Want to build muscle? It’s easy—perform Push-Ups. Below, I describe five variations that will challenge your strength and build muscle.
Prior to performing any of these exercises, I recommend mastering isometric core exercises like Planks and Ab Wheel Rollouts. This way, you’ll have a strong core foundation to build on for the Push-Up variations.
1. Push-Up Ladder
This is not only a chest and triceps killer, it has a great shoulder and core stability component as well. It can be used as a bodyweight exercise for younger athletes or loaded with a 100-pound weight vest for an NFL linebacker.
How To Perform: Start on the right side of the ladder with your left hand inside the last rung and your right hand outside the ladder. Perform a Push-Up. Place your right hand in the same rung as your left hand, and move your left hand to the next rung. Perform a Push-Up. Continue this pattern to the end of the ladder. Always move your trailing hand first. Perform two to four complete ladder cycles.
2. Slideboard Push-Up
This is an advanced exercise. It requires tremendous core stability and strength.
How To Perform: Start in top Push-Up position, with your right hand on a slideboard. Descend into a bottom Push-Up position while extending your slideboard hand forward. Coming up, push up with your left hand while pulling with your slideboard hand until you return to the top Push-Up position. Nice bonus: the pulling motion activates the lats. The key is to maintain Plank position [with a flat back] through the entire movement, which you will perform on both sides.
3. Chain Push-Up
This might be my favorite of the five. Since it requires teamwork, it’s great for group morale. To make it more challenging, perform the Push-Ups using 20-pound dumbbells as grips (I prefer 20s because they’re sturdy but not too bulky). The dumbbells add an extra proprioceptive component. Because the chains have to be removed after use, they can slow down your workout.
How To Perform: Have a spotter load chains on your back while you are on all fours. Chains should be loaded in criss-cross fashion. Rep until you feel fatigue, then yell “pull.” Each time you yell “pull,” the spotter removes a chain. Younger or weaker athletes should use four chains. Stronger and more mature athletes can use six.
4. Isometric Countdown Push-Up
This may be the hardest of all—not only from a strength standpoint, but from a time-under-tension standpoint. This makes it a true mass builder!
How To Perform: The set-up requires three boxes, one for each hand and one for both feet. You must be elevated so your chest won’t touch the floor at the bottom of the exercise
Descend to the bottom Push-Up position, dropping your chest between the two hand boxes. Hold for a five-second count. Perform five Push-Ups and return back to bottom position. Hold the bottom position for a four-count and perform four Push-Ups. Count down to one.
5. Octagon Push-Up
This is a cool variation, especially for defensive linemen. It requires superior shoulder and core strength.
How To Perform: To set up, place cones at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Begin in a Push-Up position with your head at 12 o’clock. Perform a Push-Up, quickly rotate to 3 o’clock and perform another Push-Up. Keep rotating clockwise, then counterclockwise, performing Push-Ups at each stop as quickly as possible. End at 12 o’clock.
A strength and conditioning coach at the collegiate level since 2002, Jason Spray is currently the director of strength and conditioning for men’s basketball and assistant director for football at Middle Tennessee State University, where he also aids in day-to-day physical and nutritional development. Spray earned his bachelor and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee and is CSCS, SCCC, USAW, NSCA, NASE, FMS and CSCCa certified. He is also a USA Weightlifting Club coach and a certified physical therapy aide. Spray has trained athletes ranging from high school to the professional and Olympic levels. He has been featured in Premier Players Magazine and is the head sports performance adviser for RSP Nutrition.