Push-ups are one of the best and most popular all-around upper body exercises. Why? Because they work a lot of upper body and core muscles, they require no equipment and you can do them anytime and anywhere.
Beginners can modify the move so that it’s easier to perform, while stronger athletes have many options for modifying push-ups to make them more challenging. Check out our 40+ push-up move variation post and video.
A regular push-up program can help build strength and muscle, and combined with other moves, can help you shed extra, unwanted weight and generally just up your overall upper body strength game.
Let’s start with proper form.
Proper push-up form is simple. You start by putting yourself in “high-plank” position.
- Hands should be just wider than shoulder width
- Angle your hands just slightly away from each other
- Feet should be placed about 12 inches apart
- Rock slightly forward on your hands so that your forearms stay vertical throughout the move
- Lower the chest to the floor, keeping your body in a straight line
- Push yourself back up to the high-plank position
- Do not totally lock out your elbows prior to your next rep.
With this standard push-up position, you’ll find that you work your chest, shoulders, triceps, back and also your abs and core.
Variations to change muscle focus.
Changing the placement of your hands during push-ups has a significant impact on the muscle groups the exercise works.
Placing your hands in a very wide position puts more focus on the chest.
Placing the hands closer together changes the focus of the move to your triceps and shoulders.
Moving between narrow, standard and wide hand positions is a good way to vary push-up form and change the focus from a balanced upper body move to a chest focus or a triceps and shoulder focus.
Variations for beginners.
Can’t do a push-up? No problem. Start by making the move easier by doing a pushup from your knees. If you rest on your knees and still can’t do a pushup, try “Teeter Totter” pushups with a foam roller. Balance your upper body weight with the foam roller at mid-thigh. This changes your balance point and removes enough body-weight from upper body to be able to start doing reps and gaining upper body strength for people who are weak, or recovering from an injury.
Variations for Advanced push-up moves.
There are a ton of advanced pushup variations. If you can do 30 pushups or more in a row, then it’s time to add some challenge to your program. Here are some of my favorites.
- Incorporate knees to elbows between each rep. Bringing one knee up to your elbow between each rep makes push-ups an incredibly dynamic move that starts to recruit a lot more shoulders and abs.
- Explosive push-ups. Clap your hands at the top of the push-up move. This requires extra explosive power at the top of the move.
- Add a weight vest. Challenge yourself with additional weight in the form of a 25 or 40 pound weight vest worn during exercise.
- Elevate your feet. Putting your feet on a chair or workout bench changes the angle of the move to recruit more shoulders and upper chest. Try this variation for a new challenge.
Need more ideas for push-up variations? Check out our push-up variation video post with more than 40 different types of push-ups.
Ideas for complete push-up workouts.
Here are some of my favorite push-up programs.
- Single burn out set. Once per day, do a single burn out set to failure of as many push-ups as you can. Many people start this program and within a week, they are adding 2 or 3 reps per day. I did this program for 3 weeks recently and went from 35 push-ups on my first day to 55 push-ups in a row two weeks later.
- Sets of 10. Do between 3 and 5 sets of 10 every day.
- Use push-ups as a general warm-up to your gym workout. Do 2 or 3 sets of push-ups prior to any upper body gym workout.
What about push-up stands?
Because push-ups put a lot of strain on the wrist, many people prefer to use push-up stands. These stands allow people to find a grip or position that ergonomically eliminates wrist and hand strain and allows you to focus on the workout and proper push-up form.
"ABLE by Fitness Hardware are hands-down the best pushup stands on the market."
ABLE by Fitness Hardware are hands-down the best pushup stands on the market. We designed them to roll smoothly in any direction, making them unstable and very challenging on hard surfaces like wood floors or smooth concrete. If you can do 30 pushups in a row, you’ll only be able to do about 10 reps using ABLE on a hard surface. They are great on soft surfaces like rubber gym floors and carpeting. These surfaces are more stable, but still offer the smooth, rolling range of motion – allowing for rotating push-ups, push-up flies and full body-weight chest flies in addition to tons of other instability and functional training moves. Check them out at FitnessHardware.com.
Now, set some goals and go CRUSH THEM!