6 Push-Up Variations to Build Strength and Improve Shoulder Health

You can use the simple Push-Up to build tremendous shoulder strength and improve mobility. Learn more about six of the most effective Push-Up variations.

Push-Ups are a staple for building upper-body strength. They target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, engage the core and require no equipment or spotters. Yet, as effective as they are for building strength, Push-Ups are also among the best exercises for shoulder stability and health.

Push-Ups are good for the shoulders because, unlike in the Bench Press, the Push-Up allows your shoulder blades to move freely, strengthening the serratus anterior, a vital muscle that keeps your scapula stable and helps it rotate upward. A strong serratus anterior reduces shoulder impingement when you press overhead. Since the shoulder blade makes up half of your shoulder joint, improving its stability can fix a lot of other shoulder problems.

The following six Push-Up variations offer the best bang for your training buck: they build a strong upper body, promote high levels of activation in the serratus anterior, and develop stability in the shoulders. Try them out to accomplish these goals. Except for the scapula Push-Ups, you can wear a weight vest to make each variation more difficult.

Shoulder-Building Push-Up Variations

1. Scapula Push-Ups

Scap Push-Ups

This variation has the highest activation of the serratus anterior. It's best used as a warm-up drill.

  • Get into push-up position
  • Keep your elbows straight and sink your shoulder blades a few inches
  • Push your shoulder blades as high as possible
  • That's one repetition

2. Single-Leg Push-Ups

Research suggests that Push-Up variations that add more load on the upper body increase recruitment of important shoulder stabilizers. An easy way to do that is to lift one leg off the ground. During a normal Push-Up, you have four points of contact, two hands and two feet. By taking away one point of contact, you increase the upper-body load and core activation.

  • Get into push-up position and lift one leg
  • Keep your leg up for the entire set

3. T-Push-Ups

By adding a rotational component, T-Push-Ups strengthen shoulder musculature by constantly changing points of contact on the ground. They also improves shoulder health by stretching the thoracic spine (mid-back).

  • Perform a Push-Up
  • Take one hand off the ground and reach arm up and around
  • Keep your eyes on your moving hand
  • Return to push-up position
  • That's one repetition; do an equal number of reps on each side

4. Feet-Elevated Push-Ups

This variation has two fantastic benefits. First, it's harder than a normal Push-Up, which helps you pack on more muscle in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Second, research shows that feet-elevated Push-Ups promote more activation in the serratus anterior than regular Push-Ups. Strong, healthy serratus anterior muscles are crucial for shoulder health.

Also, some athletes who experience shoulder pain during pushing motions like the Bench Press can do feet-elevated Push-Ups pain-free.

  • Perform a Push-Up with your feet on a stable, elevated surface
  • Start with a short box; as you get stronger, gradually increase box height
  • Want to make it harder? Do single-leg, feet-elevated Push-Ups.

5. Single-Arm Push-Ups

In addition to increasing upper-body load and strengthening your shoulder stabilizers, single-arm Push-Ups look awesome. Can't do them from the floor? Try them from a bar in a Smith machine or power rack. As you get stronger, gradually lower the height of the bar.

  • Keep your feet wide
  • As you descend into the Push-Up, keep your elbow close to your body

6. Single-arm Medicine Ball Push-ups

Single-Arm Med Ball Push-Up

By putting one hand on a medicine ball, you fire up your shoulder stabilizers by adding instability.

  • Perform Push-Ups with one hand on a medicine ball
  • Do an equal number of reps on each side.

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