Home Blog High Performance Training Without the Equipment: 6 More Pushup Variations

High Performance Training Without the Equipment: 6 More Pushup Variations

Written on January 21, 2011 at 4:45 am, by Eric Cressey

In yesterday’s post, I outlined the importance of including pushup variations in your strength training program and introduced five ways to progress this basic exercise. Today, I’ve got six more pushup variations for you.

Pushup Variation #6: Yoga Pushups

I like Yoga pushups not because they are a subtle increase in difficulty over a regular pushup, but because they afford some extra mobility benefits at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine.  They’re a great addition to a dynamic warm-up.

Pushup Variation #7: Spiderman Pushups

While it increases the difficulty a bit more than a yoga pushup, the spiderman pushup still affords some great hip mobility benefits.

One word of caution, though; it’s my experience that folks tend to “slip” into a forward head posture more often with the spiderman pushup than any other pushup variation, so make sure that you don’t let the head poke forward as the elevated leg’s hip goes into flexion and abduction.

Pushup Variation #8: Slideboard Pushup Variations

We utilize the slideboard a ton at Cressey Performance – and pushups are no exception.  Two of our favorites are slideboard pushups with band and slideboard bodysaw pushups.

In the case of the former, we take a 1/2″ band and wrap it around the wrists.  This band wants to pull you into internal rotation and horizontal adduction at the shoulder, so you have to activate the posterior rotator cuff and scapular retractors to hold the ideal pushup position.

The bodysaw pushups really take things up a notch on the difficulty scale, as they not only make the hand positioning dynamic, but also increase the anti-extension core challenge.

Pushup Variation #9: Pushup Iso Hold w/Perturbations

In our DVD set, Optimal Shoulder Performance, Mike Reinold and I spend quite a bit of time talking about the value of rhythmic stabilization drills to train the true function of the rotator cuff.  I’m also a big fan of pushup isometric holds to teach proper scapular positioning and educate athletes on ideal posture.  In the 1-leg pushup iso hold with perturbations, we get all those benefits – plus some added instability training because there are only three points of contact with the ground.

Pushup Variation #10: TRX Pushups

The TRX is probably the most versatile piece of equipment out there other than the barbell and the functional trainer – and one of its most basic uses is pushup variations.

As I alluded to in my e-book, The Truth About Unstable Surface Training, the instability created by the TRX likely allows you to maintain muscle activation in the upper extremity even though less loading is needed.  This means that when performed correctly, TRX pushups may have a place in a return-to-function protocol after rehab, or even simply as a deloading strategy in a strength and conditioning program.

For more information, check out the Fitness Anywhere website.

Pushup Variation #11: T-Pushups

Last, but certainly not least, we have the T-Pushup.  This pushup variation is great because it not only involves constant changing of the points of stability, but also because it requires thoracic spine rotation.  To increase the challenge, you can hold dumbbells in your hands.

I’ve listed 11 variations in the past two posts, but I know that a lot of you out there have some innovative pushup variations to suggest as well.  Let’s hear ’em in the comment section!

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  • Andrew

    These are great! As a boxer, I do a lot of bodyweight exercises, esp. push-ups & pull-ups. I love the push-up variations. I am going to incorporate some of these into my daily workouts to mix it up. I especially liked the one-legged push-up, the T-push-up and the spiderman push-up. I will definitely give those a go next time.

    Keep up the good work! Everything you post is great stuff!

  • Thanks EC,

    Like the push up iso hold.

    Rick Kaselj of http://ExercisesForInjuries.com

    .

  • Eric-great post. We do the yoga push-ups slightly differently by pushing the hips back and up from the “down” push-up position. Either way-great dynamic warm-up exercise and great lead in to overhead pressing.

  • Vaseem

    Great variations Eric – especially the loaded ones, but they’re primarily stabilisation focussed and I’m surprised you have missed all the plyometric push-up variations, which I always find the most intense form – clapping hands together, chest clap and clap behind back.

    These are great, intense bw exercises that have a hugely explosive upper body component.

  • Michael Richards

    This is great stuff! I will be applying some of these to my programs!

  • Andrew

    @Vaseem
    These are top tier for stabilization, scapular, and like he said rotator cuff. The different positions challenge core strength, which I think alot of people need to work on their core and proper scapular stabilization before they move on to explosive/plyometric pushup variations. As the post is titled “more” pushup variations. The average trainee should start with variations from the first post and obviously move through the spectrum after developing a good foundation.

