The barbell bench press may be the go-to exercise for big chest muscles, but what happens when you can’t get to a gym? Or even worse, what do you do when your gym doesn’t have a proper bench? Here’s what you do: You put your trust in one of the foundational exercises of modern fitness: the push-up.
The latest fit tech advancements might be flashy and offer a fancy way to work your chest, but there’s a reason that the push-up is still around: it works really damn well. Shown to target your chest, front deltoids, and core, the push-up is an excellent upper body exercise that can increase chest size, strength, and endurance.
Whether you are just starting your fitness journey or you’re a fitness junkie looking for new ways to get a bigger chest, push-up variations are the answer. Let’s review the best push-up variations to help you break past a muscle-building plateau and get a bigger chest.
HOW TO DO A REGULAR PUSH-UP?
Before we jump into the best push-up variations for a bigger and stronger chest, let’s review the form, key tips, and safety measures for how to do a regular push-up.
EXECUTION OF THE EXERCISE:
Lie down on a comfortable surface such as a rug, gym mat, etc. Place your toes into the ground and your hands beneath your shoulders. Keep your gaze neutral as you push yourself up into a traditional push-up position.
Your body will form a straight line as you tighten your core. Keep your hips slightly elevated throughout the movement. Bend at the elbows and lower your upper body towards the floor. When the tops of your arms (the triceps) are parallel with the floor, pause and contract the chest muscles. Slowly push yourself back to the starting position. Make sure your hips are not dropping, then go into your next repetition.
- Make sure your hips don’t drop below parallel – If you can’t brace your core and keep your hips slightly elevated, the set is over.
- Don’t let yourself drop to the floor. Take your time and slowly descend, ensuring you focus on the contraction of the chest muscles.
- Don’t extend your hands too far out in front of you. Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders.
- Don’t flare out your elbows in an effort to get more push-ups. Keep your elbows tight and squared with your body.
- While it’s okay if your chest touches the floor, don’t allow yourself a break by resting your chest on the floor.
If you’re a beginner or you’ve had a prior injury involving your wrists, we would recommend using wrist wraps. Not only will they support your form, but they’ll also alleviate any tension or pressure in the wrists as you perform the push-up.
For our older lifters who are still crushing it, if you’re worried about your hips dipping during a push-up, you might want to suit up with a back brace. This will support form as well as alleviate any strain from a past injury or surgery.
What follows are some of the best push-up variations to increase the total number of regular push-ups that you can do as well as see gains in chest size, definition, strength, and endurance.
We’d recommend mastering each of the beginner-based push-up variations before moving on to the next level (intermediate). If you’re already experienced with those push-up variations, begin at the intermediate level and make sure you’re able to properly execute those before jumping into advanced-level push-ups.
Remember that in the beginning of learning a new exercise, it’s not about the number, but the form. Give everything you have to mastering the form of each push-up and leave your ego at the door. You’ll eventually get the numbers you want, but there’s no need to rush through an exercise and hurt yourself.
BEGINNER PUSH-UP VARIATIONS
These beginner-friendly push-up variations are the first step after a standard push-up.
The eccentric push-up emphasizes the portion of the exercise when you are actively lowering your upper body towards the ground. This variation is better for endurance, and it’s a great way to achieve total muscle fatigue. Follow the same form as a regular push-up, but as you lower your upper body towards the ground, do a count of five.
This push-up targets the lower portion of the chest muscles. It’s also great for achieving a full range of motion if you are using two benches or chairs that are separated. Following the same form as above, make sure there’s a space in the middle as you place your hands on two separated benches or chairs. If you only have one bench, that’s okay; just be sure to have a shoulder-width hand placement. Perform a normal push-up, allowing yourself to drop a bit past parallel. You’ll immediately feel the difference in your chest.
