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Push-Up Variations

15 Push-Up Variations to Master at Every Level of Your Fitness Journey

Push-ups are a bodyweight exercise everyone can—and should—be trying. Find the right version for you.

By Kristine ThomasonFebruary 5, 2024


If you had to name one exercise you’ve done more than any other, throughout your life, what would it be? We’re guessing it’s a push-up—and if not, maybe it should be. Why? This classic move is a quintessential bodyweight exercise that targets so many important areas of your body—plus, it’s easy to slip into most exercise routines. Not to mention, there are so many variations on the push-up to suit a wide range of levels and goals (that includes modifications for anyone who’s still honing their push-up skills). But which push-up variations are best for your personal fitness needs? We chatted with Peloton instructor Cliff Dwenger to get the lowdown on why push-ups can be an integral part of your exercise routine, and how to choose the best variations for your goals. 

Why Push-Ups Are a Great Bodyweight Exercise

The push-up is a staple exercise for good reason: Not only is it super versatile, but it also works your entire body. For starters, “push-ups are great bodyweight exercise to build strength and endurance for your chest, shoulders, and triceps,” says Cliff, adding that the chest is the main muscle you train with a push-up, while the triceps and shoulders are the “helping muscles.” But it’s so much more than an upper body exercise. Since a push-up is essentially a moving plank, “a huge benefit is that you also train the entire core while maintaining a good posture,” Cliff adds. 

Push-ups are also a functional movement that can help prepare your body for other weighted pressing exercises (think: a barbell bench press). 

As for variations, small adjustments can help you target different areas of the body. “Depending on the arm positions, different muscles will be recruited more,” says Cliff. For instance: bringing your hands closer together can help turn on the triceps muscles. And simple tweaks like elevating your hands or dropping your knees to the mat can help make the exercise much more approachable for beginners.

How to Choose the Best Push-Up Variations

Okay, so you’re sold on the idea of adding more push-ups to your life, now what? Do you dive right into a classic push-up, or start with something easier or more challenging? 

Cliff suggests slowly but surely working your way up to a full push-up if you’re not able to do one with proper form right from the get-go. You have two great options: “Beginners can place their hands on a bench or bring their knees to the floor,” he says. “This way they can get used to the sequence of motion.” He recommends using the classic push-up hand placement: directly under your shoulders.

Once you feel strong and stable with these modifications, he says you can move to a more intermediate level. This includes classic push-ups with a full range of motion and knees off the floor. You can also spice things up with a triceps push-up or a wide grip push-up (more on those later).

At a more advanced skill level, you can work with tempo. “For example, five seconds on your way down and five seconds on your way up during the push-up,” says Cliff. Additionally, once you’re comfortable with more straightforward push-ups, you can play around with more complex (and, honestly, fun) push-up variations like a shoulder-tap push-up or clap push-up.

As for the specific types to try, below you’ll learn how to do a classic push-up, plus the best push-up variations for each level and training goal. 

How to Do a Classic Push-Up

Classic Push-up

Before we dive into push-up variations, there are a few key tips to keep in mind to nail the correct push-up form for every type:

  1. Start in a strong plank position on your palms, hands stacked below your shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your gaze on the floor (rather than ahead). 

  2. Squeeze your shoulders, glutes, and core to create full-body tension and maintain this as you move. 

  3. Bend your elbows to move towards the floor. Your elbows should reach a 45-degree angle relative to the torso. (This may change with certain variations.)

  4. Maintain tension throughout your body as you push back up off the floor, raising up to your original position, with arms fully extended. 

Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

During the classic push-up, “the chest muscle is more active than in the other variations, and can therefore produce more force,” explains Cliff.

Beginner Push-Up Variations

The variations below will take some of the load off, allowing you to perfect the form before adding additional body weight.

Incline Push-Up

  1. Place hands on a bench or elevated surface, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  2. Maintain a strong plank position with your spine forming a straight line from head to heels.

  3. Perform the push-up motion with controlled movement.

Muscles worked:  Chest, with less emphasis on deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Push-Up on Knees

Knee Push-Up

  1. Start in a plank position on your palms, hands below your shoulders.

  2. Lower knees gently to the floor.

  3. Engage your core and maintain a straight spine from knees to head. 

  4. Lower down until your elbows reach 45 degrees with your torso. 

  5. Push up to return to start.

Muscles worked: Chest, with less emphasis on deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Wall Push-Up

  1. Stand in front of a sturdy wall and place your hands against a wall at shoulder height, shoulder-width apart.

  2. Bring your feet slightly away from the wall, about an arm’s length, so you’re leaning forward.

  3. Bend your elbows and perform a push-up against the wall. 

Muscles worked: Chest, with less emphasis on deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Intermediate Push-Up Variations

Triceps Push-Up

Triceps Push-Up

  1. Start in a plank position on your palms with hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels. 

  2. Keeping your elbows pointing straight behind you and biceps close to your sides, lower your chest towards the ground by slowly bending your elbows.

