8 Great Push-Up Variations for Power, Strength, and Size

Try these push-up variations to target specific training adaptations!

The push-up is a foundational bodyweight exercise that every fitness enthusiast can benefit from. 

One of the best things about the push-up is that it comes with multiple variations, which can then be tailored to accommodate for various training goals and adaptations. In this article, we’re going to focus on three different training adaptations that you can train for with the push-up, then discuss variations within each to try in your program.

Before reading further, it’s worth noting that every variation below will have some carryover to the three training adaptations this article is broken into. It’s also important to nail down your traditional push-up form before trying some of the more advanced variations!

If you’re a visual learner, then make sure you check out the video below that provides a rundown of each push-up variations and how to perform them. 

Push-Ups for Power

1. Plyometric Push-Up

A great push-up variation for training upper body power is the plyometric push-up, which is also referred to as the clap push-up. This variation is a great intro for building upper body power because it only requires one’s bodyweight and can be scaled by adding a clap, or simply explosively pressing the body away from the ground. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Great exercise to learn how to create power through the upper body pressing muscles. 
  2. Can be scaled in a few different ways.
  3. No equipment required!
Plyometric Push-Up
Plyometric Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • Be mindful of your hips sagging, or shifting upwards to create momentum. The goals is to be strict with your body’s rigidity and create power solely using the upper pressing muscles. 
  • If you’re new to this movement, try to limit the clap and simply get the body off the ground. Personally, I prefer doing this even though I can clap because it helps keep my hand positioning consistent throughout multiple reps. 

Push-Ups for Strength

1. Close-Grip Push-Up

The close-grip push-up is fantastic for building strength in the triceps. You’ll be strengthening the pecs and anterior deltoids with this movement similar to the close-grip bench press, however, if you want to shift more stress on the tris, then this variation is a great option. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Fantastic variation for targeting the triceps, which are responsible for lockout strength in pressing movements.
  2. Easily modifiable and can be a great entry movement for newer fitness enthusiasts
Close-Grip Push-Up
Close-Grip Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • A grip width of just under the shoulders is often a great starting point. Bringing the hands in too close can cause shoulder discomfort for some trainees, so to limit this, I prefer going with a similar grip that I use in the barbell close-grip bench press.
  • Avoid hips sagging and control the eccentric, then contract fully with the triceps at the top to work on the mind muscle connection of this exercise. 

2. Spider Push-Up

The spider push-up is a slightly more advanced exercise as it requires both upper body strength and core strength to connect multiple movements in one exercise. This is a fantastic movement for strength because it increases the time under tension you’re performing the physical push-up for while forcefully contracting the core. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Require athletes to connect multiple bodyweight movements in one! 
  2. Increase time under tension and can help improve one’s proprioception of hip positioning in the push-up. 
Spider Push-Up
Spider Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • Watch the hips! Be very mindful of hiking up the hips to accommodate for either lack of strength or mobility. Scale back range of motion if you find yourself doing this. 
  • Contract the core when at the bottom of the push-up, and think, “knee to forearm”, and this can be a useful to ensure you’re maintaining good mechanics. 

3. Stagger Grip Push-Up

The stagger grip push-up is often neglected, but it’s a great variation for changing things up and strengthening some of the smaller musculature that surrounds the body parts needed to execute great push-ups. I like to compare the stagger grip push-up to unilateral pressing work, even though this movement is performed bilaterally. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Build strength in different ranges of motion and with different mechanics. In sport, rarely is a movement ever perfect, and this variation is great for replicating the various angles in which you might need to horizontally press.
  2. Useful for strengthening smaller, often neglected muscles that surround the upper body. 
Stagger Grip Push-Up
Stagger Grip Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • Perform these within your limits. Start with a small stagger, then work up to about a hand’s width stagger. Basically, let your strength and comfort dictate the variation you perform. 
  • Use a slow eccentric to truly feel areas that may be tight or lagging when performing this offset grip push-up.

4. Traditional Push-Up

There’s a reason the traditional push-up is a bodyweight staple across the fitness industry — it’s that good at improving pressing strength. Don’t sleep on the basics when trying to build upper body strength with the standard push-up. It’s easy to perform anywhere, can be scaled relatively easily, and has a low bar to entry!

