Push-Ups are one of the most underrated exercises. Once you begin benching a ton of weight, Push-Ups often take second fiddle. Who wants to do an exercise with their body weight when they can bench press a boat-load of iron plates? It's neither satisfying nor impressive.
But compared to the Bench Press and its variations, Push-Ups have a few distinct advantages. Because they are not pinned against a bench, the shoulder blades are free to move, which improves function and strengthens surrounding muscles. This produces more durable shoulders, increased mobility and improved posture. You also get a core-strengthening effect since you're in a plank position throughout the exercise.
We're not saying the Bench Press isn't a good exercise—it's one of the best ways to add upper-body strength. But Push-Ups are a worthy addition to your workouts, even if you're a beast on the bench.
With that, there are several ways to make Push-Ups more difficult if you're tired of using just your body weight. There are some cool-looking acrobatic variations, but we'll focus on realistic and safe Push-Up variations that are easy and effective ways to increase the difficulty.
Here are our 10 favorite variations.
1. Negative Push-Ups
Negative Push-Ups concentrate on the eccentric, or lowering, portion of the movement, which is the strongest portion of the rep. This increases time under tension, causing serious strength and size gains.
How to: Lower yourself over 3-4 seconds and then explode up.
2. Isometric Push-Ups
This variation is brutal. You hold the bottom position, which is the most challenging portion of the rep. This again increases time under tension and makes the upward portion of the rep more difficult, because the pause reduces elastic energy stored in your muscles, which normally provide a strength boost.
How to: Hold the bottom position for 3-4 seconds and then explode up.
3. Myotatic Push-Ups
The name sounds arcane, but don't let that scare you. Myotatic Push-Ups involve a Push-Up followed by a quarter rep. It's possible to train for power when you perform only a few reps with a quick change of direction mid-rep. However, you can also perform high reps to fatigue your muscles and get a serious pump.
How to: Lower and then push yourself about a quarter of the way up. Lower yourself back down and immediately explode all the way up.
4. Resisted Push-Ups
A personal favorite. Bands make Push-Ups harder just by adding resistance. However, the elastic properties of the band create what's called accommodating resistance. The resistance increases as the band lengthens, challenging your strength throughout the entire rep and not just at the bottom portion where you're weakest.
How to: Hold a resistance band in the palms of each hand with the band in front of your body. Bring the band overhead, across your upper arms and upper back.
5. Chain Push-Ups
These also work on the principle of accommodating resistance. However, chains allow you load your Push-Ups with more weight than with a band. Also, you can have a partner pull the chains off mid-set as you get tired. This is similar to a drop set.
How to: Drape chains across your upper back in an X pattern with one end over your shoulders and the other end under your arms.
6. Plate/Weight Vest Push-Ups
Another personal favorite. Wearing a weight vest or supporting a plate makes you heavier, like adding weight to the bar on the Bench Press. The weight vest is better because the load is strapped to your body, but if you don't have a vest, a partner can place a plate on your back.
How to: Wear a weight vest and perform Push-Ups. Tighten the weight vest as much as possible to prevent it from sagging and limiting your range of motion. If you use a plate, have a partner gently place it on your mid-back. Keep your core tight since the additional weight has a tendency to cause your back to sag.
7. Suspended Push-Ups
Adding instability by placing your feet in a suspension trainer makes the Push-Up more difficult while also challenging your core and shoulder stabilizer muscles.
How to: Place your feet in TRX straps and perform Push-Ups. Make sure to keep your core tight.
8. Med Ball Push-Ups
Med Ball Push-Ups also add an element of instability. You can perform them with one med ball, which works more of the triceps, or two med balls if you feel up for a challenge.
How to: Place your hands on a med ball and assume a push-up position. Perform a Push-Up with your elbows tight to your sides. If using two med balls, perform a Push-Up as you normally would, but be careful not to let one of them slip away!
9. Stand/Dumbbell Push-Ups
The ground limits your range of motion during a Push-Up. By holding onto push-up stands or dumbbells, you can lower a few more inches to build strength through your full range.
How to: Set up stands or dumbbells parallel to each other just outside your shoulders. Grab the handles and perform Push-Ups, lowering a few more inches than normal.
10. Single-Leg Push-Ups
Lifting a leg is one of the easiest ways to make a Push-Up more difficult. The moment you lift your leg, your core must work harder to keep your body straight and square to the ground.
How to: Assume a Push-Up position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift one leg and perform a Push-Up.
These exercises are awesome in their own right; however, you can also combine many of them. For example, you can perform negative, pause or myotatic Push-Ups the other variations. Or, if you're strong enough, you can use both a weight vest and a resistance band. You could even do a Suspended Single-Leg Resisted Myotatic Push-Up With Weight Vest. This obviously complicated, but it shows how creative you can get with this extremely versatile and effective exercise.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock