High Performance Training without the Equipment: 5 Pushup Variations

About the Author: Eric Cressey

I’ve written several times in the past about how it’s important to not only balance your upper body pushing and pulling exercises, but also make sure that you have a similar volume of open- and closed-chain exercises in the pushing component.  In other words, you need to have plenty of pushup variations to “cancel out” all  the bench pressing variations in your strength training program.

There’s a problem, though; most of you can do a ton of pushups, and are in need of something more challenging that can take this beyond simply a warm-up.  With that in mind, I wanted to use today’s post to highlight some pushup variations we use quite frequently at Cressey Performance.  While a few might require some of the cooler amenities (e.g., chains, slideboard) we’ve got at our fingertips, most are drills you’ll be able to perform without them.  Without further ado, here are five pushup variations to throw some variety in your strength and conditioning program.

Pushup Variations #1 and #2: Feet Elevated and Band Resisted Pushups

I combine these two not only because they were both in the same video that I’d taken for Show and Go, but also because they represent two of the most convenient solutions for the typical lifter.

Elevating the feet not only makes the movement a bit more challenging from an anti-extension core training perspective, but it also increases activity of the serratus anterior, as I wrote HERE.  Believe it or not, while this modification makes the movement harder as a whole, it can often take away symptoms completely in some folks with shoulder pain.

In the case of the band-resisted pushup variation, the resistance accommodates the strength curve.  In other words, the band deloads at the bottom of the movement where you’re the weakest, and picks up resistance as you go further up toward the top of the movement, where you’re the strongest.

Pushup Variation #3: Chain Pushups

Okay, this one will require you to have some equipment, but trust me when I say that if you do decide to get some for your home gym set-up, you’ll use them over and over again – and not just for pushup variations!  As with the bands progression above, chain pushups are a form of accommodating resistance; the load is heavier where you’re strongest.  I also like chains because they allow you to quickly and easily modify resistance on the fly for drop sets or to simply make the exercise easier as a set progresses.  And, they can be pretty challenging:

Let’s assume conservatively that you’re lifting 60% of your body weight with a pushup.  At 190 pounds, that’s 114 pounds for me.  When you combine it with 10 chains at 15 pounds each, you’re looking at about 264 pounds of resistance.  Who says you can’t load up a pushup?

Pushup Variation #4: 1-leg Pushup Variations

One quick and easy way to make any exercise harder is to reduce the number of ground contact points.  On a normal pushup, you have four (both hands and feet).  Simply taking one foot off the floor not only increases the loading on the upper body, but also imposes a subtle anti-rotation challenge to your core.  You can do it feet-elevated, too:

Of course, you can combine the 1-leg pushup with external loading, too:

Pushup Variation #5: 1-arm Push-ups

Sticking with the theme of reducing the numbers of points of stability, you can go to one-arm pushup variations as well.  You don’t have to be diesel enough to do these from the floor to get the benefits, though; you can simply press from a pin in a power rack.

As you get stronger and more comfortable with the movement, you can move the pin down to increase the challenge.

Start thinking about how you can integrate these in your strength training program, and I’ll be back soon with five more pushup variations you can use to take things even further.

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