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The push-up is one of the all-time greatest bodyweight exercises, and for good reason. It works your chest, triceps, shoulders and even your core. You can also do countless variations of the push-up to emphasize different muscle groups. Here are the best types of push-ups and their benefits (plus a bonus “bad” push-up at the end). Let’s get started!
1. Diamond Push-up
The diamond push-up, also known as the triangle push-up, is a popular variation that targets the triceps more than the chest and shoulders. You simply touch your hands together and form the shape of a diamond, forcing your triceps to take over the movement. It’s the push-up equivalent of the close-grip bench press that improves your overall pushing strength and assists with elbow flexibility.
2. Incline Push-up
As the name suggests, the incline push-up elevates your upper body to change the angle of the exercise. You place your hands on an elevated surface and keep your feet on the floor, targeting your upper chest and anterior delt (front shoulder muscle). While it’s an effective isolation exercise, the lack of resistance makes it too easy, even for intermediate weight lifters.
You can make the push-up more challenging by wearing a weight vest or slowing down the tempo of each rep.
3. Decline Push-up
The decline push-up has the opposite setup of the incline variation. Instead of elevating your upper body, you elevate your lower body to put more tension on the middle and lower chest. This type of push-up also forces you to rely on your core more than your legs for stability, so it can be an effective ab workout as well.
Think of this exercise as a variation of the traditional dip. As you lower yourself to the floor, make sure you keep your shoulders still and arms tucked close to your body. If you lose tension in your shoulders and let your arms flare out, you could suffer a serious rotator cuff injury. Your reps should be slow and controlled.
4. Clap Push-up
The clap push-up is a unique type of push-up because it trains your fast-twitch muscles more than the other variations on this list. When you push yourself up, you clap once (or however many times you can manage) and move your hands back into position before falling to the floor. The exercise forces your muscles to handle sudden movements and shifts in weight.
It’s not the best variation for hypertrophy, but it will certainly help you develop your strength, balance and hand-eye coordination. Try it after you get comfortable with the normal push-up to avoid injury.
5. Fingertips Push-up
This advanced variation takes a lot of practice and strength to master. It looks like a normal push-up, but instead of resting on your palms, you rest on your fingertips, which throws off your balance and pushes your forearm strength to the limit. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it’s one of the most beneficial types of push-ups at training your chest and arms.
The fingertips push-up is so effective because it replicates the instability of the traditional bench press that you’d perform at the gym. Your grip strength falters before your chest, shoulders and triceps do. Your arms start to wobble, forcing you to work harder to stabilize yourself. Give it a try, if you think you’re up to the challenge!
6. 21’s Push-up
The 21’s push-up is an interesting variation. The hand placement is the same as a normal push-up, but the exercise has three parts:
- Halfway down: lower your body halfway down and push up for seven reps.
- Halfway up: lower your body the whole way down and push yourself halfway up for seven reps.
- Full range of motion: do seven normal push-ups.
Each part has a different range of motion, which gives your chest a great stretch and recruits more muscle fibers. The burn is almost intolerable if you perform the exercise correctly. It’s also a flexible addition to intense training programs because you can apply the 21’s rep range to any exercise you want.
7. Sphinx Push-up
This exercise hits your triceps better than the other types of push-ups. Think of how the Great Sphinx of Giza rests with its forelegs extended in front of its body. The set-up for this exercise looks very similar. Instead of flaring your elbows to the sides, you keep them in line with your body. Your entire forearms should touch the floor before you push yourself back up.
This variation puts all the emphasis on your triceps and takes your chest and shoulders out of the picture. If you can’t do the exercise on the floor, try it on an elevated surface first to get familiar with the movement.
8. Spiderman Push-up
This unique variation combines the push-up with an ab-burning exercise called mountain climbers. As you lower yourself to the floor, you bring one leg up to your shoulders and alternate legs with each rep. You will look like Spiderman climbing a wall, hence the name. It blasts your core while still testing your chest and arms, making this type of push-up an effective upper body workout all around. Add it to your routine!
9. Archer Push-up
The archer push-up is another fantastic variation that trains your core. Set your hands wide apart and lower yourself with one arm at a time. The movement looks similar to an archer drawing a bowstring, since one hand remains still while the other extends farther away. It puts all the weight on one side, forcing your muscles on that side to work harder. This type improves strength, muscle imbalances and coordination.
10. BAD: Staggered Hands Push-up
The staggered hands push-up is an adequate exercise on its own. It can build core strength and help solve asymmetry issues for beginners. However, the alternative exercises are so much better that the staggered push-up is effectively a waste of time. Several types of push-ups on this list train your core better, and the archer push-up is much more challenging for addressing muscle imbalances.
This push-up can help you get more comfortable with the movement as a whole, but it’s just not quite as effective as the other variations on this list. Don’t waste your time doing it when you can perform the archer or spiderman push-up instead.
Nothing Like the Good Old Push-Up
You have many types of push-ups to experiment with, each with their own merits and benefits. But they all stem from one exercise that has stood the test of time: the traditional push-up. It remains a staple in the fitness community because it’s simply effective and effectively simple. Add one of these variations to your workout routine, or just do the good old push-up. You can’t go wrong with this exercise!