Do More: Push-Up Variations

The push-up provides so many benefits for athletes of all ages and sports.  As we talked about earlier this week the push-up is a great upper body strength exercise that promotes shoulder and core stability while also helping keep those shoulders healthy.


Today, we will wrap up this Do More installment by listing some variations of the standard push-up that you can use to crank up the intensity or step back and master form.


Variation #1: Feet-Elevated Push-Up

*This variation places a greater load on the working muscle of the chest, triceps and shoulders

*Research shows that the feet-elevated variation has an extremely high influence on scapulothoracic stabilizing muscles.

**More challenging on the stabilizers than performing push-ups on Bosu and Physio Balls.

*Also, you get more activation of the serratus anterior muscle when the feet are elevated (which is another key to maintaining shoulder health).


To Complete:

Start in regular push-up position with your feet on an elevated surface (box, bench, etc.)

As you become more proficient with the feet-elevated push-up, you can increase the difficulty by raising the height of the box/bench.


Variation #2: 1-Leg Push-Ups

*With a standard push-up, you have four points of contact with the ground.  With this variation, you eliminate one of those contact points by lifting your foot off of the ground; thus, placing a greater stress on the upper body.

*This simple change also increases core activation.  With one foot off of the ground, you will have to stabilize your core to avoid unwanted trunk rotation, lateral flexion and hip sag.


To Complete:

Start in a regular push-up position. Lift one foot up off of the ground slightly.

Complete half of the number of prescribed reps on one foot. Switch feet and complete the last half of the set.

Variation #3: Band-Resisted Push-Ups

*This variation adds to the resistance of the concentric phase

*The resistance increases as you push-up from the bottom position. The higher you go, the harder the resistance.

*As you descend, the resistance will lessen.  Be sure to control the downward phase and do not let the band pull you down.


To Complete:

Wrap a band around your back making sure to cross it in the middle of your back.

This will ensure that the band will not move during your set and also keep the resistance.

Perform a regular push-up.


Variation #4: Yoga Push-UPS

*One of my favorite exercises. Period.

*This variation has a lot of bang for your buck.

*Not only is it a bit tougher than a regular push-up, but it also helps your mobility.

*During the second phase of the yoga push-up, the athlete mimics a “downward dog” position, which improves mobility in the ankles, hips and thoracic spine (T-Spine).

*Great move to promote full scapular movement.


To Complete:

Set up for a regular push-up.

After completing a full rep, take your heels back towards the ground.

Elevate your hips into a pike position, allowing the scapulae to glide along the rib cage.

Hold for a second and return to the starting position.


Variation #5: Spider-Man Push-Ups

*Very demanding

*Calls for a greater load on the upper body as one foot loses contact with the ground and moves towards the corresponding shoulder.

*This move is challenging for the upper body, but it also improves hip mobility.

*Also, your core is activated in order to avoid too much trunk rotation and lateral flexion.


To Complete:

Begin in normal push-up position

As you lower yourself towards the ground, lift one foot off the ground.

Begin to take your knee to the same-side shoulder by abduction and flexing the hip.

As you push-up from the bottom position, return your foot to the starting position.

Repeat with the opposite foot.


Variation #6: The Bodysaw Push-Up

*This is the hardest variation that we are showing you today

*The bodysaw push-up is a dynamic movement focusing on upper body strength, scapular movement and core stability.

*This variation is tough on the core because as your one arm goes overhead, you have to fight the urge to go into extension. By engaging your core, keeping your ribs locked down, and contracting your hip flexors you are able to stabilize the spine and avoid hyperextension in the lower back.

*One of the core’s main functions is to achieve anti-extension of the back to protect the lumbar spine.


To Complete:

Set up in regular push-up position with one hand on a Val Slide (or paper plate).

As you begin to lower your body, slide that hand up overhead.

As you begin to push up slide your hand back to the starting position.

Do half of the prescribed reps on one side then switch hands and complete the last half of the set.


Variation #7: Eccentric Push-Up

*This is a challenging variation because you are slowing down the negative portion of the exercise.

*By doing a slow, controlled eccentric you are causing more muscle fiber damage (it is a good thing)

*These may leave you a little more sore than the other variations

*Be extra careful to avoid reaching with your neck

**People often substitute this for proper scapular movement.


To Complete:

Do a regular push-up. Just slow the tempo of the downward phase. 3-5 seconds on the way down.


Variation #8: Hands-Elevated Push-Ups

*This is a regression

*This variation can be done on the Smith machine, a bench (as shown) or the pins of a squat rack.

*The higher the elevation (bench, etc.), the easier the movement.

*Start at a height that allows you to perform the prescribed amount of reps with perfect form.

*As they become easier, lower the elevation of your hands until you can successfully perform a push-up from the ground.


To Complete:

Start with hands up on an elevated surface while maintaining a straight line from your ankles to your hips and shoulders.

Be sure to have the surface at nipple height when you are at the bottom position.

Have good hand position and avoid internally rotating them.  This puts a lot of unwanted stress on the elbow.



One reason why the push-up is so awesome is because there are almost endless variations.  There are even more that we didn’t discuss within this post.  You can add a weighted vest or chains.  You can add a plyo push-up. You can clap. You can add kettlebells or medicine balls to the mix. So many possibilities. But above all, make sure to hammer home proper form and steer clear of the common mistakes that we discussed earlier this week.  Now drop and give me 20.

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