A Push in the Right Direction: Push-Up Variations for Beginners and Experts

The push-up — one of the classic and most recognized bodyweight exercises out there and one that looks way simpler than it actually is. For those who can’t do push-ups yet, even completing one can feel an impossible task. Thankfully, there are numerous push-up variations that you can practice before moving on to the standard exercise.

So, if you always dismissed push-ups thinking they weren’t for you, think again! We’ll show you how you can build your strength using a range of push-up variations so you’ll be able to drop and give us 50 before you know it!

Regression time

If you struggle with push-ups, it may be tempting to get on the floor in plank position and try over and over again. Flopping to the ground as you attempt to lower yourself can be a seriously frustrating experience.

Think about it this way: trying to do a full push-up on your own without having the strength to do one yet is kind of like signing up for a marathon when you still can’t run a mile. It’s all about baby steps. Instead of jumping right into push-ups, you may need to rewind a few steps. Your best bet is to start by doing more comfortable exercise that will build up the muscles recruited in your body when you execute a push-up. In fitness circles, this is called a regression.

incline push up on kitchen table

By practicing regressions, you can gradually advance towards doing a full-on push-up. Using push-up variations, you can begin with movements that you can do confidently. As you keep practicing, you’ll be able to build up to a slightly more challenging exercise, then another, before eventually moving onto the boss level: the push-up.

These are the muscles recruited for a standard push-up:

  • Chest muscles
  • Shoulders
  • Core
  • The serratus anterior (aka the muscles under your armpits)
  • Triceps (the back of your upper arms)

Push-ups in 3 steps

1. Start with wall push-ups

If push-ups on the ground seem daunting, try building up your confidence with wall push-ups. The movement looks much the same; however, instead of placing your hands on the ground, put them on a wall. After you feel confident doing wall push-ups, it’s on to the next one! 

Tip:
Be sure to engage your core!

fitness push up wall

Directions:

  1. Place your hands on a wall around chest level, keeping your wrists in line with your shoulders.
  2. Tense your muscles to form a straight line from your head through to your heels.
  3. Next, lower your chest to the wall, keeping your elbows tight to your body.
  4. Reverse the movement and push your body away from the wall, then lower back to the starting position.

2. Move to incline push-ups (hip-height)

This push-up variation is a lot like the wall push-up, except this time the hands stay around hip-level. As you get more and more confident with incline push-ups, try a few reps of standard push-ups.

incline push up

Directions:

  1. Place your hands on the edge of a sturdy surface around hip-level (like a desk or table).
  2. Extend your arms, keeping your wrists in line with your shoulders.
  3. Step your legs behind you with your feet together.
  4. Tense your muscles to form a straight line from your head through to your heels.
  5. Next, lower your chest to the table, keeping your elbows tight to your body.
  6. Push your body away from the surface and lower yourself back to the starting position.

3. Graduate to standard push-ups

Congratulations! If you’ve made it to this level, you’re unstoppable. Even if you only manage one (or a half of one) you’re well on your way to being a push-up pro. Once you master standard push-ups, try moving on to some additional push-up variations. We’ve included two of our favorites below.

compound exercises push up

Directions:

  1. Place your hands flat on the ground, directly under your shoulders with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart on the floor.
  2. Step your legs out straight behind you with your feet together and toes curled under.
  3. Tense every muscle to form a straight line from your head through to your heels.
  4. Next, lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows tight to your body.
  5. Extend your arms, then push your body away from the ground and back to the starting position.

Give these push-up variations  a try

Once you’ve conquered standard push-up, how about testing your strength even further with these two push-up variations?

Wide-grip push-ups

These push-ups aren’t necessarily more difficult than standard push-ups. The main difference is that they target the biceps and your back muscles more while taking some of the focus off of the triceps. Try them out to spice up your routine!

 

Directions:

  1. Place your hands flat on the ground, this time around 50% wider than shoulder-width apart and with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart on the floor.
  2. Step your legs out straight behind you with your feet together and toes curled under.
  3. Tense every muscle to form a straight line from your head through to your heels.
  4. Next, lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows tight to your body.
  5. Extend your arms, then push your body away from the ground and back to the starting position.

Diamond push-ups

Named after the shape the hands make while performing the exercise, these push-ups add an extra challenge. According to one study, researchers found that narrow base push-ups like the diamond variety activate the muscles (particularly triceps and pecs) more than the standard variety, making them a solid addition to any exercise routine.

 

Directions:

  1. Place your hands flat on the ground with your forefingers and thumbs touching to form a diamond shape.
  2. Step your legs out straight behind you with your feet together and toes curled under.
  3. Tense every muscle to form a straight line from your head through to your heels.
  4. Next, lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows tight to your body.
  5. Extend your arms, then push your body away from the ground and back to the starting position.

Push-ups are only the beginning!

We hope this guide helps you learn how to do push-ups or inspires you to give them a try. If you want more exercises suited to your fitness level, sign up to 8fit for tailored workouts that are fast, effective and fun.