5 Different Types of Push-Ups for Every Fitness Goal

These push-up variations are perfect for every athlete and fitness goal!

Having the ability to regress, progress, and integrate a wide array of push-up variations within training programs is key for overall performance and growth. Beginners and advanced lifters and athletes alike can benefit from the push-up. Coaches can use the push-up and it’s direct variations to further promote goal specific outcomes, many of which are discussed below.

In this article we will discuss everything push-ups and cover:

Targeting Your Fitness Goals With Push-Ups


Instead of mindlessly doing push ups and other exercises for the sake of doing them, we hope to arm lifters and coaches with some push-ups options to fit their goals/training needs. Below are five (5) common fitness goals and who can benefit from attaining them.

Push Up Variations
Photo By 4 PM production / Shutterstock

Power

Maximal power output is key for athletes, fighters, and anyone looking to maximize muscle growth. In the push-up, this means performing plyometrics to induce new muscle growth and stimulate type II muscle fiber recruitment.

Weightliers, powerlifters, fighters, and sports athletes can benefit from including these into upper body training programs. Additionally, general fitness goers can use plyometric push-ups to further stimulate neurological development and muscular growth.

Strength and Hypertrophy

Weightlifters, powerlifters, and fitness athletes alike can benefit from gaining upper body strength and lockout performance. The push-ups, more specifically some of the more advanced push-ups variations below, can help to develop triceps lockout strength and overhead stability necessary for sport specific lifts like the bench press, jerk, and snatch.

Additionally, the push-up and it’s variations can be used to build general upper body strength in all level fitness goers and active individuals.

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness and CrossFit athletes must be able to perform a wide array of push-up variation. Exercises like the handstand push-ups, burpee, and hand release push-ups are all direct variations of the push-up and demand rigorous training and proper form in order to be efficient and effective in training workouts and competitive WODs.

General Fitness

Adopting an active and healthy lifestyle is key to overall health and well-being at any age and ability level. Bodyweight exercises are a great way to integrate strength training, muscle hypertrophy, and functional movement into training programs.

Integrating a variety of push-up types into workouts can help to improve fitness levels, boost strength, and aid in quality of life for everyday lifters, athletes, and beginners alike.

5 Push-Up Variations for Every Fitness Goal


Below are five (5) push-up variations to increase power, strength, muscle hypertrophy, and fitness. Coaches and lifters can integrate the below exercises within training programs to create training adaptations for the specific training goals discussed above.

1. Plyometric Push-Up

The plyometric push-up is an advanced progression of the standard push-up, one that requires proper push-up technique, core stability, and upper body strength.

Goal(s) Targeted – Plyometric Push-Up

Below are the primary goals targeted by the inclusion of plyometric push-ups. Note, the plyometric push-up is a powerful addition to nearly every training program, even in small doses.

Power

The plyometric push-up can increase the rate of force development and power output of the chest and triceps. This can be helpful for contact/combat athletes and improve the rate of force production in lifters.

Strength and Hypertrophy

The plyometric push-up can be used to help improve power output, muscle growth, improve the rate of force production, and enhance muscle fitting rates in the chest and triceps. While maximal strength is often seen at low velocities, improved capacity to accelerate loads can translate over to maximal strength lifts.

The plyometric push-up can improve muscle growth and hypertrophy due to its ability to target type II muscle fibers. These fast twitch muscle fibers can improve the ability to recruit and utilize more muscle mass, increase force output, and ultimately perform more work.

Functional Fitness

Functional fitness athletes can benefit from including plyometric push-ups within training programs as they can translate to movements like burpees and hand release push-ups. The plyometric push-up can improve overall push-up performance, explosiveness, and work output under fatigue.

Muscles Worked – Plyometric Push-Up

Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by the plyometric push-ups.

  • Pectorals
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Core Muscles

How to Perform the Plyometric Push-Up

Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the bodyweight plyometric push-ups.

  • Step 1: Assume the push-up position, with the core tight and the lower back flat. The upper back should remain contracted and stable.
  • Step 2: Descend into the bottom of the push-up increasing speeds as you drop.
  • Step 3: Without stopping at the bottom of the push-up, aggressively change directions and push yourself away from the ground with all out effort to accelerate your torso into the air. The hands should be able to be lifted off the floor.
  • Step 4: Go directly into your next repetition without stopping, making sure to absorb your bodyweight with the chest and back  muscles as you descend into your next rep.