Why They’re Great

  1. Upper body bodyweight training staple that can be easily scaled. 
  2. No equipment required, ever. 

Performance Notes

  • Use a grip width that is similar to what you use in the barbell bench press and scale it from there to target various areas of the upper body. Wider to create a larger pec stretch, and close to target the triceps.
  • Watch hip sag and make sure you perform perfect reps, as this is the lead in to every variation that will follow.

Push-Ups for Hypertrophy

1. Deficit Push-Up

The deficit push-up is a great variation for improving upper body hypertrophy. By adding a slightly bigger stretch on the pec musculature and upper body, you’re able to to increase range of motion, which can result in greater adaptation when it comes to improving hypertrophy. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Useful for increasing stretch on the pecs. 
  2. Easily scalable and it’s a great bodyweight, on-the-go option for targeting upper body hypertrophy. 
Deficit Push-Up
Deficit Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • If you’re new to this variation, start with a smaller deficit and feel out the movement and its difference in mechanics slowly. 
  • Too large of deficits can result in some upper body discomfort and are signs to scale back the height. As a rule of thumb, stop yourself once you feel your scapulas start to lose their positioning, a.k.a fold in together and compromise your upper body rigidity.

2. Incline/Decline Push-Ups

Similar to targeting various areas of the pecs in the traditional bench press, the incline and decline push-up are great for facilitating a similar outcome. These are also fantastic for hypertrophy because they’re relatively low stress, easy to scale, and can be performed for very high reps. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Easy to perform, and are a great lead in for the traditional barbell incline and decline bench press. 
  2. Their heights can be scaled based on your needs, as opposed to fixed benches used in traditional presses.
Incline and Decline Push-Ups
Incline and Decline Push-Ups

Performance Notes

  • Be very mindful of hip dip in the decline push-up. Since there’s no backing to support the posterior, then the hips can tend to dip during the eccentric. A useful cue to fix this is to think, “push back into the heels and squeeze the core.” 
  • Choose heights that accommodate for your expertise and strength levels. Start and work up to “normal” incline and decline heights. 
  • When it comes to grip width, use a grip that’s similar to what you use in the barbell decline and incline bench press.

3. 1 1/2 Rep Push-Ups

The 1 1/2 rep push-up is one of my absolute favorite variations for hypertrophy. This movement requires little adjustment to your normal push-up form and adds a half rep, which is great for increasing time under tension and isolating very specific ranges of motion. 

Why They’re Great

  1. Useful for increasing time under tension. 
  2. Can target very specific ranges of motion in the 1/2 rep portion of the exercise.
  3. Easily scaled for various fitness levels. 
1 1:2 Rep Push-Up
1 1/2 Rep Push-Up

Performance Notes

  • Be mindful of your hips and mechanics. In the 1/2 rep portion it’s easy to neglect form over trying to achieve the extra movement. 
  • Pick a range of motion that supports your goals. Trying to improve strength from the bottom of the press? Add the half rep at the bottom, and if you’re trying to improve lockout strength, then add the half rep at the top!

Wrapping Up

The push-up is a fantastic bodyweight training tool and can be useful for accomplishing multiple training goals. Hopefully this article helped shine light on push-up variations that you might not be using in your program to target specific goals. 

Push-Up FAQs

Is the push-up a beginner friendly exercise?

Yep! The push-up is a great upper body bodyweight training tool for beginners. It can be an awesome tool for progressing beginners into traditional barbell bench pressing.

How should I program push-ups?

That depends on your main training goals! If your goal is to use them to accrue extra training volume, then add them in at the end of your workout and perform high-rep or AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets.

For those who are newer to training and using the push-up to build strength, then add them at the beginning of your workout and perform sets and reps within your strength levels and means.

What are the benefits of the push-up?

The push-up has a ton of benefits and these include:

  • Great for beginners beginning to train.
  • No equipment needed.
  • Easy to scale for a variety of training needs and goals.
  • Good for building strength, increasing power, and improving upper body hypertrophy.

What are some common mistakes with the push-up?

Like every exercise, the push-up has some common mistakes that fitness enthusiasts can fall victim. Below are three common mistakes to avoid when performing push-ups.

  1. Hips sagging when performing the movement.
  2. Letting the hands come off the ground and not gripping the floor.
  3. Not driving back into the heels to maintain a hollow body posture.

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