If I could give an MVP award to one exercise, the award would go to Mr. Push-up. We have a love/hate relationship. Push-ups are hard, but effective. They have been around for ages and there are dozens of ways to vary them to change up the emphasis of the workload and the benefits of the movement. The push-up is not just an upper body exercise, your core is an integral part of the movement too. I know this firsthand.
Before baby number four, I completed 72 push-ups in a row. I’d be lucky to complete 30 in a row right now since having him 3 months ago. My core is shot! My upper body in isolation is close to the strength it was before baby so it’s proof that because of the effect pregnancy has your core, it has made the push-up a monster of an exercise! That’s why I love it so much!
Your traditional push-up works your chest (pectoralis), your shoulders (deltoids), the backs of your arms (triceps), your abs and a couple other smaller muscles. While these muscles listed are the main muscles in action, you also have to engage your lower back, your glutes and even your quads to support your body weight. When you throw a variation in there, it changes the focus of which muscles get the most work. This makes the Push-up (and it’s variation) an exercise with HUGE results.
Here are 7 variation ideas that you could throw into your current exercise program. If you are scoffing at this post and writing yourself off as being capable of push-ups, think again. Start where you can (on your knees, hands on the wall, just a few at a time) and you’ll get stronger as you go.
Shoulder Focused Push-Up Variations
Scoop push up
Put your feet against the wall. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart and even with your chest. Lift your hips into the air to make your body into a tent. As you bend your arms, drop your chest toward the floor then scoop it forward to be in between your hands. Drop your hips then extend your arms and push up. Lift your hips back into the tent to begin again. To modify this move, keep your knees on the floor and start with hips back by heels. You can also make the movement smaller by not scooping as close to the floor. Be sure to keep your belly button pulled in to protect your back. If you feel any shoulder pain, try making the scoop more shallow or widening your hands more.
Nose Dive Push-Up
Put your hands on the floor at chest level, but wider than your shoulders. Tuck your toes and lift your hips to make your body into a tent. Let your eyes gaze back towards your toes. Bend your elbows and dive your nose or forehead towards the floor then push up to starting position. The lower you go, the harder it is. The reverse is also true. Don’t bend as deeply and make the range of motion smaller to make the movement slightly easier.
Start on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes and lift your knees a few inches off of the floor. Bend your elbows and nose toward the floor between your hands. Your knees may tap the floor as you bend, but don’t put weight back onto your knees. Making the movement smaller makes it easier in this push-up as well. Don’t forget to scoop up that belly to keep a strong stable core.
Core Focused Push-Ups
Picture Spiderman scaling a wall. Your “wall” is the floor. Start in a traditional push-up position. Bring your right knee out and around towards your right elbow (like Spiderman would as he climbs up the wall.) When your knee is close to your elbow, do a push-up. Bring your foot back into place and repeat that movement with your left knee towards your left elbow. No doubt this one is a hard variation, but it can be modified by starting the movement on your knees. This push-up variation is bringing more muscles into action like your obliques and outer glutes. Keep your hips squared up to the floor throughout the entire movement.
One Legged Push-Up
As the name suggests, you’ll do a push up with one leg lifted (either starting on your toes or your knees.) Make sure your back is flat by keeping both hips facing the floor like headlights pointing to the ground. There’s no need to lift the foot high, but think about squeezing your butt as you lift and stay away from arching your back.
Push and Slide
Grab a hand towel and set up on a slick floor surface. Set up on either on your toes or knees and put the towel underneath one hand. As your drop your chest toward the floor, slide the hand out to the side. As you push-up, slide the hand back underneath you. Start with sliding it a few inches and as you get stronger, slide it out further. Make sure to switch to the other hand and do a few too!
Tricep Focused Push-Up
Narrow Tricep Push-up
The positioning of the hands is how to engage the triceps more deeply in this variation. Hands should set up right under your shoulders. Thumbs will point in toward each other. Your pointer fingers will also point in making an open triangle with thumbs and pointers. As you drop your chest down towards your hands, squeeze your elbows into your sides and let your arms brush your ribcage. Because the triceps are a smaller muscle group, this push-up is significantly harder so start on your knees and make them shallow to begin. You can also put your hands on top of a step or even on the wall to develop the strength to do them on the floor eventually.
Side note: If your wrists hurt when doing push-ups, try doing them on fists or by putting your hands on the edge of a rolled up yoga mat. This usually relieves some pressure off of the wrist.
Here’s a Push-Up Workout to try incorporating these variations.
10 Scoop Push-ups
10 Spidermans (5 on each leg)
10 Narrow Tricep Push-ups
Roll over to your back and do 30 crunches to give your arms a rest.
10 Nose dive push-ups
10 1-legged push-ups (5 on each side)
Roll over to your back and do 20 double leg lowers either with bent or straight legs.
10 Frog push-ups
10 Push and Slides (5 on each side)
30-60 second plank on your elbows