2. Close Grip Push-Up

The close grip push-ups is a variation that is effective at increasing tricep strength and mass while minimizing shoulder involvement in the press.

1.
Establish Hand Placement

Assume a normal push-up position and place the hand narrower than your normal grip. A good rule of thumb is to go shoulder width or narrower and base hand placement on what’s most comfortable.

Coach’s Tip: Using a diamond push-up setup works fine, but often times, this grip can be uncomfortable.

2.
Begin the Descent

Once you’ve established your grip and push-up position, begin the descent by gripping the floor and keeping the elbows tucked.

Remember that the goal is to target the pecs and triceps, so think about loading these areas the most during the eccentric. 

3.
Press Up and Squeeze

After you’ve hit the full eccentric, squeeze the pecs and triceps and press through the floor to return to your starting position.

Coach’s Tip: Remember to consistently grip the floor and be mindful of where you’re shifting force to!

Goal(s) Targeted – Close Grip Push-Up

Below are the primary goals targeted by integrating the close grip push-ups into training.

Strength and Hypertrophy

The close grip push-up is a demanding push-up variation that challenges lockout strength and overall triceps performance. This movement can help increase bench press abilities, improve overhead strength and stability, and add muscle mass to the upper body.

The close grip push-ups can be used to increase upper body muscle mass of the triceps and chest muscles while limiting stress on the shoulder. This exercise can also be done to add high amounts of loading to the triceps, often stimulating new muscle growth.

General Fitness

The close grip push-ups is a good bench press variation to use with most lifters looking to gain general strength and muscle mass without placing high amounts of strain on the bench press. While the bench press is a perfectly safe exercise, some lifters may find discomfort (often due to a poor technique). The close-grip bench press minimizes elbow flaring and shoulder stress, while still targeting the chest and triceps.

Muscles Worked – Close Grip Push-Up

Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by close grip push-ups.

  • Triceps
  • Pectorals
  • Scapular Stabilizers
  • Core Muscles

How to Perform the Close Grip Push-Up

Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the body weight close grip push-ups.

  • Step 1: Assume a push up position, with the hand slightly narrower than shoulder width. The hand width may vary depending on the individual, however the key is to keep the elbows tucked into the body to maximize triceps involvement.
  • Step 2: With the elbows pulled into the body, descend into the push-up similar to a regular push up, making sure to bend the elbows and the upper back.
  • Step 3: With the back set, push yourself upwards by using the triceps and some of the chest. Repeat.

3. Deficit Push-Up

The deficit push-ups is a variation that is increases the range of motion of the push up, increasing demands on the chest and triceps muscles. This is an advanced variation that can be combined with many of the other types of push-ups on this list (deficit plyometric handstand push-ups, deficit handstand push-ups, etc).

Goal(s) Targeted – Deficit Push-Up

Below are the primary goals targeted by integrating the deficit push-up into training.

Strength and Hypertrophy

The deficit push-up is available push-up progression for lifters looking to gain strength in the bottom phases of the push-up and/or looking to increase the overall strength of the pressing movement in a wider degree of motion.

The deficit push-up is an effective muscle building push-up variation as it requires a greater degree of muscle coordination, strength, and losing. Due to the larger range of motion, many lifts may find these to be very challenging yet helpful at increasing overall chest pressing strength.

Muscles Worked – Deficit Push-Up

Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by deficit push-ups.

  • Pectorals
  • Pectorals
  • Scapular Stabilizers
  • Core Muscles

How to Perform the Deficit Push-Up

Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the body weight deficit push-ups, using plates.

  • Step 1: Place a bumper plate, book, yoga block, or any other stable hand-sized surface underneath the hands (one each side) while in the push-up position. Be sure that your torso has enough room to fit in between the two deficits to increase the range of motion at the bottom of the push-up.
  • Step 2: With the elbows pulled into the body at a slight angle, descend into the push-up making sure to lower yourself to the floor, which should be roughly a few inches lower than normal.
  • Step 3: Use your chest and triceps to push yourself upwards under control, finishing in the top of the push-up position. Repeat.

