Advanced Push Up Progressions
Slow Eccentric Push Ups
Much like many other exercises, you can make the push up much more difficult by lengthening the descent which increases the amount of time under tension, in a sense doing more reps without actually doing more reps.
Simply descend into the push up much slower than usual while maintaining an extremely forceful contraction with the muscles of the chest, triceps, deltoids and abdominals. The goal here is not to do as many reps as possible, but rather to make the exercise as difficult as you can.
The descent should last between 4 and 5 seconds, then once you reach the bottom there should be no pause, explode back up to the starting position immediately, as powerfully and as fast as possible, but while still executing proper technique and maintaining correct posture.
Most athletes tend not to focus on the eccentric portion of a movement, so by maximising contraction and slowing down the eccentric portion, you’ll provide the muscles with a different stimulus and produce a different adaption, which can result in significant strength and muscle gains if you are at a plateau.
Diamond (Close) Push Ups
Close push ups are the first advanced variation we will be starting with, they are an excellent choice for those looking for a little more of a challenge, while not jumping head first into some of the more exotic types of push ups.
Bring the hands in close together shifts the emphasis onto the triceps, and less on the chest, having to rely on the much smaller muscles of the triceps makes this exercise require a fair bit more strength than our standard push up. You’ll take your hands in close together so that your index fingers touch, whether or not you bring out your thumbs to touch and make a diamond shape is up to you.
When performing diamond push ups, be sure to keep your elbows in close toward your body, pointing them straight back and not allowing them to flare out, keeping the focus on the triceps.
Due to the fact that the hands are closer together, the diamond push up requires a slightly larger range of motion, so you’ll need to bend your elbows a little more in order to get your chest all the way down to the floor which increases the difficulty.
Make sure you don’t skimp on your technique and range of motion, go all the way down and all the way up, this extra effort required to reach full flexion and extension is what makes the diamond push up so effective and strengthens the triceps more effectively than the standard push up.
Like the standard push up and the push up plank, make sure to keep your core tight, focusing on contracting your abdominals and glutes, it goes without saying you should be doing this during all of the push up variations that follow.
Wide Push Ups
Wide push ups shifts emphasis onto the pectoral muscles of the chest, and increases the difficulty level once again by taking the arms out wide which takes leverage away from the body making it more challenging to generate muscular force to push with. You’ll be using a shorter range of motion, but the mechanical disadvantage the body is placed in makes things much more challenging.
This variation places particular stress on the core, requiring a fair bit of stabilization while in motion making for one hell of a chest building strength movement that requires full body tension as you push yourself up. Keep your abdominals and glutes especially tight as it can be quite tempting to allow your belly to sag down to the floor during this one, and again keep your body in a straight line from the heels to the head.
Point your hands forwards and slightly outward, so that your elbows will point backwards somewhat, with a wide width push up pointing your hands straight forward will cause your elbows to flare outward too much and possibly irritate your shoulders.
Elbows flaring too far outwards and shrugging of the shoulders are the most common mistakes I see with wide push ups and it is vitally important to avoid for shoulder health, keep those elbows pointing backwards as much as possible, especially towards the bottom of the movement.
Feet Elevated Push Ups
You can make the push up much more challenging by placing your feet up onto an elevated surface such as a sturdy box, bench or steps. This elevated position places more of an emphasis onto the deltoids which makes the exercise more difficult, you could almost call it the bodyweight version of an incline bench press. The higher your feet are elevated, the more challenging you’ll find the push up.
Start in the standard push up position but with your feet on a bench instead of on the floor, making sure that your toes are the only part of your feet in contact with the bench. Keep your body in a straight line, from your heels to your head, and once again keep your core tight.
Lower yourself down until your chest is as close to the floor as possible, hold the bottom position for a second and then forcefully push yourself back up to straighten your arms. Perform this exercise with the hands together as with diamond push ups to up the difficulty level even more and really shift focus onto the triceps and deltoids.
