Once upon a time, when I was younger and dumber, I thought that I was “too good” for push-ups.
Who needs push-ups when you’ve got the bench press, bro?
Push-ups are for weenies, I thought.
And like most things I “knew” as a young buck, I was way wrong.
Push-ups are a stellar exercise for several reasons:
- They build chest, shoulder, triceps strength and mass
- They allow your shoulder blades to move like they were designed to (protraction, retraction, upward rotation)
- They can literally be performed anywhere, no equipment or much space needed
The push-up has remained a staple exercise in all of my own and my online clients’ workouts because of the various benefits they provide. No one will ever outgrow the push-up, and if done correctly and with good form, you’ll reap the benefits of the exercise for life.
And that’s why we work out, isn’t it? To move well and stay healthy well into our late 80s, 90s, and older? To be able to move furniture, do housework, and play sports without getting hurt? It is for me.
And the other, more obvious: to look fucking good with my shirt off
Admittedly, after a while, the regular ol’ push-up gets a bit boring.
That being said, here are four of my favorite push-up variations, all designed to pile on strength and mass, while adding additional benefits along the way.
First up, the Bosu Push-up:
The bosu push-up is great for providing a little instability to your upper body training. In turn, it makes your rotator cuffs kick into high gear and work extra hard to stabilize your shoulder joint. The stronger your rotator cuff, the more stability you’ll have with your other upper body pressing movements. The more stability, the safer your lifts.
Not to mention the core activation to stabilize the rest of your body.
- Keep a rigid body from head to heels
- Wrap hands around the plastic edge of the bosu, instead of putting your hands in the normal push-up position. It will save your wrists. Trust me
- Slowly lower your body towards the bosu, then explosively press away again. Repeat
For Strength: 4-6 reps
For Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps
For Endurance: 15+ reps
Next up, the Close-Grip Push-up:
As the name suggests, your grip is a bit closer than the traditional push-up. I usually line up my hands just inside my shoulders. Your hand placement will depend on how you’re built and how strong you are: the stronger you are, the closer you can bring your hands in.
This variation is a bit more tricep-emphasis, and you’ll have less leverage in this variation than your regular push-up, which makes it harder. Its advantage is that it blasts your triceps pretty damn good.
- Set up in normal push-up position, then reposition your hands just inside shoulder-width apart
- Keep your body rigid from head to heels
- Slowly lower your body towards the floor, making sure you don’t slump with your hips first (keep your body as stiff as a board)
- Control your elbows by tucking them close to your sides. They don’t have to brush your sides, but they need to stay close, instead of “flaring out” on the descent
- Push back up again.
For Strength: 4-6 reps
For Hypertrophy: 8-15 reps
For Endurance: 15+ reps
The Spiderman Push-up:
Are your Spidey senses tingling? Because mine are!
In this variation, you’ll drive one leg towards an elbow as you descent into your push-up, almost like you’re doing your best Toby McGuire Spiderman wall-climbing impression.
As a side note, I know other people have played Spiderman. And I know they probably did a better job. But I’m not 7 anymore and haven’t seen those movies, so you get Toby McGuire. Deal with it.
I love this variation because it not only crushes your shoulders and arms way harder than your typical push-up, but it also engages your abs and core in a whole new way.
As the leg moves, your body changes from four points of contact to three. One less point of contact forces you to engage your core, stabilizing your body and keeping you from hitting the floor.
- As you descend into your push-up, drive the right knee towards your right elbow
- Do NOT touch your toe to the floor; hover it above the ground to maintain your 3-point contact
- As you press back out, put the leg back into the starting position
- Repeat with the left side
For Hypertrophy and endurance: 5-10 reps/side
….and if you want an additional challenge…
And, one of my absolute favorites, the Slider Push-up:
Ok, I admit this one requires some equipment, but nothing more than a furniture slider, or even a paper plate if you’re on carpet.
This one is pretty damn hard and not for the faint of heart. Are you up for the challenge?
- Set your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart
- As you descend into your push-up, push the slider arm overhead, while maintaining a rigid core and keeping your hips squared up. “Reach” as far as you can before pushing back up
- Don’t let your hips rotate as your arm goes overhead. That’s the challenge with this variation!!!
- Push through the opposite arm, and as your body ascends pull the slider arm back into the starting position
- Complete all reps on one side before moving onto the next
For Hypertrophy & Endurance: 5-10 reps/side
So good you can’t ignore them (Thanks, Cal Newport)
If you’ve written off push-ups I highly advise you put them back into your weekly routines. In fact, do them several times each week. The advantage, again, is that they are (a) good for you, and (b) require little to no equipment. And while there are a million variations out there, you can’t go wrong with just the standard push-up, either.
Of course, the above variations are progressions from the standard push-up, and if you’re strong enough yet, I highly advise you stick to the basics before diving in the deep end with the above.
If you’re having trouble with your push-ups or want to talk shop or anything health and fitness related, hit me up and I’ll get you back on the straight and narrow.