Push Up Variations

The push up is a great body weight calisthenics exercise for the upper body. With proper technique, it engages most of the muscles in the upper body. It can be done anywhere and can be utilized in a variety of ways within your training program. In this article, I will outline a variety of push up types. By no means is this a complete list, but such a list would be borderline impossible to make with how versatile the push up exercise is.


The Basic Push Up

This is how to do a standard push up. It’s a basic exercise, but there are some common mistakes you should avoid.


Hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart underneath your shoulders.

Body in a straight line. Do not sag or raise your hips. Keep your core tight and flex your glutes.

Do not lead with the head. Keep your chin tucked. A good cue might be keeping the back of your neck long. Pro tip: Push your tongue into the roof of your mouth as you tuck your chin.

Do not flare the elbows out. Keep them close to your sides at a 45° angle (approximately) as you descend into the bottom position.

Scapular Movement During the Push Up

This is very important.

A great example from Eric Cressey himself on what he’s talking about is below.


Beginner Push Up Progression

If doing a basic push up as outlined above is too difficult for you, here is a way to work your way up to it.

Step 1: Wall Push Up

Work up to 15 consecutive perfect repetitions and then move on to the next step.

Step 2: Hands Elevated Push Up

Elevate the hands to a level where you are able to get 8 solid reps. Do a set of 5 reps often throughout the day. Once per hour, if you can. This will ingrain technique and strengthen the muscles required to properly perform a push up on the floor. Do sets of 5 reps throughout the day for two days, then see how many reps  you can get on the 3rd day. When you can get 15 reps, move the level of elevation down and repeat the process. Eventually you will be doing regular push ups on the floor.

I prefer push ups with the hands elevated as opposed to kneeling push ups that some people recommend for beginners, because the hands elevated version more closely resembles a regular push up. You will notice in the kneeling push up video I linked that it’s basically impossible to achieve the body alignment you would have with a standard push up. It’s simply my opinion that  the hands elevated progression is a better idea.


Feet Elevated Push Up

This is a way to make the regular push up more difficult.


Handstand Push Up

More emphasis on your shoulders and generally more difficult than a regular push up. A progression from the regular push up to the handstand push up is below.


Adding Weight or Resistance

A simple way to make push ups more difficult is to add weight or resistance. There are a few simple ways to do this.

Wear a Weighted Vest and/or Chains

For this you’ll need a weighted vest (up to 20lbs | up to 40lbs | up to 60lbs) and/or some lifting chains. A special note on this: You’ll want to elevate yourself either on plates or rings (i.e. using a TRX suspension trainer or some portable gymnastic rings). Two example videos are below.

Wear a Backpack

Scooby did a video on this. It’s below. He’s using a frame pack with straps, but you can probably make a less badass backpack work as well.

Use Resistance Bands

For this you will need some jumpstretch resistance bands. Two videos on possible ways to do them are below.


One Arm Push Up

Once you’re really good at regular push ups and various variations of them, you might want to include some one arm push ups in your training. Below is a great video tutorial on how to progress up to one arm push ups efficiently.


Plyo Push Ups

These are often used to train explosiveness and also as a neural activation drill. The video below is a very good primer on what they’re all about. Various types of plyo push ups are demonstrated.


And that about wraps this one up. If you have any comments, leave them below!