By slightly elevating one foot off of the ground, you’ll feel a greater activation in your core. You’ll also challenge your balance and stability in a new way. Assume a regular push-up position and lift your left foot off the ground. Perform a push-up as you normally would, then switch feet for the next set. If you’re not able to keep it elevated during the push-up, you can stack it on your right foot. Don’t forget to alternate which foot is off the ground every set.
The close-grip push-up tends to be better as a triceps-focused exercise, but it still activates the chest. It also presents a new challenge for your stability since your hands will be closer than normal. Using a normal push-up position, move your hands closer together. They should be aligned with your chest muscles, not your shoulders. Perform a push-up as you normally would.
Opposite the close-grip push-up we have the wide-grip variety. By extending your hands outside of shoulder width, you’ll find that your front deltoids are activated more. You’ll also achieve a deeper range of motion. Using a regular push-up position, simply move your hands outside of shoulder width and perform the exercise as normal.
BEGINNER-LEVEL PUSH-UP WORKOUT
Use this beginner-friendly push-up workout for your next chest day.
- Eccentric Push-Up: 2 sets of 5 to 15 repetitions
- Incline Push-Up: 2 x 10 – 15
- One-Leg Push-Up: 2 x 5 – 10
- Close-Grip Push-Up: 1 x 10 – 15
- Wide-Grip Push-Up: 1 x 10 – 15
INTERMEDIATE PUSH-UP VARIATIONS
Using these intermediate-level push-up variations are an excellent way to boost more than muscle mass; you’ll also be able to increase your bench press.
Decline push-ups place more activation in the upper chest and front deltoids; you’ll also need your core game to be on point. Place your feet on a bench, chair, or stable elevated surface. Be sure that your core is contracted and tight as you lower your chest towards the floor. Maintain a neutral gaze and watch out for flaring elbows.
Staggered Hands Push-Up
Use the regular push-up stance that we described above, but slide the left hand down towards your ribs while keeping the other one underneath your shoulder. Every few reps, switch hands. Just be sure to keep it the same for every set. For example, if you’re aiming for 20 push-ups, switch hands every five repetitions.
As you perform a regular push-up, bring your left leg up and to the side of your body towards your left shoulder. Pause just above the ground, holding this form. Slowly kick back your left leg, then repeat on the other side of your body.
From the regular push-up position, move your right hand and foot simultaneously to the right side. Perform a push-up, and once you return to the top of the movement, go again to the right side. Perform five push-ups to the right, then switch, moving your left hand and foot at the same time towards the left side. Keep the number of push-ups you do on each side even. For example, if you can’t do ten push-ups, but you can perform six, then aim for three on the right side and three on the left side.
An advanced version of this exercise involves lowering yourself down towards the floor then moving to the side from the lowered position.
From a regular push-up position, lower yourself as you normally would towards the ground. From here, drive your hips backward as you lie your forearms flat on the ground. Pause here then move forward and return to the lowered position of a push-up. Finish by pushing your upper body to the starting position. That’s one repetition.
INTERMEDIATE-LEVEL PUSH-UP WORKOUT
If you feel comfortable with all of the intermediate-level push-up exercises, then you can use this on your next chest day. However, if there’s one or two exercises that you’re still trying to master, that’s okay. Feel free to sub in one or two of the beginner-level exercises if you need to do so.
- Decline Push-Up: 3 x 10 – 12
- Staggered Hands Push-Up: 2 x 8 – 12
- Spiderman Push-Up: 3 x 5 – 10
- Side-to-Side Push-Ups: 3 x 5 – 10
- Tiger Push-Ups: 2 x 5
ADVANCED PUSH-UP VARIATIONS
The following push-ups require a strong fitness foundation in order to perform safely. We would not recommend these push-ups for beginners due to the potential for an injury. Once you’ve spent a month or two perfecting the form of the beginner-level and intermediate-level push-ups, then you can graduate to these advanced push-up variations.