  • Spiderman Push Up: Pull 1-Leg Up (ABD, ER & Hip Fl) while reaching opp arm forward or pushing opp arm forward with slide board/valslide

    Lateral Push Up: side-to-side across a mat

    Handstand Push Up: use plates/books for progressions

    Push Up 1.5\’s: all the way down, all the way up, all the way down, 1/2 way up

    Bas Ruten Push Up: Push Up, then kick 1 leg across body resulting in 1-arm support w/ opposite leg support, facing perpendicular to floor/starting position.

    Partner Push Up Clap: Head to Head, Do Push Up, slap 5.

    TRX/Towel/Valslide: Push Up + Jacknife

    Offset Push Up: 1-hand on plates, block, mb, dyna disc and other hand on floor

    Total Body Plyo Push Up: everything comes off ground

    Total Body Plyo Push Up Fwd/Bwd or Side-Side

    Total Body Plyo Push Up to Crouching Squat: Kick feet forward and land in deep squat.

    enjoy.

    Thanks for the post EC. How about some high performance vertical pull progressions without equipment?

    Mike Alves

  • Great stuff, Mike! I can tell you run bootcamps. 🙂

  • Hey EC,

    Great post. Here are links to two of my favorite push up variations. A bit crazy I know 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP2i6O_-gC0

  • Golan

    These are some great pushup variations Eric! I am going to start incorporating these into my dynamic warmups and upper body workouts. Here are a couple plyometric pushup variations I have used in the past.

    Side to side explosive pushups over and obstacle: Pretty self explanatory.

    Explosive pushups to balance catch:
    Both hands start on dyna disks with a medicine ball in between them. Do an explosive pushup and catch yourself on the medicine ball with both hands (or one if you feel brave.)

    Corkscrew pushup:
    Explosive pushup with 360 degrees of body rotation in the air.

  • Great posts Eric! I work with a lot of small groups so I’m a huge fan of push up variations as well, especially plyo versions.

    Here’s one i use in our warm up pretty often… Push up + kick out.
    http://blog.gametimestrength.com/2011/01/kickouts.html

    Two push up+mountain climber variations:
    http://blog.gametimestrength.com/2010/12/push-up-mountain-climber-combo-advanced.html

    Here’s a slightly more challenging Plyo Superman push up.
    http://blog.gametimestrength.com/2011/01/plyo-superman-push-up.html

    Great stuff by the way, your blog always gets me thinking!

  • Great Post! Really like the variation and incorporating some yoga into push ups. I have been looking for a way to mix up my push up routine and this is exactly what I was looking for.

  • Robert Autry

    Eric this is the kind of material I can use personally and with my clients. I like the body saw pushup on the slide board.

  • Travis

    Very cool options! I will definitely be incorporating a few of those into my own program as well as others’ programs.

    One variation I like is slow eccentric push-ups, or push-up eccentrics from a raised stable or unstable surface (so boxes, or med balls under the hands), as one gets a good stretch nearing the ground too.

    One rebuttal I sometimes hear people say is that you can’t “load” a lot of weight on push-ups like you can with open-chain pressing. However, besides using chains, etc., a good way to go pretty heavy is “eccentric only” push-ups with heavy loads, keeping perfect form until you reach the ground (and the partner takes the load off once you get to the ground- then come back up and repeat).

  • Travis

    Very cool variations! I will definitely be incorporating a few of those into my own program as well as other programs.

    One variation I like is slow eccentric push-ups, or push-up eccentrics from a raised stable or unstable surface (so boxes, or med balls under the hands), as one gets a good stretch nearing the ground too.

    Similarly, and to refute one popular rebuttal I sometimes hear people say about not being able to load lots of weight like you can in open-chain pressing movements, is the eccentric only “heavy load” push-up. Load plates onto the mid to upper back and keep perfect form on the way down until you reach the ground (then the partner takes the load off or helps lift the load on your way up, and you repeat for the desired amount of reps).

  • Joe, I really like those variations you threw up there. Cool stuff!

  • Eric;

    Really like the options with pushups. I cant wait to try them out.

    Lisa of http://prodigefittips.wordpress.com

  • Eric,

    I am a big fan of these:

    1. Push Up Arm Raise: Perform a push up and lift an arm for quick hold, drop back into next push up and raise the other arm, continue to alternate.

