Push-ups, one of the first exercises you pick up on your fitness journey, stay with you through all the fitness regimens and workout routines you have attempted over the years. The popular upper-body strength and conditioning exercise that targets multiple muscle groups is essential for improving strength and endurance. Several variations of push-ups – from small tweaks in form or hand and feet positioning to major changes in movement – have expanded their utility. They can be used to target different muscle groups with varying loads or intensities.
“Even if someone is just stationary in the push-up position, multiple muscle groups in the entire upper body, including the chest, triceps, shoulder and core muscles, get engaged,” says Rishi Jethwa, an ACE-certified fitness trainer from Ahmedabad. “As strengthening the muscles through push-ups provides the basic strength to do other exercises, they should be a part of all fitness routines.”
However, Jethwa points out that the variations of push-ups may not work for everyone.
“Before choosing a particular variation, one needs to consider certain things, including their fitness level – whether they are at the beginner, intermediate or advanced stage — as well as their strength and conditioning. Based on that, advanced variations can be included,” he explains.
Variations of push-ups
Some alternate forms of push-ups that one can try depending on their fitness level include:
♦ Wall and knee push-ups
“Wall push-ups and knee push-ups are for beginners or those who don’t have the required strength to do the conventional form. They are done with the support of the knee or the wall. Once they develop the strength, they can shift to regular push-ups,” says Jethwa.
♦ Conventional or regular push-ups
This is one of the most widely practiced variations of push-ups. It strengthens the back muscles, obliques, quadriceps and core muscles. Advanced variations of this form — band-assisted or weighted push-ups — allow progressive loading.
♦ Hindu or Indian push-ups
The Hindu or Indian push-ups, traditionally practiced in the akharas (physical training and wrestling coaching centers) of the Indian subcontinent, have found their way into modern gyms, even in Western countries. With their high range of motion, these push-ups target multiple muscle groups, ranging from the chest muscles, deltoids, back muscles and triceps to the lower-back muscles, core, glutes and leg muscles. While they are suitable for beginners, there are limited options for progressive loading.
♦ Handle push-ups
“Handle push-ups and regular push-ups are the same,” says Jethwa. This form makes use of either push-up handles or dumbbells so you don’t have to place your palms on the floor. “This is mainly for those who have issues with wrist flexion, which makes it difficult for them to place their palms firmly on the floor. The muscles targeted in this form and the regular push-ups are the same,” notes Jethwa.
♦ Triceps or diamond push-ups
In case of diamond push-ups, the palms are placed close to each other, forming a diamond shape on the floor. This leads to additional activation of the triceps muscles along with the shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoid and chest muscles.
Being an advanced variation, it is important to try diamond push-ups only after mastering the conventional form. In addition, a proper warm-up is also essential. While they can be a part of your fitness routine, diamond push-ups should not be used as a replacement or alternative for conventional push-ups.
♦ Close-grip medicine ball push-ups
They are, in essence, triceps push-ups done by placing the hands on a medicine ball. This form increases activation of the triceps and the core muscles alike. Additionally, they are great for breaking a workout plateau.
While doing the exercise, one should place the medicine ball under the chest, and the hands should be parallel to the shoulders. The back should be kept straight, maintaining a plank position.
♦ Clap push-ups
Clap push-ups include explosive movement, which ensures additional activation of the chest muscles. They are great for breaking a workout plateau but should not be attempted by beginners. Jethwa recommends not including this variation for more than two to three days in a weekly schedule.
The movement in clap push-ups begins in the same fashion as the conventional form. The change happens when an additional push is given to lift the upper body off the floor. As the palms leave the floor, one claps their hands and lands on the palms, returning to the regular push-up position.
♦ Pike push-ups
“Pike push-ups are an advanced exercise, and they should not be attempted by everyone,” says Jethwa. “In case of pike push-ups, the angle needs to be proper; otherwise, it will result in an injury.” This exercise helps build chest, shoulder and core strength.
While performing this exercise, the body needs to be brought into an inverted V-shape, engaging the core, glutes and hamstrings. This is followed by bending the elbows to lower the body and then returning to the inverted V-position by straightening the elbows.