, using the wall as support to help balance. Your hands should be wider than your shoulders. Lower your upper body toward the floor and press back up. Your head should be a few inches from the ground at the bottom of the move.
If you’d like a lower intensity option, kneel with your legs on a bench or an exercise ball, and place your hands on the ground. This should put you in a vertical position with the exception of your lower body, which is being supported by the bench or ball. Tucking your chin, lower your upper body down toward the floor, then press up.
1: Plyometric Push-Up
The number one push-up on my top ten countdown is the plyometric push-up. This push-up is a great option for developing more explosiveness in your upper body. It’s very similar to a standard push-up, except you lift off the ground. You press up with enough force to push your upper body into the air while your feet stay grounded. Be mindful to land softly and control the movement on the way down.
There you have it! My top 10 for this week. If there are other push-up variations that you enjoy, feel free to post them in the comments section! Keep working hard.
Lift Smart. Love Hard. Stay Positive.