It doesn’t matter which type of push-up you do—they’re all hard. Enough reps on your knees can make your arms all sorts of sore. And considering that’s the easiest of all the best push-up variation, it’s safe to say your entire body is going to feel like it’s on fire after attempting the hardest.
The next time you’re up for a challenge, work your way through this list of the best push-up variations—many of which you probably haven’t even heard of yet. There’s the hand-release push-up that makes grown men in the Army sweat bullets, the half-split push-up Kate Hudson makes look easily (even though it’s definitely not), and the Spiderman push-up that has you scaling the floor like a superhero. So, only one question remains: How far do you think you can get?
The best push-up variations, ranked from easiest to hardest
1. Knee push-up
When you’re still working your way up to standard push-ups, the most common modification is doing them on your knees. It helps you build up your strength before taking the exercise to the plank position.
A simple modification you can make between knee push-ups and standard push-ups is putting a Pilates ring vertically underneath your chest, which helps support your body so you can stay in a strong plank position during your push-ups.
Before moving onto any harder variations, you have to master the form of the standard push-up: body in a straight line, shoulders over your wrists, and hands mat-width apart.
Here’s the right way to do a standard push-up:
Tricep push-ups are specifically targeting the backs of your arms. Because the focus is shifted to your triceps and less on your chest, like in regular push-ups, they’re a more challenging variation of the standard exercise.
Instead of facing your fingers toward your head in standard push-ups, pseudo planche push-ups involve facing your fingers toward your feet. “The orientation of the fingers pointing toward your feet and sitting farther down your torso places a greater demand on your shoulders and biceps, causing them work harder,” says Korey Rowe, trainer at Dogpound in New York City.
The hand-release push-up is part of the Army Combat Fitness Test, so you know they’re tough. Instead of simply going up and down, your chest goes all the way down to the ground where you release both bands an inch off the floor. That means there’s no way to cheat—you have to complete a full push-up every time.
7. TRX push-up
TRX push-ups work your upper and lower body at the same time. If you have access to a TRX suspension trainer, you complete the push-up by standing with your knuckles in line with your shoulders, then slowly bend your arms into a push-up position. Next, you straighten them to bring your body back up. You can up the challenge even more by performing the push-up at an angle.
This is hands-down one of the best push-up variations. Blast-off push-ups require you to shoot your lower body back into a crouch hover plank-like position between push-ups, and because of the extra coordination and strength it requires, it only takes a few reps before your entire body is feeling the burn.
Dive bomber push-ups are a combination of push-ups and yoga sun salutations, giving you a full-body challenge that doesn’t just involve your core, arms, chest, and back like in the standard exercise. “I think dive bomber push-ups are way harder than a traditional push-ups,” says Maillard Howell of Dean CrossFit. “It involves more pushing with the shoulder versus pushing with the chest, like in a traditional push-up. You’re also going to get a lot more hamstring and lower back stretch activation when you do dive bomber push-ups.”
10. Pylo-fly push-up
When doing a pylo-fly push-up, you start with a chaturanga (or tricep) push-up on a riser, then jump your hands outward to the floor on either side of the riser to do a standard push-up. Then, you finish by jumping your hands back up to the riser and starting again with the tricep push-up. Super hard, but super effective.
You can blame Kate Hudson for this push-up variation that will make your entire body shake. Created by her trainer Nicole Winhoffer, it involves pushing back into a one-legged downward dog, then as you’re lowering down into a push-up position, bringing that same leg to your side at a 90-degree angle—which is essentially a half-split. Ouch.
Watch as Hudson demonstrates:
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Spiderman push-ups are crazy-hard. Like, experts say they’re a good bridge exercise if you’re trying to develop the strength to do one-arm push-ups. “They require the person performing the exercise to engage the muscles of the core to a greater degree than a regular push-up, because one foot is off the ground while performing each repetition,” says Edward Rush, co-founder of Superior Fitness Lab. “It also requires a greater degree of upper body strength, because with each repetition, the majority of body weight shifts to the side of the body with the leg on the ground and the arm stretched forward.”
If you thought Spiderman push-ups were hard, wait until you try this amped-up variation. Something J.Lo’s trainer does during his workouts, you hold yourself up a few feet above the ground with stacked blocks while resting your feet on an elevated base. Then, you complete a mix of knee tucks and Spiderman push-ups. Yeah, it hurts… but in a good way.
14. One-arm push-up
The last on this list of the best push-up variations is the one-arm push-up, which is pretty self-explanatory. You’re using every ounce of your upper-body strength as you perform the exercise with one arm behind your back. Basically, it’s the black belt of push-ups, and if you reach this point you deserve some sort of award.
If you want to further challenge yourself, make your way through the 11 best plank variations ranked from easiest to hardest. Then try some of these other fitness challenge ideas.
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