4. Regular Push-Up

The regular push-up is a foundational movement upon which all of these more advanced variations come from. By mastering the push-up you unlock a variety of variations to increase fitness, strength, and muscle growth. It is important that every fitness goer, active individual, and athletes learn proper form and technique in the regular push-ups in order to move towards more advanced variations.

1.
Assume a Plank Position

To perform the push-up, start at the top of the plank position with the back flat. The arms should be fully extended with the hands directly underneath the shoulder joint. The feet and thighs should be pressed actively together.

Often, beginners will place their hands too far forwards in front of them. Be sure to place the hands under the shoulder joint, maybe even slightly back towards your hips.

Coach’s Tip: Assume a plank with the torso rigid and back flat. The head should remain in a neutral position.

2.
Set Your Back

While in the plank position, actively pull your shoulder blades together to create tension in the upper back. This will help stabilize the shoulder girdle and ensure proper stability in the lowering phase of the push-up.

Set the back by pulling the shoulder blades towards the hips and extending the upper back. Be sure to not let the hips sag or lower back hyperextend while in this position.

3.
Pull Yourself to the Floor

Once you are set, think about pulling your elbows to the back, similar to a row position. This will help activate the upper back muscles and provide you with stability as you approach the bottom of the push-up.

Do not let you head or shoulders slouch forwards towards the floor. Rather, think about pulling your sternum in between your hands.

Coach’s Tip: The thighs, hips, and chest should all make contact on the floor at the same time. If these are out of order or do not occur at the same time, this may suggest sagging of the hips and/or hyperextension in the lower back.

4.
Reach Into the Floor

Once you have touched the floor, press yourself away and upwards by trying to reach your hands into the floor. By thinking about reaching, rather than pushing, you can reframe the movement to have the body find stability and strength from the upper back.

Push yourself away from the floor, and focus on keeping tension in the upper back.

Coach’s Tip: Stay rigid in the torso and be sure to not let the hips sag in the upwards movement of the push-up.

Goal(s) Targeted – Regular Push-Up

Below are the primary goals targeted by integrating the regular push-up into fitness and strength programs.

Strength and Hypertrophy

The push-up, for many, will be a challenging upper body exercise. Upper body strength can be developed by performing this moment. More advanced and stronger individuals can then progress this exercise into more challenging push-up variations like close grip push-ups, deficit push-ups and handstand push-ups.

The push-up, when able to be performed in higher volumes, is a great exercise for muscle building of the chest and triceps. If individuals cannot perform enough volume wit a standard push-up, they can regress this variation easily by performing kneeling push-ups to increase training volume and muscle growth.

General Fitness

The push-up is a foundational bodyweight exercise that builds upper body strength and mass. It can be done in nearly any setting and be progressed into a wide amount of push-ups types to further advanced fitness goals. This exercise should be mastered by every fitness goers in order to assist in upper body strength and muscle mass, improve printing performance, and open up a bodyweight movement to allow for fitness anywhere, anytime.

Muscles Worked – Regular Push-Up

Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by regular push-ups.

  • Pectorals
  • Triceps
  • Scapular Stabilizers
  • Core Muscles

How to Perform the Regular Push-Up

Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the body weight regular push-ups. The regressed kneeling version is also covered in step 4.

  • Step 1: Assume a plank position with the spine flat, legs and core regis, and hands extended underneath the body. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width, and in line with the lower chest..
  • Step 2: With the elbows pulled into the body at a slight angle, descend into the push-up making sure to lower yourself to the floor. The chest, thighs, and stomach should all touch the ground together.
  • Step 3: Use your chest and triceps to push yourself upwards under control, finishing in the top of the push-up position. Repeat.
  • Step 4: If you cannot perform a full push-up, perform steps 1-3, however bend your knees so that you are supporting your weight on your hands and knees (instead of legs extended and on the toes). Be sure to keep the hips extended and back flat, as opposed to having the but high in the air. The chest, thighs, and stomach should all touch the ground together.

5. Handstand Push-Up

The handstand push-up is an advanced push-up variation that is extremely challenging on the upper body, specifically the shoulders and triceps. This exercise is not a beginner movement and should be used only after proper training progressions and positional strength has been developed. Be sure to refer to the handstand push-ups guide below for teaching progressions, proper form, and more.