    2. Band Assisted Push Ups – have various applications

    3. TRX and Barbell Push Up Rollout combos

    4. I think the TRX one arm push up is a great anti rotation push up exercise

    The TRX offers quite a bit of versatility in the push up department…

    5. Mini Bands on the wrists…

    Greg

  • Mike Donato

    My preferred variations :

    1) Medicine/Bosu ball (less stable variations)
    – 2 hands on ball
    – 1 hand on ball
    – 1 hand on ball rolling to other hand every pushup
    2) Stability ball
    – feet on ball variations
    – hands on ball variations
    3) Varied hand positions
    – staggered
    – together
    – further apart
    – high/low hands (or feet)
    – single or double hand
    4) Prone press
    Arms fully extended above the head and lift the body up in one spasm (dont do it if you have a bad back)
    – the hardest pushup of them all (not for the faint hearted)
    – and the single hardest pushup in existence, the 1 arm prone press
    5) Plyo/speed pushups
    – clap variations (clap hands, chest, wall to front, above head, etc)
    – incline variations to standing/clapping
    6) Added load variations
    – bands
    – chains
    – TRX
    – dumbbells
    7) Pushup Combinations
    – add in single arm rows with dumbbells or kettlebells
    – rollovers (alternate with dips)
    – pikes
    – walking/crawling (on feet or stability balls)

    The variations are endless …

    Mike

  • Jason,

    Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. I checked out your site. Good stuff brother!

    Joe Meglio

  • Mieke

    I tried the isoholds with perturbations, and they seems to be a really valuable addition to my shoulder regime (which is a little pre-hab and stability work + overhead pressing only). Will you be spending a few words on the rythmic stabilization drills and their benefits in the near future? Pleeeeeeeeeease?

  • Great post.

    I’ve gotten away from doing push-ups, but it’s something I have to get back to. Great articles like this remind me of the importance and the variations and are available.

    Thanks again

  • YK

    I like push-ups, but I don’t find any challenge in them. All those varitations are too easy and don’t give any lifting strength. I could do 6-8 one-arm push-ups from floor back when I could bench 80 kg. Then I progressed to handstands and, again, worked up to 15+ reps in little time while benching only 100 kg, so I think that’s the end of the road for bodyweight pressing for me. I like them loaded, but loading plates is awkward if you train alone and don’t have chains. So no point at all in any of these for me. 🙁

  • YK,

    I can understand what you\’re saying if you\’re training purely to increase your absolute strength for a bench competition. I competed in powerlifting for quite some time however I still incorporate push up variations for myself and my clients for a few reasons.

    – Using plyometric variations in a lower rep range is a great way to turn the strength you built into power for sport. Focus on the speed and power of the movement over the muscular fatigue.
    The comments included a bunch of variations but here are some more… http://blog.gametimestrength.com/2011/01/explosive-push-up-variations-turning.html

    – Push ups variations require very little time to set up so they make the perfect exercise for programs designed with a higher metabolic focus. You can keep the rest periods short, and seamlessly jump between exercises.

    – It\’s not just about the number of reps you can perform, if you\’re focusing on hypertrophy you can also increase the time the muscle is under tension by slowing down the tempo of the movement.

    – Another hypertrophy challenge, try pushups in a tabatta interval style workout where your body is getting negative rest between sets. Very challenging to sustain the reps over a few sets.

    Hope that helps. Push ups can definitely have a place in your training regardless of your strength. Keep training hard!

  • Great series Eric, it have inspired me to include more push-ups in my training from now on, great as a supportive exercise during my workouts .. ..

  • Your article confirms what I have been telling my clients for years. Expensive equipment is generally not needed to strengthen the core muscle groups.

  • I’ve used a pair of hand towels on a hardwood gym floor to simulate the slide pushup. Depending how waxed the floor is you can get quite a bit of variety in resistance. Thanks for all the other ideas and tips.

  • Awesome stuff Eric! I’ve seen most of those variations in the past, but as always, I learn something new from you. Thanks

  • Dilan

    Great stuff, because this is the first time I’ve seen real science explanations for each, as supposed to just “it works your triceps hard bro” type stuff.

    Would also love to see, if possible, articles on the hardest three of all:

    1.Handstand push-ups.
    2.Pike push-ups.
    3.One-arm, non-spread leg, one-arm push-ups (ie Batman style)

    Cheers Eric!

  • Jose

    Love the Iso hold with perturbations and the slide board push up with the band, I’ll start using these in my personal work to strengthen my rotator cuff that was torn last summer. Thanks Eric!

  • Franco

    That iso hold looks great… will have to try it out. I love doing atomic pushups with sliders


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