Push ups are a common and popular upper body exercise. There many push up variations, all of which affect the body in different ways. Part of their popularity stems from the fact that you can perform push ups virtually anywhere. Push ups can also be adapted to develop endurance, strength or power in your upper-body muscles.
Performed on the toes or knees according to your fitness level, regular push ups work the chest, shoulders and triceps equally. Make sure that you keep your core muscles tight when performing push ups, try to lower your chest to within an inch of the ground, and avoid “reaching” with your neck or dropping your hips as this reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
Placing your hands closer than shoulder-width apart puts more focus on your shoulders and triceps. Keep your elbows tucked in close to your body and your hands around six inches apart. For even more of a challenge, touch your fingers and thumbs together so they form a triangle on the ground.
Using a wider than shoulder-width hand placement puts more emphasis on your chest muscles. Place your hands around 12 inches wider than your shoulders to maximize the effect on your pecs.
Clapping push ups will develop your upper-body power. Lower your body to within an inch of the floor before explosively extending your arms and driving your body clear of the floor. While in mid-air, clap your hands before returning your hands to the floor and immediately descending into another rep. Avoid this variation if you have any history of wrist problems.
Wearing a weighted vest or backpack will make push ups more challenging. Start by adding 5 percent of your bodyweight and gradually increase the weight of your vest/pack as your strength increases. Take care not to arch your back when wearing a weighted vest or backpack, as this may cause injury.
Placing your feet on an elevated surface puts a greater load through your arms and increases the difficulty of the exercise. You can perform narrow, wide or clapping push ups with your feet elevated. Initially raise your feet by 12 inches and increase this distance gradually over time.
Either place both hands on one ball, or use two balls and place a hand on each when you perform medicine ball push ups. Both of these variations are more challenging than regular push ups, and will force you to use your core and shoulder stabilizing muscles.
Palettes are low parallel bars used in gymnastics; they are sometimes called push up bars. Palettes raise your hands by around six to eight inches off of the floor, and by performing your push ups using palettes, you increase the range of movement performed by your shoulders and therefore the difficulty of the exercise. Take care not to over-extend your shoulders as this can lead to injury.
A favorite of the military and martial artists, dive bomber push ups mobilize the spine, stretch your hips and abs, and condition the muscles of the upper body. To perform dive bombers, adopt a regular push up position. Lift your hips and push back with your shoulders while keeping your arms straight--when viewed from the side, your body should look like an inverted "V." From this position (called "downward dog" in yoga), bend your arms and lower your chest towards the floor. As your chest nears the floor, drop your hips and “dive” under an imaginary bar. Keeping your hips low, extend your arms so that they are straight and your hips are almost touching the floor. Return to the starting position by either reversing the movement, ducking back under the imaginary bar, or just pushing back with your shoulders and lifting your hips back into the downward dog pose.
Performing push ups in the handstand position puts much more weight through your arms and shoulders, and also challenges your balance. Handstand push ups can be performed against a wall or, if you are very proficient at hand stands, without support.
- "7 Weeks to 100 Push-Ups: Strengthen and Sculpt Your Arms, Abs, Chest, Back and Glutes by Training to do 100 Consecutive Push-Ups"; Steve Speirs; 2009
- "The Ultimate Guide To Pushups (Animal Kingdom Workouts)"; David Nordmark and Jamie Reynolds; 2010
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.