Fitness Tips

All the Push-Up Variations We Learned This Year in One Place

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images
Push-ups have long been the bane of my existence; I could barely do them in elementary school, and I can barely do them now. It’s not actually the movement that’s the problem, but more so the mentality—the I can’t of it all. I’m trying to push (up) through it, however, as this classic move has become incredibly clutch during the pandemic. It requires no equipment and little space, and the benefits are *one hundred*. Almost nothing beats the gains of a simple push-up to the core, upper body, and personal fortitude; nothing, that is, except a modified (read: intensified) version.

Because push-ups have been such a star in 2020—included in just about every online workout imaginable—quite a few new variations caught our attention this year. The demos on some of them make me cry a little (#14 and, well, all the others save for maybe #13), so I’m not quite sure I’m ready to level up. If you are, however, planning to crush it hard in 2021—or at least, January of 2021, because we all know how resolutions go—the 14 push-up variations below make for a great point of inspiration (or, if you’re like me, voyeurism).

1. The plank push-up hybrid

This push-up variation sounds simple but—as anyone who’s attempted it well knows—it’s actually anything but. Essentially, you’re moving from a high plank to a forearm plank and back again, in a manner so controlled your entire body stays level—no hip dips should be happening, for example—as you move between the two positions. It’s a real doozy on the abs and the arms, and it’s a great way to level up when you stop feeling as much of a burn from a regular push-up or plank.

Get more tips on form: How to do a plank push-up

2. The banded push-up

Push-ups do amazing things for your arms, chest, shoulders, core, and more, but they’re not the most lower-body-centric move out there. This variation remedies that omission by adding a resistance band around the ankles, which activates your glutes. The key to ensuring this move is effective is to place your feet slightly wider than your hips to ensure you feel the pull of the band.

Get more tips on form, and variations on this move: How to do a banded push-up

3. LaLanne push-ups

If you’re really up for a challenge, this is the push-up variation for you. Named after fitness industry legend Jack LaLanne, it entails extending your arms out as well as your legs, and then lifting your entire body by the fingertips and toes—over and over again. Unless you’re a fitness god, this probably shouldn’t be attempted on the regular. It is, however, a great occasional challenge for when your ordinary push-up regimen ceases to excite you.

Get more tips on form: How to do a LaLanne push-up

4. Tiger push-ups

While traditional push-ups are already pretty killer upper body workouts, this variation takes those benefits to the next level. Specifically, the move places extra emphasis on the shoulders and triceps. However, it’s not for beginners. You should specifically work on upper body strength before attempting to mix this bad boy into your fitness routine.

Get more tips on form: How to do a Tiger push-up

5. Side push-ups

Side push-ups are ideal for those wanting to dig into their tricep work a bit more specifically or intensely. To do one, lie on your side with your knees stacked. Wrap the arm closest to the ground around your body, like a hug, and extend your top arm down to the mat, so that your hand is flat alongside your other arm. Then, push yourself up using the top arm (and your core) alone. Repeat until fatigued.

Get more tips on form: How do to a side push-up

6. Grasshopper push-ups

Wanna tone your obliques? Hop to this variation, which targets that hard-to-reach zone by adding a little leg work into the standard push-up technique. Essentially, the switch-up here is twisting one knee over to the opposite side of your body while pushing down. Technically, it works nearly every muscle in your body—and is about as easy as something with that many benefits sounds (read: it’s hard AF!).

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a grasshopper push-up

7. Pike push-ups

Usually, if your butt is up in the air while you’re doing a push-up, that means you’re doing it wrong (and causing some serious stress on your shoulders). This variation, however, offers an exception. A pike push-up is basically an angled push-up done while maintaining an inverted V-shape. It targets the anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders) and the pectoralis major (one of your pec muscles).

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a pike push-up

8. Sphinx push-ups

The sphinx push-up is so named for a reason; when you’re mid-move, your position resembles that of an Egyptian sphinx. Basically, it differs from a push-up in that, instead of keeping your hands and wrists aligned under your shoulders, you extend them a bit further forward so you can dip your elbows down to a ninety-degree angle, before popping back up again. This works your triceps especially, but also your chest, shoulders, and abs, too.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a sphinx push-up

9. Wheelbarrow push-ups

Created by SLT, the Pilates-inspired fitness studio known for its workouts on the Megaformer, the wheelbarrow push-up utilizes gliders to intensify the work (and benefits) of a traditional push-up. To execute it, position yourself into a modified push-up and then push down with one arm, as you would in a traditional push-up, while gliding forward with the other arm. Then you switch arms, while keeping your body stable. This movement goes the extra distance to activate your lats, triceps, and abs simultaneously.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a wheelbarrow push-up

10. Iranian half-moon push-ups

This challenging push-up variation has a lot going on. Instead of lowering yourself down as you would in a traditional push-up, you make circles with your upper body as you move your knees to one side, dive your upper body forward, and then return back to your starting position. The whole movement has a bit of a yoga flow vibe to it, which is a description that probably makes it sound less torturous than it actually is. It will absolutely murder your obliques.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do an Iranian half-moon push-up

11. Typewriter push-ups

This cleverly-named push-up variation requires assuming a traditional push-up position and then pushing down as you normally would. Once you’re hovering just above the ground, however, you then try something a bit different: moving your upper body from side to side to get that “typewriter” effect. At the pinnacle of each swerve, one arm will be fully extended to the side while the other is bent beneath you. While not easy, this motion increases the work done by your core and and your chest, which in turn, ups the benefits.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a typewriter push-up

12. Russian push-ups

Russian push-ups look deceptively easy, but spoiler alert: they are not. To do a Russian push-up, you are basically combining a traditional push-up with a forearm push-up, but not in the same way as in a plank push-up hybrid. Here, the transition happens in one seamless movement. You push down from a classic push-up position, then back into forearm plank, and then forward again into a regular lowered push-up, and then back up to an extended arm push-up position. This sequence works your core hard. And it’s guaranteed to impress people on the internet, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do a Russian push-up

13. Incline push-ups

This is the singular entry on this list that actually makes push-ups easier, so you can use it to work your way up to a full push-up if you’re not quite there yet. To accomplish an incline push-up, place your feet on the floor and your hands on an elevated surface, such as a stair, bench, or chair. Lower yourself down to meet the elevated surface with your chest, just as you would in a regular push-up. The incline gives you more leverage, and lightens the load you’re lifting (aka, your own body weight) every time you do a rep.

Get more tips on form (and a demo): How to do incline push-ups

14. Spiderman variation push-ups

For this candidly insane push-up variation, you’ll need your entire body to be elevated—so think stacked blocks under your hands and feet, for example. You then push down from there, but that’s not all. As you descend, you crunch your knee down on one rep, so that it nears the ground, and then out on the next rep, so that it meets your elbow. After watching this being done, I don’t know why anyone would ever subject themselves to it, except that it was invented by J.Lo’s trainer, and his prize client’s fit bod sells itself.

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