Staggered Push Ups
The staggered push up offers a great way to build pushing strength with an added stability component added to the exercise, you’ll be performing push ups with one hand in front of the other forcing you to utilize your abdominals and other muscles of the core to maintain your balance.
You should place one hand under your sternum and the other hand under your face, and performing push ups for the desired number of reps. Be sure to switch sides every set, to avoid developing any muscle imbalances.
You can play around with different hand positions to switch things up and keep training interesting, as well as one hand higher than the other, you could try taking one hand out further sideways than the other, as well as differing leg positions.
T Push Ups
This exercise will challenge your core strength while also working the chest, triceps and shoulders. This is a fantastic compound exercise, strengthening the abdominals, obliques and lower back.
Begin in the push up position, perform a push up as you normally would and then as you push up rotate your body to one side, raising one arm into the air so you face sideways with the other arm still on the ground, with your palm flat. Hold this position for a second while keeping your core tight and then slowly rotate back down to the push up position you started in.
Perform another push up and then rotate to the other side, alternating sides each repetition.
Fingertip Push Ups
Fingertip push ups offer an added difficulty in the form of hand strength, simply holding your body up in a fingertip push up plank position is one hell of a challenge, but performing push ups while on your fingers is on another level. This exercise offers tremendous hand strength benefits for all kinds of athletes that need to build a crushing grip and hand strength, building the muscles and tendons of the fingers and hands like steel cables.
But beware, these are much more difficult than they appear, so you may need to consider starting on your knees when first attempting finger push ups. Finger strength is a very specific form of strength that takes time to build, many strength athletes who are strong as an ox will fail to perform finger push ups. This is a fantastic variation for combat athletes such as boxers, kickboxers and grapplers, along with any other sport where hand and forearm strength is essential.
To begin with you may only be able to do a few fingertip push ups despite possessing awesome upper body strength, just start slow and ease into the exercise. You’ll get an intense workout very quickly, that strengthens the hands, wrists, fingers and upper body, great strength that carries over to any sport that requires you to have strong hands and a crushing grip.
Knuckle Push Ups
Knuckle push up offer a tremendous way to increase the strength demands of the push ups that require a great deal of wrist and forearm strength in order to keep your body stable, as well as slightly increasing the range of motion needed in order to get your chest all the way down to the ground. Knuckle push ups will help develop wrist strength and stability as well as conditioning your hands, making it a useful tool for boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial artists.
This exercise is probably the best place to begin in your quest for conditioning your hands and wrists. I suggest using a soft surface the first time you attempt knuckle push ups, like a carpet, a mat or on some grass, as many beginners may lack the wrist strength required and it can also take time for the skin on your knuckles to toughen up.
Again, keep your core tight while pulling in your abdominals and glutes, in order to maintain a straight line through your body when using slow and controlled movement.
Back of Hand Push Ups
Also known as wrist push ups, this is one of the most effective methods for building strength and stability in the wrists is performing wrist push ups, where you’ll perform push ups on the back of your hands, in which your wrist supports a great deal of your bodyweight.
Wrist push ups are more than anything an incredibly impressive display of wrist and forearm strength, using them in training can help athletes improve their game and prevent injuries. Athletes that would benefit greatly from wrist push ups include gymnasts, martial artists and others whose sports requires a strong grip, balancing on the hands and preventing wrist injuries in general.
Done incorrectly and without laying the proper foundation however, this exercise can be quite hazardous and result in seriously injuring the wrists. I always suggest starting out on a soft surface like grass or a padded mat when beginning training with wrist push ups, so that you can give your skin a chance to toughen up and not cause as much pain. Again, take care when first attempting these, done correctly they can be extremely beneficial to your training, done too soon or with poor technique though, they can cause injury.
Begin in a push up position with the backs of your hands flat on the ground with your fingers facing each other. From here perform a full range of motion push up while keeping the backs of your hands touching the ground.
