Try These 14 Pushup Variations to Spice Up Your Workouts

THE PUSHUP IS, more than likely, the first exercise you ever did in your life. Whether you initially pressed yourself off the floor for a gym class test or in your childhood room as you dreamed of building big muscles like your favorite pro athlete or action star, the movement has been a staple of just about every workout plan you've ever done since.

That's for good reason—the pushup is efficient, using your bodyweight to train your chest, shoulders, and arms (and if you're strict with your form, your core, too). It's super convenient, since you can do it anywhere you can put your palms on the floor. Once you understand how to do the pushup properly, it's also accessible, a movement that just about anyone can work their way up to perfecting for at least a few reps.

Yes, everyone can agree that pushups are great—but once you've mastered the form and built enough strength to rip out sets of a dozen-plus reps at a time, you might find yourself wondering what else you could be doing with your training time. Good pushups can be boring; after all, it's the same movement you've done forever, and sticking to the same stale format will only be effective if you're piling on major volume. You're also only targeting the same muscles in the same way, so if you're looking to build a more complete workout, you'll need more than just the tried and true standard pushup to achieve balance.

There's a reason that most people consider pushups a beginner-level exercise: Soon enough, you'll move on to bigger and better things. But when you're faced with challenging circumstances—maybe you're stuck on the road without access to workout equipment, for example, or you're short on time—you might not have a better option than a bodyweight-only workout. When you turn to pushups then, you don't have to be so limited in what you can do. There are other options, if you know what you're doing.

How to Level Up Your Pushups

The key to progress is understanding the limits of the standard version of the exercise. "The greatest challenge of pushup training is finding ways to increase the load," says Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. "The downside of the classic pushup is that while it starts out as challenging, once you've done enough reps, it ceases to push you. You're always lifting only a portion of your bodyweight."

Yes, the exercise will target the muscles of your chest, shoulders, and arms efficiently—but there are ways that you can up the ante. If you tweak something as simple as where you place your hands on the floor, you'll put even more focus on your triceps. Change the tempo by slowing down your descent or pausing at the bottom of the position, and you'll increase the time under tension, maxing out your muscle-building potential. You can even begin to introduce different implements like elevating your hands or feet to change up your focus.

All of these are examples of pushup variations, which can be slotted in place of standard pushups—or alongside them—when you want to expand the scope of your workouts without introducing more equipment and/or different concepts to your training. You can pack a few different types of pushups into one workout, like this one, or parcel out one per day to start a new healthy habit with a 30-Day Challenge.

For now, check out the following pushup variations you can master to upgrade your training plan. This list isn't exhaustive, so don't fret if your favorite variation isn't included. Just remember, all of these moves stem from the same progenitor, the standard pushup. Make sure that you have a solid grasp on the most important things that go into good form—full body tension, positioning, etc.—and apply them as is necessary.

Try These Pushup Variations

  • Close-Grip Pushup

  • Incline Pushup

  • Deficit Pushup

  • Mixed-Style Close-Grip Pushup

  • Spiderman Pushup

  • Archer Pushup

  • Incline Archer Pushup

  • Post Pushup

  • Typewriter Pushup

  • Handstand Pushup

  • Loaded Pushup

  • Partner Tension Pushup

  • Plyo Pushup

  • Superman Pushup

Close-Grip Pushup

As mentioned above, this is among the simplest variations of the pushup you can do. By moving the position of your hands closer together, ideally with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width, you'll increase the recruitment of your triceps. Just make sure that you don't bring your hands even closer—say, into a diamond shape—since you'll have a tougher time maintaining that position. Keep your elbows tight to your torso, and carry on through your reps.

How to Do It:

  • Get in a strong pushup position, with your hands stacked under your shoulders, toes on the floor, and a flat back. Squeeze your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes to create tension.

  • Move your hands in slightly narrower than shoulder width.

  • Bend your elbows to lower your torso down to just above the floor. Don't allow your elbows to flare out; keep them 'glued' to your sides.

  • Press off the floor back up to the top position, extending your elbows.

Incline Pushup

This variation will give you a go-to scaleable option for beginners. By elevating your hands, you'll make it easier than the standard variation since you'll be working from a less extreme angle. But it's not valuable only for beginners—once more experienced trainees burn out on standard reps, you can elevate your hands to pump some more volume into your workout (instead of the less efficient knee pushups many trainers wrongly endorse).

How to Do It:

  • Place your hands on an elevated surface like a bench or plyo box or chair. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart and your feet at a slightly narrower distance.

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes to create tension. Turn the pits of your elbows forward to activate the lats.

  • Bend at the elbows to lower your chest down just above the platform. Pause for a count, then drive back up.

Deficit Pushup

Flip the script from the previous movement—elevating your hands to make the pushups easier—to the opposite approach, introducing a deficit that will extend the movement's range of motion. You'll need some platforms to introduce the deficit (kettlebells work). This isn't a move for beginners, so don't try these until you've mastered the standard version.

How to Do It:

  • Place your hands on the platform slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades, abs, and glutes.

  • Lower yourself down as you would a normal pushup. Make sure to lower below the blocks, almost to about an inch from the floor or as close as your body allows.

  • Pause momentarily from the bottom, then drive up.

Mixed-Style Close-Grip Pushup

This spin on the close grip pushup features some of the principles mentioned above like pausing and mixing tempos, all of which serves to increase time under tension. Instead of finishing through your reps, pause at the halfway point as you come back up. Use that time to make sure your form is perfectly on point.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in a close-grip pushup position.

