Most consider the Bench Press the king of pressing exercises; however, most athletes and exercise enthusiasts can make tremendous gains with Push-Ups and their variations. Before we start rifling off versions of the classic Push-Up, it's important to understand what a good Push-Up looks like.
Push-Up form is somewhat subjective, as there are a few different ways it can be performed correctly. At Dan Blewett Sports Performance, I teach my athletes a variation that optimizes shoulder health and tricep recruitment, which are especially important for baseball and softball players. (See a No-Nonsense Push-Up Plan for Guaranteed Results.)
The Basic Push-Up
- Position your feet 12 inches apart and your hands underneath your rib cage with your fingers pointed slightly out at 11 and 1 o'clock
- Keep your head in line with your spine and look straight down at the floor
- Tighten your core, push your navel toward the sky and squeeze your butt
- When lowering, imagine pulling your body down to the floor
- Maintain a vertical forearm position; your upper arms should be at about a 45-degree angle
- Pinch your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement and spread them apart at the top
- Lower until you are 3-4 inches from the ground
Once you can perform three sets of 15-20 perfect Push-Ups, you can progress to more advanced variations for an additional challenge. The following modifications will build core strength and stability, shoulder, tricep and chest strength, stamina, and overall athleticism. The variations are listed in order of increasing difficulty.
Push-Up Variation #1: the Mountain Climber
This is the simplest variation to perform. Pull one knee to your chest at the top of each Push-Up. Keep your back straight and tighten your core throughout the movement.
Push-Up Variation #2: the Grappler
This is a more advanced version that shifts a significant amount of body weight to each arm individually. They require a high degree of hip mobility and core stability due to the overload on one side of the body.
Push Up Variation #3: the Triangle
Triangle Push-Ups are named because of the inverted V shape the athlete makes. This shifts an even higher percentage of body weight to your individual arms, helping you progress toward a single-arm Push-Up.
Push Up Variation #4: The Corkscrew
The Corkscrew is one of the most complicated and difficult Push-Up variations. It challenges your chest and triceps beyond what the other exercises offer, while your core is forced to stabilize and resist rotation.
There you have it! Master the plain-Jane Push-Up and then progress to these variations. To promote muscle size and strength gains, shoot for 60 to 100 reps per workout. This will be challenging. Doing more than 20 of these advanced variations will be quite tough.