Move through the push up gradually and under control, keep your midsection tight and be sure that your elbows are pointing back and not flaring out to the sides. To start with I suggest trying back of hand push ups on your knees in order to slowly build up the strength required for the full version
Once you’ve built up to at least 10 strict back of hand push ups with your fingers facing towards each other, you may attempt a more advanced variation in which they point straight backwards towards your toes which requires a great deal more wrist flexibility and strength.
Mountain Climber Push Ups
The mountain climber push up is a fantastic dynamic full body exercise that incorporates almost every muscle in your body and hits them hard, with a little more focus on the pushing muscles of the upper body. As the name suggests, you will be combining a mountain climber movement with a push up.
This exercise is fantastic for building core strength and will certainly have you feeling your abdominals working hard, so don’t be surprised when you feel that your body is getting one hell of a workout.
Perform a standard push up as you normally would, then as you straighten your arms to finish your rep you will bring your left knee up to the inside of your left elbow, then bring it back down. Perform another push up and then bring your right knee up to your right elbow. Rinse and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
To make the most of this exercise and reap its full benefits, be sure to contract the abdominals as forcefully as possible at all times.
Pike Push Ups
The pike push up is a fantastic variation for building shoulder strength and much like the feet elevated push up shifts the emphasis more so onto the deltoids with an almost vertical pressing pattern, providing a great challenge and stepping stone for those looking to progress on to the handstand push up. When performed with your legs on the ground, the starting position of the pike push up greatly resembles the yoga pose downward facing dog.
Unlike a standard push up you’ll take a wide stance with your legs piking your legs, sticking your butt up into the air, keeping your knees as straight as possible. While keeping your back straight, slowly lower yourself down so that your nose and chest are almost touching the floor, and then press back up to the starting position until your arms are straight again.
Once you are comfortable with standard pike push ups, you can do them with your feet elevated on a bench to increase the range of motion and the strength demands placed on the deltoids, offering even more of a challenge.
Divebomber Push Ups
This fantastic full body exercise will hit your core while working your entire upper body like you wouldn’t believe, the divebomber push up is great for building strength and will certainly help improve your mobility and flexibility in your shoulders and lower back.
The divebomber push up begins in the same starting position as the pike push up, with your bottom sticking high up into the air, while your arms and legs are straight creating a tripod shape with your body.
Slowly bend your arms as you swoop down so that your chest comes within just an inch of the floor, putting you in the bottom position of a standard push up, then arcing up sticking your head up into the air, pushing your hips down to the floor and pushing your chest out proud while straightening your arms. Then, when you are ready simply bend your arms and reverse the movement to return to the starting position, completing your first repetition.
Once you feel comfortable performing divebomber push up, you can do them using a close grip with your index fingers touching, for even more of a challenge.
Archer Push Ups
The archer push up is to the one arm push up, what the archer pull up is to the one arm pull up. This is a push up variations where you begin with your hands wide apart, just like with wide grip push ups, but you keep one arm completely straight as you utilize and bend just one arm to complete the push up.
This makes you lean over to one side as you bend the arm on that side, creating the shape of an archer readying a bow, as they are about to fire an arrow. The aim is to use the straight arm as little as possible, focus on pressing up with just the bent arm, using the minimum amount of strength from the straight arm side as is absolutely necessary making it a self-assisted one arm push up of sorts.
Pseudo Planche Push Ups
This is easily one of the most challenging push up variations in this book, as the pseudo planche push up involves placing the hands down by your hips, which takes away a great deal of leverage. The further forwards you lean, the lower down towards your hips you place your hands, the more difficult this exercise will be, placing much more stress on the core and shoulders than other variations of the push up.
Performing a push up in a planche lean exaggerates the pushing mechanics at the shoulder much more challenging, and is an excellent accessory exercise to utilize in training for a full planche hold. If you find that you lack the wrist flexibility to keep your fingers pointing forwards, then simply rotate them to face outwards slightly, or straight back so that your fingers point towards your feet. This is a highly advanced push up variation, so take care when first attempting this move, when the hands are in line with the hips it is much more challenging than it looks.