1.
Get Into Position

Start by placing your hands about 6 inches from the wall, slightly wider than shoulder width.

Lifters can use a pad and place it between the hands, slightly closer to the wall (for the head). Note, that the head should be closer to the wall than the hands, to create a tripod base of support. The higher the pad, the “easier” the HSPU will be.

2.
The Kick Up

With the palms and fingers pressed into the floor, have the lifter kick one foot upwards towards the wall, with the back leg following.

This can be done by keeping the head on the pad and kicking the legs up (to start in the bottom position) or by kicking the feet upwards and keeping the arms extended (to start in the top position).

3.
Establish an Overhead Position

Establish a strong overhead position by pulling the belly button into the body (creating a rigid torso, similar to that in the hollow hold position).

Establishing control at the top and bottom of the movement is key, so if you cannot perform this step, perform handstand support holds for time.

4.
The Descent

When starting from the top position, lower yourself downwards so that the head moves backwards towards the pad/wall, making sure to keep the elbows inwards on a 30-45 degree angle.

This will ensure proper loading at the bottom of the movement. If you allow your elbows to flair out you will end with the palms and head to all be in one line, which is incorrect (as you did not establish a proper tripod base of support).

5.
The Press

When starting from the bottom position, set the upper back and pull the elbows in on a 30-45 degree angle, making sure they do not flair outwards (as this will result in the excessive internal rotation). From here, keep the legs pressed together and core tight, and press yourself upwards.

If you started from the top of the moment, this is the exact way you will push yourself upwards from the bottom.

Goal(s) Targeted – Handstand Push-Up

Below are the primary goals targeted by integrating handstand push-ups into functional fitness programs.

Strength and Hypertrophy

The handstand push-up is arguably the most difficult bodyweight upper body exercise out there. This exercise requires shoulder and triceps strength, high amounts of body control, and core stability. This exercise can be used to improve overhead and lockout strength of the triceps and may have direct application to overhead movements that requires strength and stability; such as push press, jerks, and snatches.

The handstand push-ups, when able to be performed in higher volumes, is a powerful muscle building exercise for the shoulders and triceps. More advanced lifters and athletes can increase the range of motion by performing handstand push-ups from parallels or deficit blocks to increase shoulder and upper chest hydropathy (like an incline press).

Additionally, the ability to perform kipping movements, especially after muscle fatigue due to strict handstand push ups, can create a significant amount of muscle damage and training stress; resulting in muscle growth.

Functional Fitness

The handstand push-ups is a common bodyweight movement found in most functional fitness and CrossFit workouts, making it a key movement to learn and perfect for more serious fitness goers. This exercise can also have an impact on overhead strength and stability during movements like the push press, snatch, and jerk due to general strength and muscle mass improvements.

Muscles Worked – Handstand Push-Up

Below is a listing of the muscles targeted by the handstand push-ups.

  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Scapular Stabilizers
  • Upper Back and Traps
  • Core Muscles

How to Perform the Handstand Push-Up

Below is a brief explanation of how to perform the strict handstand push-ups. Note, that this exercise can also be done using a deficit, elevated hand position, and kipping movement to adjust the intensity as needed. Be sure to refer to the handstand push-ups guide above.

  • Step 1: Start by facing a wall, placing your hands about 6 inches from the base of the wall. The hands should be placed slightly wider than shoulder width with fingers forwards or slightly turned outwards.
  • Step 2: Kick the legs upwards so that you are inverted in the handstand position. Use the wall to help support you as you place your toes together, touching the wall. It is important to master the handstand hold/support position first prior to step 3-4.
  • Step 3: With the elbow is slightly turned into the body, descend into the bottom the handstand push-ups under control. Be sure not to lose control and slam your head onto the ground, as this can may injury to the neck, head, and spine.
  • Step 4: With your head on the ground, and only a few inches away from the wall (be sure that your head in not directly in between your hand), press your legs together and push yourself upwards with your upper body. Repeat.

More Bodyweight Training Tips!

Here are some articles that can help you add size and strength to your chest, triceps, back, and legs WITHOUT weights!

Feature image by 4 PM production / Shutterstock

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

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