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15 Push Up Variations to Advance Your Upper Body Strength

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

Although extremely effective at building upper body strength, push ups as a standard exercise can get stale, and you’ll want some different types of push ups to increase your muscle mass and keep your workout fresh. Let’s explore your options when it comes to all things push ups.

The Many Benefits of Push Ups

Just like any workout you choose, there are benefits to each. Push ups are no different. Let’s take a close look at just a few of the many great things push ups can do for you.

A man does pushups in a gym
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Upper Body Conditioning

It’s a no-brainer that push ups can help you bulk up your upper body, but do you know all the muscles they engage? It mainly focuses on your arms, chest, and shoulders but has the added benefit of working some stabilizer muscles at the same time.

Better Posture

You naturally build the right muscles in the right ways to improve your posture when you do push ups correctly. Doing push ups helps to open the chest muscles and lift the shoulders. It can help prevent the shoulder stoop that happens to many of us as we age.

Core Conditioning

The abdominal muscles play a vital role in keeping every other muscle group in place as you lower and lift your body weight. The core muscles are engaged throughout the entire movement and assist as a stabilizing force. Just remember to breathe while keeping your core tight.

Bone Health

Because of the weight-bearing nature of push ups, they’re great for building strong bones. Weight-bearing exercise increases your bone density which makes them stronger and more resistant to injury.


You don’t need much to be able to perform push ups. You can pretty much do them anytime and almost anywhere. All you need is enough space to get down on the floor, and they literally require zero equipment.

Who Should Try Push Up Variations?

Push up variations are meant to challenge the way you do traditional push ups and help you build more strength. Anyone that has mastered the push up and can do several with correct form is ready to add some variety to the basic push up.

A man does diamond push-ups in a park
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15 Push Up Variations to Advance Upper Body Strength

We’ve selected 15 of our favorite push up variations to help you reach your fitness goal. Let’s take a look at how we can switch up the way you do push ups and get you a more toned and chiseled upper bod.

1. Close-Grip Pushup

These are a great way to work those triceps hard! The close-grip push-ups (also known as the diamond push-ups variation or tricep push-ups) will have you working those arms like you’ve never worked them before.

Begin by getting into a more narrow push up position with your hands closer together just inside of shoulder width apart (in a diamond shape). Pin your elbows to your sides and lower down, maintaining your strength the entire time. Remember to breathe.

2. Post Pushup

The post pushup is just like it sounds; you use a post with one arm while keeping the other arm on the ground in a standard push up (also known as press up). This move is meant to prepare you for single-arm push ups by taking some of the weight off one side and allowing your supporting arm to do more of the work.

Simply grab a post or a pole and set up in a push up position alongside it. Grip it with your palm and put resistance against it with your arm. You’re ready to begin! Start with 6-10 repetitions.

3. Superman Pushup

The Superman push up requires incredible strength and balance. You should be able to do 10-20 perfect push ups before attempting this variation. This move isn’t meant for high repetitions because of its level of difficulty. This is more of a chance to show off all of your hard work.

It’s a good idea to do the Superman pushup in stages of progression to make sure you have the correct form and strength to perform this move safely. Practice doing a superman lying on your stomach a few times to get the feel of it first. Then practice doing a push up and lifting your hands off the floor when you come up.

Do the same thing with your feet coming off of the floor this time and then practice with both hands and feet springing into the air.

At last, you’re ready to put it all together. Get set up in a push up position and prepare your body to explode into the air as you come back up from the floor. Catching your body weight with bent elbows and toes turned in as you return to the mat or floor.

4. Incline Push-up

You can get to those lower chest muscles by incorporating the incline pushup variation. It’s also a great option if you’re experiencing any elbow pain as the incline takes some of the pressure off of your elbow joints. You’ll need an elevated surface such as a step or a bench to create a 45 degree angle with your body.

Get into plank position with your hands on the bench and slowly lower down until your chest touches the bench. Lift your bodyweight back to the starting position and repeat.

5. Plyo Pushup

The plyometric pushups or the plyo push-ups are a fantastic way to learn how to add explosive movement to your regular push up. If you’re new to this advanced exercise, you should start with a box or a bench to make it a little easier to maintain correct form.

With your palms flat on the box and your legs extended into plank position you’re ready to go! Slowly lower down and as you lift back up use your energy to explode your arms off of the box. Catch yourself with a steady grip and slowly lower back down. Repeat.

6. Archer Pushup

The archer pushup is a challenging move that has you looking like you’re about to shoot an arrow on the floor in a push up position. Set yourself up in a wide push up with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Slide one arm straight out to the side this arm is going to act as support while your other arm does all the work. Engage those abdominal muscles as you lower down with the arm that is doing the work. Lift back up and repeat.

7. Thigh Tap Pushup

Just as it sounds, you’ll tap your thighs as you push up. This is a great way to get you started on working towards a single-arm push up if that is one of your goals.