Begin in a regular push-up position. Spread your hands out past shoulder width and do the same with your feet. You should have a nice wide and stable base. Lower yourself to an inch or so above the ground. Contracting the chest muscles, forcefully push off of the ground so that your hands and feet are off the ground simultaneously. Feel free to clap here if you’d like to, but be sure to have your hands back under you for the landing. As you land, make sure that your hips are not dipping towards the ground. If your hips are good, then don’t waste any time, go immediately into the next repetition.
Begin in a regular push-up position, but take your feet wide just like you did in the plyometric push-up. Move the left hand to your thigh as the right hand is placed directly beneath your shoulder, but favoring the center. You’ll naturally turn a bit to the right side and that’s okay. Lower yourself slowly towards the ground to maintain your form. If you start to fall over, consider widening your foot stance a bit more, but work on narrowing the stance over time. Switch sides and perform the same number of push-ups. That’s one set.
Find a wall or a stable surface where you can comfortably and safely place your feet. You can reverse walk your feet up the wall while you face the ground. Once you reach the point where your body has straightened, stop here. Brace your core and keep a neutral gaze as you slowly lower yourself towards the floor. You’ll feel this one a lot in your shoulders and upper chest muscles. When you finish your set, slowly walk your hands out so you essentially walk down the wall.
Alternating Medicine Ball Push-Up
Find a medium-sized medicine ball and place it on the ground in front of you. Assume a regular push-up position with your right hand next to the medicine ball. To begin, place your right hand on top of the medicine ball. Perform a push up then move your left hand to join your right hand on the medicine ball. Do another push-up, then leave your left hand on the ball as your right hand goes to the ground. Do a push-up and continue this alternating hand movement as you go from right to center to left and back again.
Half Planche Push-Up
Assume a normal push-up position. Move both of your hands down to your ribs. Turn your fingers out so they are facing away from your body. Slowly lower yourself into a normal push-up position, pausing near the bottom of the movement.
To perform a full planche push-up requires an insane amount of upper body strength. We don’t recommend trying unless you have years of experience with working out and a background in gymnastics or yoga. Essentially, a full planche push-up will have you elevate your feet off the ground so that you are supporting yourself with only your hands. From here, you lower your body towards the ground and back up again. Like we said, it’s no joke so don’t try to be a hero if you are a beginner.
ADVANCED-LEVEL PUSH-UP WORKOUT
As mentioned above, if you have successfully completed a couple months of beginner and intermediate-level push-ups, then you should attempt these advanced-level push-ups. Just like with the previous workout, it’s okay to mix in a couple beginner or intermediate-level push-ups if you’re not able to complete the full advanced workout.
- Plyometric Push-Up: 3 x 5 – 10
- One-Armed Push-Up: 3 x 1 – 7
- Feet-on-the-Wall Push-Up: 2 x 5 – 10
- Alternating Medicine Ball Push-Up: 2 x 6 – 12
- Half Planche Push-Up: 3 x 1 – 10
HYBRID CHEST DAY WORKOUT
Taking into account all of the push-up variations from above, can these exercises fit comfortably into a chest day workout involving weights? Of course! During a weight-based workout program, push-ups make an excellent tool to bring the muscle to complete fatigue.
We would recommend using a super set format, pairing the big chest exercises such as the barbell bench press with push-ups as a finishing movement. Here’s a chest day workout that incorporates both weight-based exercises and a variety of push-ups.
A1: Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions (use 75% to 85% of your one-rep max)
A2: Wide-Grip Push-Up: 3 x 5 – 10
B1: Dumbbell Incline Flyes: 3 x 8 – 12
B2: Staggered Hands Push-Up: 3 x 5 – 10
C1: Cable Crossover: 3 x 10 – 15
C2: Plyometric Push-Up: 2 x Failure
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PUSH-UP VARIATION?
Are you able to do any of the advanced push-ups? Have a video or picture of yourself doing a push-up we didn’t mention above? Tag us on Instagram so we can share it!