First of all, let's get this out of the way: Push-ups are still the best upper body exercise. You just hit a lot with that one move and as you will learn, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the humble push-up.
I joined ask.fm the online social network where users can ask questions to everyone in their network. I thought it would be a good avenue to answer a few common questions, and of course one of the first questions I got was “can I see your abs?” Well, what do you expect from social media nowadays.
Seriously though, I did get a lot of fitness related questions and one of the most common ones was “What’s the best exercise to tone the arms and upper body?” I found myself more and more answering the same thing: push-ups and pull-ups. I still think that these two bodyweight exercises are the best exercises that you can do for the upper body.
The reasons are simple and obvious. If you want to develop your core, go on a plank position and hold that position (see: push-ups). If you want to develop your upper extremities, push (or pull) weight away from your body using your arms (see: push-ups). If you don’t have access to the gym or weights, try to push the heaviest weight that you can manage to push with right form while keeping that plank position (see push-ups). In simplicity, effectiveness and efficiency, I always go for push ups and pull ups, but more so push ups since not everyone will have access to a high horizontal bar for pull ups.
That being said, one of the problems that people have with push-ups is that they are hard to progress. I mean, it’s cool if you can do a hundred push-ups but then it gets boring (firsthand information here).
What most people don’t know is the number of push-up varieties that you can actually work towards that will chisel and build your upper body. Here are 10 push ups variations that are arranged from easiest to most challenging. Try going through the list from 1 to 10 in that order. Get used to the first one before trying the second one, and so on. I've provided a video of all 10 variations here.
1. Modified push-ups
Some people might not be able to do a proper push-up. That’s fine, we’ll work on it by modifying it first so that the hands are higher than floor level. This variation will lessen the weight being carried and will help you learn to keep the plank position while doing the push-up.
2. Proper push-up
The mother of all push-ups is of course the proper push-up. Lie face down on the floor and place your hands the length of your humerus (upper arm) away at your side. Brace your core and in one motion, push your body up. Keep your body straight throughout the movement
3. One-legged push-ups
Same as the proper push up but with one leg up. This lessens stability and challenges your core to keep everything tight and straight.
4. Push-ups on a swiss or bosu ball
With your feet on the floor, place your hands on a stability ball.
5. Decline push-up
Instead of having your feet on the floor, place your feet on top of a low step (12-18 inches).
6. Elevated swiss/bosu ball push-ups
With your feet up on the step, place your hands on a stability ball.
7. Suspended push-ups
You will need a suspension trainer for this variation, a Jungle gym XT, TRX or Rip60 will do the trick. Lower the handles so that they are almost touching the floor, assume the push up position with your shoulders directly under the anchor point and your feet on the floor. Do push ups from here.
8. Weighted push-ups
Assume a regular push up position and have a training buddy add plates on your back or if you have access to a weighted vest, that would work too.
9. Clap/weighted clap push-ups
Assume a proper push up or weighted push up position, powerfully push yourself up and then clap while you’re in midair. Land softly, absorbing the landing by bending your elbows as soon as your hands land on the floor.
10. Plyometric push-ups
Place two small steps, with equal heights, beside your hands while on a proper push up position. Explosively push your body up and place your hands on the steps, drop back down to a push up position, absorbing the landing by bending your elbows.
These are just some of the push up variations that you can try. There are many more like the medicine ball push ups, kettle bell push ups, or even the double (or triple clap push ups). Before you get to those, try these ones out first and see if you can get to number 10 already. Then maybe you can think about that handstand push up you saw online.
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