This post will focus on one of the most basic of bodyweight movements, the push-up. There are many, many variations available to us with the push-up, from varying our hand position to the foot position to adding things in the middle of the push-up.
In this list, we’ve covered the basics and some common variations, as well as a few quite challenging ones. Feel free to substitute any of these variations into the PaleoFit workouts where push-ups are programmed—You ARE doing the PaleoFit workouts, right?—or just do them on their own when you’ve got a few minutes. You’d be surprised at how just a few push-ups everyday can make a difference in how you look and feel, not to mention doing supine push-ups is a helluva party trick.
Here we go!
1. Basic Push-up
The basic push-up is performed by starting in a high plank position. This means having your face downwards, hands and toes on the ground without any other part of the body making contact with the ground.
From this position, squeeze the butt, and try to get your hip bones closer to your ribcage. It should feel a little bit like a “crunch.” Then be sure that your shoulders are directly over your hands, with the pointy part of the elbow pointing down towards your toes.
From this position, draw your elbows back until your chest touches the ground, then drive hard by pressing your hands into the floor, until your body rises back to the high plank position.
2. Pause Push-ups
Use the same set-up and guidelines as the basic push-up, except do NOT touch your chest to the ground at the bottom. Instead, stop short about an inch from the ground and pause there for at least 1 second. Then push-up into the top position.
For this variation, you will NOT touch your chest to the ground, instead you will hover about an inch off the ground. This “pause” at the bottom of the movement can also be incorporated into many other of the push-up variation.
3. Elevated Hands/Incline
One way to make the basic push-up easier is to elevate the hands to change the angle of the body to the floor. Simply put your hands on the back of a couch, box, or a couple of sturdy chairs. Using the same form as the basic push-up, touch your chest to the object you are using and return to the starting position.
* Note: Generally speaking, it’s preferable to do an elevated push-up instead of doing a push-up from the knees. It’s easier, better to track progress towards a basic push-up by lowering the hands over time, instead of trying to go from the knees, and then to the toes.
Making a diamond shape with the hands, place them directly underneath your sternum. Keeping all the same cues as the basic push-up, drop down until your chest lays on top of your hands, then drive into the floor to rise back to the high plank position.
Starting with the hands at least six inches away from the body (and perhaps even more), use the same cues from basic push-up, and lower yourself until the chest touches the ground, and then return to the top position by driving your hands into the floor.
6. Staggered Push-up
Start with the hands staggered, one generally a few inches above your shoulder, and the other a few inches below the shoulder. Essentially, one is up, and one is down. Using the same cues as the basic push-up, lower yourself until the chest touches the ground, then drive into the floor to rise back to the high plank position.
7. Opposite Toe Touch
Perform a basic push-up while in the high plank position, draw one leg up and make contact with its matching elbow (i.e. right knee to right elbow). Perform another push-up and repeat the touching of the elbow and knee on the other side (i.e. left knee to left elbow).
8. Hand Switch Push-ups
Using a med ball, or other firm object, place one hand on the object and the other hand on the floor. Perform a basic push-up (with the one hand elevated). Just as you arrive back at the top of the push-up, explode up and switch hands on the object, and repeat on the other side.
9. Side Plank Push-up
Perform a basic push-up, and from the top, high plank position, turn sideways and reach up toward the sky with the left hand, balancing on your right hand and the side of your right foot to form a tilted “t” with your body. Return your hand to the ground and do another push-up, changing to the other side (left hand on ground, right hand reaching high).
Perform a basic push-up, and as you arrive at the top position, explode forcefully, and while in the air, clap your hands just in front of your chest, then return them to the ground. This all happens withing a split second, so be quick!
11. Side to Side Push-up
With the hands in the position of a wide push-up, shift your upper body so that your right shoulder is over your right hand, while your left arm is extended and sticking straight out from the side of you. Perform a push-up in this position. Once back at the top, shift over the other side (left shoulder over left hand, with right arm extended) and perform a push-up on the opposite side as well.
Using a pair of blocks, books, or anything else to put your hands on, brace yourself up so that you have to go even deeper than normal to touch your chest to the ground. This is the main object of the elevated blocks, to force you to go even deeper into the bottom of the push-ups.
13. Hand Release Push-ups
Perform a basic push-up, however, when you get to the bottom, with your chest touching the ground, squeeze your shoulders and bring your hands an inch off the ground. You’ll be “resting” on the ground on your chest and legs, while bringing your hands off the ground. After having your hands off the ground (even for a split second), return them to the ground and press and finish the push-up in the high plank position. This “hand release” can also be used with many of the other push-up variations to ensure consistent range of motion.
14. Elevated Feet
Similar to the elevated hands, but the opposite. Use a chair or edge of a couch to elevate the feet. Perform a basic push-up.
15. Dive Bomber Push-up
Start in the high plank position, with legs and arms straight, and drive your hips high into the air, and your head down. This should put you into a sort of “downward dog” position, to borrow a term from yoga. From this position, and keeping your hips high, lower your head until your nose almost scrapes the floor, then follow with your hips as if you were trying to squeeze yourself under a bar for a limbo. Then drive your hips high to return to the “downward dog” position.
16. Under the Fence
Start in the downward dog position, with arms extended past your ears, and your butt as high to the ceiling as possible. Dive under (same as the Dive Bomber Push-up) an imaginary fence, finishing with your waist as low as possible and your head and shoulders high. Then reverse direction, once again as if there was a fence you were trying to push backwards under, finishing back in the downward dog position.
17. Supine (Underhand Push-Ups)
Set up for a basic push-up. Rotate your hands so the fingertips are pointed back towards your feet. From this position, do a basic push-up, with a good straight position, and chest touching the ground before returning to the top position.
Bonus: Handstand Push-up
Using a wall as a safety, place your hands 6-12 inches from the wall and kick your legs up high into a handstand. Keeping your butt and feet against the wall, in a controlled fashion lower yourself until your head makes contact with the ground. Immediately drive your hands into the floor and push yourself back up to a handstand position.
Caution: DON’T CRASH ON YOUR HEAD! ONLY DO THIS MOVEMENT IF YOU FEEL SUPER CONFIDENT IN YOUR ABILITY!