Beginner bodyweight workout may well be the most underplayed and undervalued moves.
For achieving a fit, toned upper body while working your core muscles and tightening your abs, the push up can do wonders at any fitness level. Whether you’re just starting out, or you can do push ups with a friend on your back, there are a number of ways to vary this classic exercise to shock your muscles and keep your routines fresh. Even slight variations will do a great deal to target different muscle groups while continuing to tone up your upper body and build muscle.
For achieving a fit, toned upper body while working your core muscles and tightening your abs, the push up can do wonders at any fitness level. Whether you’re just starting out, or you can do push ups with a friend on your back, there are a number of ways to vary this classic exercise to shock your muscles and keep your routines fresh. Even slight variations will do a great deal to target different muscle groups while continuing to tone up your upper body and get lean.
If you want to figure out where you stand in terms of push up fitness, set a timer for three minutes and test how many you push-ups you can perform. Experts consider 75 push ups good and 55 about average.
Find out where you stand before you start focusing on this move and you’ll have a better sense of your progress.
15 Explosive Push Up Variations
#1 The Classic
The tried and true. There’s a reason why the military does push ups. There are a few things to keep in mind with push ups if you want to get the most out of this movement. With a straight line from your back and through your legs, begin with your arms shoulder width apart. On each repetition, make sure you get your chest all the way to touch against the ground, but keep your eyes up as this will keep your airway open. For breathing, inhale at the top of the push-up and as you sink down towards the floor. Think explosively and exhale as you extend up from the floor.
#2 Tricep Push Up
This is a common variation that will target your triceps and help to carve out the horseshoe shape on the back of your arms. Keeping your hands directly underneath your shoulders and tight to your sides, you want to descend into this one keeping your elbows in.
#3 Wide-Grip Push Up
This variation adds increased stress on the chest muscles. You’ll travel less distance vertically but by widening your grip as far as you can, you’ll reduce leverage, targeting your pecs, and carve out a chiseled line through your chest.
#4 Decline Push Up
With the decline, it’s important to watch your wrists. By beginning with your feet elevated from your body, you create a greater range of motion for your upper body to travel, adding increased difficulty to the push-up.
#5 Incline Push-Up
This is best performed with a weight bench or against some stairs. The incline push up is of course the opposite of the decline and removes stress from the motion and has the effect of lightening the load. This can be a great warm-up exercise, one for getting back in shape after a hiatus, or one to stack onto another set of exercise.
#6 Physioball Incline Pushup
This will add a challenge to your incline push up by incorporating the challenge of stabilizing your movement. With your feet on the floor, position your hands wide enough on the physioball to keep it safely beneath you, descending in a slow and controlled fashion lower your chest to the ball. The balance challenge will kick in as you press back up off of the ball.
#7 Diamond Push Up
Here’s where things begin to get a bit more difficult. If you want to really put some burn into your triceps, this is the most difficult targeting exercise for that muscle group and this can be a good shoulder routine as well. This is certainly one of the more difficult variations but will work your stabilizer muscles in the process. Be careful of added stress on your shoulders and wrists; listen to your body. If the movement feels unhealthy, widen your grip and work in your range of motion. As your balance increases, bring your hands in closer to the diamond formation.
#8 Plyometric Push-Up
Again we’re getting into slightly more advanced variations, but the plyometric push-up is one that many swear by for its benefits to developing explosive strength. This is very effective in developing upper-body power. Set up in your classic push up formation, but as you come up from the floor, explode with enough force to get some air underneath your hands—clap if you can—but as soon as your hands reach the floor again, continue into your next repetition without pause.
#9 Suspended Push Up
This one requires a bit of space and equipment—one you’ll need to save for the gym. The suspended push-up variation is excellent for building stability. Using a pull-up bar or power rack, attach gymnastic rings, suspended about 12 inches from the floor. With your feet on the floor, slowly lower yourself down until you grow comfortable stabilizing this movement. If you have difficulty, split your feet out a bit wider as this will stabilize your core.
#10 Physio Ball Decline Push Up
This particular movement will challenge your core to keep your legs stable during this challenging variation.
With your toes on the top of the physioball, you should feel the stress of this movement concentrating the workload on your core but with the larger range of motion of a decline push up.
#11 One Arm Push Up
There is quite simply no easy way to do one-armed push-up. The trick is to be very strong compared to your body weight and to widen your legs as much as possible to ground and stabilize your base. Some people will perform this variation with the pushing arm closer to the center and others keep it in the normal classic formation. This one will take a while to work up to, so don’t be discouraged.
#12 Staggered Push-Up
For this variation, stagger one hand about 6 inches above the other forcing a greater load on the lower hand. Be careful on the wrists and listen to your body; if the stress feels unhealthy on either wrist, then try another variation.
#13 T Push Up
T-push ups are useful for warming up your shoulders and working your core and oblique muscles in the twisting motion. Complete a classic push up and at the top of the motion, shift your upper body weight to one arm and reach up toward the ceiling. Really work on opening up your chest and reach up to the ceiling. The twisting motion activates your core so make sure to take work into this one slowly and controlled until you have the motion down.
#14 Medicine Ball Push Up
Performing push-ups with your hands on a medicine ball will create the similar added stress of the physioball push up’s balance requirements. In using a smaller ball, you’ll change the angle of the push-up and have a wider range of motion than the physioball incline variation.
#15 Alternating Medicine Ball Push-Ups
This is one of a more creative variations out there, but also a very effective one. With one hand on a medicine ball and the other on the floor, perform the push-up and as you return to the top of the movement, roll the ball underneath you to the other hand, switching off each repetition.
You can find a lot more body weight and push up workouts in my book here.
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