Push-ups are great, but when you can bang out 25 or more perfectly, it’s time to jazz them up. Try adding resistance bands or other heavy objects, or doing any of these advanced variations to keep push-ups fun and challenging.
Before you start though, make sure your form looks good first. Even when you’re using simple body weight, you can seriously hurt yourself from not paying attention to technique. This STACK article touches on the finer points of good push-up form (as does this one) and also dives into some easier variations that can help you work up to a full push-up.
Next, start small. Remember, big results can come from small changes too. Sometimes all you need to do is take it slow on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the push-up. When you lower yourself in a normal push-up or any variation, count to three crocodiles (one crocodile, two crocodiles…) and then try to forcefully come back up with all of your might. Even if you end up pushing up slowly, the intent to be explosive will make your muscles contract harder and get better at generating power.
Then when you’re ready, these harder push-up variations will show you how to breathe life into your push-ups and strength progress again.
Push-Up With a Resistance Band
Grab any resistance band and wrap it around your mid-back so that it’s set below your armpits. Make sure there’s no extra slack in the band. The point is to keep enough tension to make it harder for you to complete the “up” part of your push-up.
Push-Up With Additional Heavy Objects
The video above uses chains, but you don’t have to use them. Weighted plates, sandbags, or even heavy textbooks that could be balanced on your back can all be a quick and easy way to add weight and make the push-up harder again.
How amazing that simply lifting a leg makes the push-up so much harder. The challenge here is to keep your hips from tilting in and your lower back from caving, while focusing your weight to the other three limbs. Stay “tight” and keep the form as steady as if you were doing a push-up with both legs on the ground, but don’t forget to alternate legs. You may even find that you’re better on one side than the other.
Once you get a hang of the single-leg push-up, the next sequence of the progression is the Spiderman push-up (shown in the second half of the video). Bring one knee out to the side as you lower yourself and back as you press yourself back up. You’re going to work your obliques and hip flexors.
Rest your feet on an elevated platform like your couch or a bench. By changing the angle of your body, you’re putting different demands on your body, targeting a slightly different area of your chest, and challenging your core’s ability to keep you up and steady. The video goes on to demonstrate the single-leg and Spiderman push-up variations with this angle too.
The TRX is the brand name of a special piece of equipment that you can hang from a high anchor point. Grasp the handles and angle your body at approximately 45-degrees. Push-ups from a suspension trainer mean you’re not only pressing yourself up, but you’re also fighting against the wobbliness and general instability.
A towel on a smooth, slick surface also works. This variation demands a ton of shoulder and core strength. I really recommend you ease into this one slowly. The more you reach your arm out, the greater the challenge, so it’s okay that you start off with your arm a little closer to your body at first. As you build up your shoulder and core strength, you can move further and further out.
Medicine Ball Push-Up
Any kind of weighted ball will work; just make sure it’s big enough that you can comfortably fit both hands on the ball and heavy enough that it won’t be easy for you to face-plant. The ball should be positioned right below the middle of your pecs, so when you lower yourself your middle chest will come in contact with the ball. The medicine ball changes your grip width and makes your body more unstable. This means you’ll feel it more in your triceps and upper pecs, and you’ll fight harder to stabilize yourself
Single-Arm Medicine Ball Push-Up
Two main changes here: your overall grip is going to be wider then normal and one hand is on the medicine ball while the other remains on the ground. The benefit to this exercise is that the side where your hand is placed on the ball is going through a longer range of motion and will work harder. You can work one side at a time and switch; or alternate sides throughout the set.
The Hindu push-up is a different kind of push-up that can improve strength and flexibility in your shoulders, chest, arms, and hip flexors. When you get it down, the whole exercise is supposed to happen in one fluid sort of “swoop-in” motion. You target your triceps, upper shoulders, quads, hips, and chest all at once. The video’s host, Joe from bodyweightlifestyle, has clearly been working on this for a long time, so don’t expect your Hindu push-up to look like his from the get-go. You’ll have to work on your hip, shoulder, and spine flexibility first.
There are tons and tons of push-up variations, but rather than do them all at once, figure out which ones would challenge you and help you get stronger with just a slight change to keep progressing over the long run.
Illustration by: Sam Woolley