You should aim to maintain a hollow body shape and protracted shoulders at all time. Rest the front of your toes on the floor, point your toes and Lean forward until your hands are just in front of your hips, while you strongly protract and depress the scapula while moving as slowly as possible through the push up.
Maintaining proper posture and a straight hollow body position requires a ton of core strength and full body tension, keep your glutes, core and upper back as tight as possible throughout the entire movement. Slowly lower down until your chest touches the floor, maintaining a forward lean and shoulder protraction, pulling your ribcage down and belly button towards your spine.
It may become tempting to only lean forwards towards the bottom of the movement and shift your weight back at the top, be sure to lean forwards at all times, especially at the top of the pseudo planche push up. The lockout is where the lion’s share of strength gains are made during this exercise so be sure to fully straighten the arms at the top of the movement and hold the planche lean for a few seconds every rep, as this will strengthen the biceps and the elbow tendon in preparation for full planche training.
Bodyweight Tricep Extensions
Though not a push up variation, I simply cannot write about bodyweight strength training that builds upper body pushing strength without mentioning the bodyweight tricep extension. Believe me when I tell you that this movement is much tougher than it looks, especially when stretched out using a low object.
As with incline push ups, the lower the platform that you place your hands on, the more difficult the exercise will be, stretching your body out with your feet as far behind you as possible will also increase the stress placed onto your core.
You’ll need a sturdy object to place your hands on such as a bench, chair or sofa and from there you’ll bend your arms with your elbows pointing down to the floor as you do so and keeping your back straight. Though the position of the body is vastly different, the movement of the arms is not that different to that of a tricep push down or extension using a resistance machine.
Although this exercise focuses on the triceps, you’ll need to keep your glutes and abdominals especially tight at all times in order to maintain your balance. If you find this variation too difficult you can start with your knees resting on the ground, in which case you’ll be lifting a lower percentage of your bodyweight making the exercise considerably easier.
If you want to make this exercise even more challenging, you can do it with your feet propped up onto a small platform such as a stack of phone books, to increase the range of motion and core strength demands.
Beginner Tricep Extensions
If the tricep extension with your hands placed on a bench is much too difficult, then you can make the movement easier by simply placing your hands on the ground, this is a great exercise for tricep development for all levels of ability.
Begin in a push up position with your feet close together and your hands a little closer than shoulder width, and your hands slightly narrower than shoulder width. Place your hands slightly in front of your shoulders, with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders at the bottom of the movement.
Contract your abdominals and glutes before you begin the exercise and maintain this tightness at all times, begin by bending the elbows and slowly descending down to the ground. Then press your palms down firmly into the ground while forcefully contracting the triceps in order to extend and straighten the arms, returning to the starting position ready to begin the next rep.
Be sure to keep the midsection aligned at all times, aim to create a straight line from your heels all the way up to your shoulders, using tight abs and glutes to help make this possible. Also ensure that you keep the movement slow and under control, and if you are looking to make this exercise a little bit more challenging, then you can attempt to slow down the descent even more while contracting the triceps.
This is an often overlooked but extremely useful exercise.
Hinge Push Ups
This movement is a progression of the bodyweight tricep extensions shown previously, and is a fantastic way to challenge your pushing strength while placing a great deal of stability demand on to your core.
You’ll begin in the push up plank position and lower yourself down as with a standard push up, but then instead of pressing straight back up, you’ll perform a bodyweight tricep extension as you shift your weight back onto your toes as you move back slightly so that your forearms and palms are both flat on the ground. From here you’ll reverse the movement which requires quite a bit of core strength to get back into the bottom position of the push up, and then press straight back up to the starting position.
Be sure to maintain abdominal and glute contraction at all times, especially when shifting back from your fore arms onto your hands.