  • Bend your elbows to lower down into a close-grip pushup rep. As you press up off the floor however, pause at the halfway point.

  • After a beat, press all the way up.

  • Perform a standard close-grip pushup rep immediately after.

Spiderman Pushup

Get your hips involved with this web-slinging variation of the pushup. It's tough, but it's worth the effort.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in a standard pushup position.

  • As you lower into each rep, open your hips and drive one knee forward toward your elbow. You should get your knee in position as you reach the lowest point in your pushup.

  • As you press to finish the rep, reverse the movement with your leg to return to the starting position.

  • Too difficult to coordinate? Perform the knee drive ahead of the pushup rep. Want to maximize your time under tension? Wait to perform the knee drive until you're already in the bottom position.

Archer Pushup

This variation allows you to train unilaterally (one side of your body at a time), which is typically an option with traditional pushups.

How to Do It:

  • Start in a standard pushup position, but then shift your hand placement further away from your torso, and face your hands out away from yourself.

  • Lower yourself down to one side, then press off the floor back to the starting position. Squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your hips square.

  • Repeat on the other side. If this is too difficult, scale by only lowering to one side at a time.

Incline Archer Pushup

Add some elevation to make this already tough variation even more of a challenge—and at the same time, shift the focus to your upper chest muscles, an area that can be particularly difficult to target sans weights. You can up the ante be following Samuel's advice here and adding a pause to the bottom of each rep, canceling out any momentum you might use to cheat your way back up.

How to Do It:

  • Place your feet on a bench and your hands on the floor in pushup position. Shift your hands out into the archer position as described above.

  • Perform archer pushups from this position.

Post Pushup

Here's another unilateral variation—and a great sub or first step to scale up to the notoriously tough single-arm pushup. You'll need a solid anchor point like a pole or squat rack, then retain all the important form cues from the standard variation sans one arm. You'll need to put an extra emphasis on bracing your core to fight against rotational forces to retain good body control (the post does help, but you'll need to fire your obliques, too), so focus up when you give this a try.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in a standard pushup position next to a sturdy post or pole.

  • Grab the post with one hand, gripping it securely.

  • Lower down in a pushup, holding onto the pole and working to squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your hips square.

  • Press off the floor with your working arm, up to the starting position.

Typewriter Pushup

Level up your archer pushup with this exercise that gives your chest and extra challenge as you transition from side to side.

How to Do It:

  • Set up just like you did for the archer variation.

  • Instead of just lowering to one side of your body and pressing back up, stay low to the ground and press to shift to the other side.

  • Work up to the full movement by following the progression in the video above.

Handstand Pushup

This CrossFit favorite gets you vertical into a position that puts the onus on your shoulders rather than your chest—so sit this out if you have any preexisting problems with your shoulders.

How to Do It:

  • Find a wall, and kick up into a handstand position (if you struggle to do that, you should also skip this variation).

  • Adjust your hand placement so they are just wider than shoulder-width, and brace your core and squeeze your glutes, which should help to keep yourself from toppling over.

  • Lower your head down just in front of your hands, and either come just short of the floor or lightly tap on the ground. If you can't keep your reps slow and controlled to avoid a head injury, leave this off your training plan.

  • Press off the floor and extend your elbows back to the starting position.

Loaded Pushup

Okay, this variation kind of breaks the bodyweight prompt—but there's a good chance that even if you're in the least gym-friendly setting possible, you'll still have some access to something heavy you can perch on top of your back. And even if you're doing pushups in the gym, there's plenty of value to loading the movement. Just make sure that you place the weight on your back safely and squarely. Remember, keeping full-body tension will help you to keep the weight in the right spot (and it's a cue you should be using for every pushup, anyway).

How to Do It:

  • Get into a standard pushup position, with a weight plate or some other implement at hand.

  • Either have a partner place the weight squarely on your back or use one arm to place it on your back as you get into position. Don't start performing reps until the weight is squarely on your back .

  • Perform as many reps as prescribed, creating tension to keep the weight in place. Once you're done, move carefully to remove the weight.

Partner Tension Pushup

You'll need a partner for this variation, which will be useful as a check-in for your form and posture, especially late in a set. Just remember: You're not trying to totally throw your partner off track. Push with control.

How to Do It:

  • Get into standard pushup position and start doing reps. Make sure to emphasize the tension in your shoulders, abs, and glutes.

  • Once you've begun your set, the other partner should push and prod gently to make sure the working partner is creating full-body tension.

  • After the prescribed number of reps, switch roles.

Plyo Pushup

Introduce power into your bodyweight training by adding a plyometric element to your pushups. This will be advanced for some exercisers, so you can start using a bench or platform. Then, progress to the floor.

How to Do It:

  • Place your hands on a box. Set up slightly away from the box, almost creating a right angle between your upper arms and torso.

  • Squeeze your glutes and abs tight. Bend your elbows to lower yourself down into the rep, keeping your elbows tight to your torso on the way down.

  • Press through your hands to “explode” off the bench, straightening your elbows to drive as hard as you can away from the bench.

  • When your hands regain contact with the bench, slowly lower yourself in a controlled manner, then repeat.

Superman Pushup

Another superhero inspired variation closes out the list, because this is potentially the toughest type of pushup you can attempt. The Superman pushup builds power in a way that most other variations do not, and the level of skill and strength needed to pull it off—we have a whole progression plan to work your way up to reps—gives it one of the highest barriers to entry. Nevertheless, it's one of the coolest looking stunts you can pull in the gym that isn't flat out unsafe. If you can work your way up to it, the Superman pushup is well worth the effort.

You Might Also Like