There’s one exercise that never gets old: the pushup. It’s not an easy exercise, which makes it a source of frustration for many. Depending on how strong you are, the pushup can rival the bench press in terms of strength gains.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that adding a resistance band to the pushup made it just as hard as a weighted barbell bench press. Whether you think pushups are too easy or too hard, chances are you simply need a variation.
Pushups primarily work your chest, shoulder and tricep muscles. They also work your ab muscles, although you may not feel it there. Think of it as a moving plank. You want to be stiff in your abdomen so your back stays straight throughout the movement. This is true for all pushup variations.
Another common mistake is leading with your head. If your forehead touches the ground before your chest, you’re leading with your head too much as you go down. Keep your chin up so you can go through the full range of motion.
1. PUSHUP FROM KNEES
Starting from your knees, instead of your feet, reduces the amount of body weight you have to support and makes it easier on your upper body and core.
The move: On your knees, plant your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground in front of you. Lower yourself until your chest is an inch above the ground then press back up. Keep your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
2. NEGATIVE (ECCENTRIC) PUSHUP
To get used to the sensation of a full pushup, you’re simply going to lower yourself down to the ground under control.
The move: Start in a plank position with your feet and hands on the ground. Your hands should be under your shoulders. Slowly lower your body to the ground. It should take about three seconds to do the full rep. Ideally, your chest should touch the ground before your hips. Don’t worry about pressing back up, just come up on all-fours and repeat the movement.
3. TRX PUSHUP
This exercise can range from easier than a pushup to much harder depending on where you plant your feet.
The move: Stand behind a TRX and grab the handles. Lean forward with your arms straight and the handles in front of you. Lower yourself down until your thumbs touch your chest, then press back up. If it feels easy walk your feet back and try again. If it’s too hard, walk your feet forward and repeat.
4. HANDS-ELEVATED PUSHUP
To feel what it’s like to do a full pushup without struggling and sacrificing form, use an elevated surface for your hands. A couch, bed or weightlifting bench work.
The move: Put your hands on the elevated surface and get into a pushup position with your body in a straight line. Lower yourself until your chest touches the surface, then press back up. If it’s too easy, find a lower object. If it’s too hard, find something higher. Eventually your goal is to lower the height of the object until you’re doing pushups from the ground.
5. HANDS CLOSE PUSHUP
This simple variation makes you feel the burn in new places.
The move: Set up with your hands directly under your chest muscles and perform a pushup with this narrow stance. There’s more tricep muscle involved in this variation when compared to a standard pushup.
6. HANDS ON DUMBBELL PUSHUP
While it might not seem like a big deal, performing pushups while gripping dumbbells lets you get a few inches lower — and is much more challenging. Plus, if you keep your wrists straight it can take pressure off the ligaments in your wrist. You can also use pushup handles for this variation.
The move: Put the dumbbells or handles on the ground where you would normally place your hands. Grab the handles and perform a full pushup. The last few inches are the sweet spot, so lower yourself slowly and with control as low as you can go, then press back up.
7. LATERAL PUSHUP WALK
If you have extra room, this variation gets you moving more than a regular pushup.
The move: Perform a pushup then walk your hands and feet one step to the right. After you take a step to the right, perform another pushup, then take a step back to the left and repeat.
8. FEET-ELEVATED PUSHUP
Elevating your hands makes the pushup easier, but elevating your feet does the opposite.
The move: Get into a pushup position with your feet on an elevated surface like a box or bench. The object doesn’t need to be too high, a surface 1-foot off the ground is plenty. Perform a normal pushup. but feel how your weight is pushed forward toward the bottom. It should put more strain on your chest muscles.
9. PLYOMETRIC CLAP PUSHUP
This high-flying pushup variation is only for those who have mastered the regular pushup and need something more challenging.
The move: Start in a plank position. Lower yourself until your chest is just above the ground. Then, push yourself up and fast as you can. Think about driving your hands through the floor. As you rise up, quickly clap your hands together. Then, plant them on the ground as fast as possible to catch yourself. Reset fully after each rep.
10. ASSISTED ONE-ARM PUSHUP
The ultimate test of pushup mastery is the one-arm pushup. It’s incredibly difficult and doing regular pushups won’t be enough to prepare you. To train for the one-arm pushup you’ll need a resistance band to assist you. Tie the band to an object about head-height. Grab the band in one hand and hold it close to your chest. Plant your other hand on the ground and get into a pushup position.
When attempting a one-arm pushup, your feet should be wider than normal. Perform a one-arm pushup while holding the resistance band, which gives you assistance as you perform the movement. As you get better, use bands with less resistance until you can attempt a full one-arm pushup on your own.