Lower down into a push up position and as you come back up to the top take one hand and reach back and tap your thigh. Return your hand to the floor and lower down again and alternate arms as you tap each thigh.

8. Isometric Pushup

You’ll feel the burn in your core muscles with this one! It works just like a classic push up except for that killer one-minute hold at the bottom.

Get into a push up position with your arms shoulder width apart and lower down until you’re almost touching the floor. Hold this plank position for one minute while maintaining your body rigid, and then push yourself back up to the top again, using your upper body muscles.

9. BOSU Pushup

The BOSU looks a lot like a stability ball cut in half with a strong plastic backing so it can lay flat on the floor. For this move, you’ll flip it over and grip the flat side of the BOSU with the ball side on the floor. This created an incredible stability challenge for your abs and pectoral muscles.

You’ll need to be able to maintain a strong plank position while gripping the BOSU. Make sure your shoulder blades are back and core is engaged as you lower down. In addition to the core strength (and core stability) you are building, your shoulder stability is going to improve as well with this one!

10. Fingertip Pushups

Let’s give those forearms an extra challenge with fingertip pushups. In this move, your fingertips and toes are the only part of your body making contact with the floor. Make sure you start in plank position and lift up. Lower back down and repeat.

11. Clapping Push-Up

The clapping push up is a difficult exercise and a great build up to the superman push up we discussed earlier. You’ll use those same explosive movements we talked about. Get into a push up position and lower down. As you come back up, use your momentum to push your arms off of the floor. Clap your hands together and quickly but securely put them back on the floor. Lower back down and repeat.

12. Mountain Climber Push-Up

A great all over body workout! This challenging variation combines some cardio fitness with strength training. You might have seen this compound exercise in a HIIT workout.

You’re simply combining mountain climbers with a push up. Get into plank position and start by driving one knee at a time into your chest maintaining your posterior chain in a neutral position. Then lower down into a pushup. Lift back up and repeat with mountain climbers.

13. Deficit Pushup

You’ll need some equipment for this variation, either some blocks or some dumbbells to create the deficit. You’ll grip your blocks or dumbbells while performing an otherwise standard push up. The blocks create a deficit that puts a little more time under tension on your pectoral muscles and upper chest in general. By increasing the range of motion, you’ll definitely get more of a work out with this one! These are way harder than standard pushups.

14. Jackknife Pushups

These are a variation that utilizes those hip muscles as well as some of your stabilizer muscles used in the traditional push up. Only with a jackknife push up, you’re working them at a different angle. Because of its similarity to a pike push up, you’ll be engaging your hip flexors as well.

For this move, you have the option of using a bench or the floor. If you’re using a bench, place your hands on the floor with the bench behind you. Lift your feet to the bench and walk your hands back until you’ve created a triangle shape with your glutes straight up in the air in a 90 degree angle.

Lower down primarily focusing on squeezing your triceps until your head touches the floor. Lift back up and repeat.

15. Explosive Jacknife Pushups

These are done on the floor and require some explosive cardio movement to get you into the air and back to the ground safely. You’ll lower down quickly like you would with a traditional push up and as you come back up, explode your body off the floor into that jack knife position touching your hands to your feet if you can with your glutes straight up in the air. And touch back down to the floor in the push up position again.

FAQs About Pushup Variations

Now that we’ve covered all of our favorite push up variations let’s see if we can answer some of the most frequently asked questions. We’ve outlined below four of the most common questions we see.

What Is the Most Effective Push Up Variation?

The most effective push up variation is the one that you can stick with and maintain proper push up form. It’s also one that you can do safely without injuring yourself. For most people the answer to this question is going to be the standard push up.The standard push up is great on its own for so many reasons. It works almost the entire body, it can be done anywhere by anyone. If you do them consistently they get easier and you can do more of them.

What Is the Best Push Up Variation for Beginners?

A wall push up is a safe place for any beginner to start, especially if you’re prone to any sort of shoulder, elbow or knee joint injury. With your feet about shoulder width apart and your body arms length away from the wall you are ready to begin. Place the palm of your hands flat against the wall and lower your chest towards the wall. Lift and repeat.

What Is the Hardest Pushup Variation?

The Superman push up is probably one of the most challenging push up variations you can do. It’s so challenging that it’s recommended to be done for a shorter amount of reps and a longer amount of time in between sessions to protect your body from injury. It requires a crazy amount of strength training to be able to do just one of these push ups. However, with training it can be done.

How Many Pushups Should You Do a Day?

One recommendation is doing 3-5 sets of 12 repetitions per day to build muscle and strength training. However, as with any exercise you should always consult your doctor first and always pay attention to your body to avoid injury. Ideally, you want to give your muscle fibers a chance to rest and repair themselves so be sure to pay attention to your body and check with a personal trainer.

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