  3. Return to the starting position.

Muscles worked: Triceps, with less emphasis on chest, deltoids, upper back, and core

Wide Push-Up

  1. Assume a traditional push-up position with your hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart. 

  2. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels. Ensure your fingers are pointed forward or slightly outward.

  3. Lower your chest towards the ground, then push back up, engaging your chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

Muscles worked: Primarily chest, with less emphasis on deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Bear Plank Push-Up

Bear Plank Push-Up

  1. Start in a tabletop position, hands directly under shoulders, shoulder-width apart and knees under hips.

  2. Press into the ground, activating your shoulders and chest, as you lift your knees a few inches off of the ground, keeping your back flat and glutes engaged.

  3. Lower your chest towards the ground by bending your elbows, then return to start. 

Muscles worked: Primarily chest and triceps, with less emphasis on deltoids, upper back, and core

Shoulder Tap Push-Up

  1. Perform a standard push-up, but between each repetition, lift one hand off the ground and tap the opposite shoulder. 

  2. Engage your core to stabilize your body and minimize swaying. 

  3. This variation adds an element of balance and targets the muscles in your shoulders and core.

Muscles worked: Primarily deltoids and core, with less emphasis on chest, triceps, and upper back

T Push-Up

T Push-Up

  1. Complete a regular push-up.

  2. Then, rotate your body to the side, lifting one arm towards the ceiling, so your body forms a "T" shape. 

  3. Lower the arm back down and perform another push-up before rotating to the opposite side. 

Muscles worked: Chest, shoulders, and core while incorporating rotation

Deficit Push-Up

  1. Place your hands on elevated surfaces, such as blocks or steps, allowing you to lower your chest deeper than in a standard push-up. 

  2. Complete a regular push-up.

  3. Maintain a straight body throughout the movement.

Muscles worked: Targets chest, shoulders, and triceps by increasing the range of motion

Advanced Push-Up Variations

Negative Push-Up

Negative Push-Up

  1. Perform push-ups with a slow five-second descent and fast ascent.

  2. This challenges your muscles throughout a longer time under tension, promoting strength and endurance development. 

Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Clap Push-Up

  1. Execute a standard push-up. 

  2. Push yourself off the ground forcefully enough to clap your hands together before landing. 

  3. This plyometric variation enhances upper body power and explosiveness.

Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

Spiderman Push-Up

  1. As you lower into a push-up, lift one knee towards the corresponding elbow, aiming to touch them together. 

  2. Alternate sides with each repetition.

Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, hip flexors, and obliques, as well as triceps, upper back, and core

Plyo Push-Ups

Plyo Push-Up

  1. Perform a push-up with explosive force, pushing your body off the ground so your hands momentarily leave the surface. 

  2. Land softly and immediately go into the next repetition. 

  3. Plyo push-ups focus on power and speed, challenging the chest and triceps.

Muscles worked: Primarily chest and triceps, with less emphasis on deltoids, upper back, and core

Handstand Push-Up

  1. Start in a handstand position against a wall. 

  2. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows, then push back up. 

  3. This exercise requires strength and stability in the shoulders and core.

Muscles worked: Deltoids, triceps, upper chest, and core

Weighted Push-Up

  1. Place a weight plate or wear a weighted vest on your upper back, between your shoulder blades. 

  2. Assume a standard push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 

  3. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels.

  4. Lower your chest towards the ground, maintaining control, and then push back up. 

  5. The added resistance from the weight increases the challenge on your chest, shoulders, and triceps, promoting strength and muscle development.

Muscles worked: Chest, deltoids, triceps, upper back, and core

The Best Push-Up Variations to Reach Your Goals

When choosing which push-ups to incorporate into your fitness routine, it’s helpful to consider your training goals: Are you looking to build muscle (hypertrophy), strength and endurance, or power? For muscle, you’ll want to focus on a repetition range between 6 and 12 reps. Whereas strength and endurance training involves exceeding 12 push-ups in one set. If your goal is power, “including a clap after every push-up is a good challenge,” says Cliff. A few examples include:

Push-Up Variations For Power

  • Clap Push-Up

  • Plyo Push-Up

Push-Up Variations For Strength

  • Classic Push-Up

  • Triceps Push-Up

Push-Up Variations For Hypertrophy

  • Weighted Push-Up

How to Add Push-Ups to Your Workout Routine

The beauty of push-ups is they seamlessly integrate into most workouts. Whether you’re a beginner or have been working out for years, this classic move is a great addition to any strength session, warm-up, or functional training routine. 

For anyone new to push-ups, again, it’s important to start slow and hone in on proper form. Once you get comfortable with a classic push-up, you can challenge yourself by increasing your reps or trying a more complex variation. If you need some inspo for getting started, check out the Peloton App


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