Push-Up Variations That’ll Add Serious Upper Body Strength & Size

Push-Up Variations That’ll Add Serious Upper Body Strength & Size

12 Push Ups You Can Add To Your Workout
Author headshot
Diving into The Body

However, there’s a difference between performing a push up that’s simple and poorly done, and one that’s correct and effective at helping you get stronger and build a better upper body.

And from working with countless guys, I can safely say that most flat out get it wrong…

I remember doing a push-up challenge (100 push ups) for a free Margherita pizza.

Sure it was difficult, but I did it and demolished that pizza straight away - and I didn’t even want that flavour.

I felt like a god and I’m pretty sure I subtly bragged about it to anyone I could (super douchey I know)

I was young (early twenties) 1 and was pretty strong at the bench press at this point…

But these days, I’d struggle - I’d be out of breath, feeling them way more than I ever did before. 2

So what gives?

Unlike then, I now know how to do them properly (as we’ll soon cover)

Talk to most guys and they’ll seem pretty confident that they can perform push-ups pretty well.

But the reality is:

If you’re here then I think it’s safe to say you know the push-up. And you know how simple it can seem…

Mike Mejia, Scrawny to Brawny

And I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re one of them.

Sorry, bud.

That’s why we’re going to look at how to do a great push up (not the ones you’re probably doing right now) and the variations of them to get you stronger going forward.

Sound good?

How To Master The (Perfect) Push Up

The push-up, although a basic movement, has a lot going on.

You have to stabilise your body, control your breathing and have the upper body strength to push a large part of your weight up and down from the ground in a controlled manner.

There are typically 2 mistakes I see guys making with a push up:

  • Using motion to guide their push up. This leads to not contracting the chest enough and generally sloppy form.
  • Rolling the scapula back and forth, leading to a lack of stabilisation in the body.

Not to mention it also has a bunch of benefits for you such as strength and muscle increase in the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Improves scapular (shoulder) and core (stomach) stability. Not to mention they can be done anywhere - the hotel, gym, airport, you name it.

How do you do a Perfect Push Up?

The Starting Point - Start in a plank position with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Put your body into a plank position by tensing your core, and tucking your chin.

The Lower - Lower yourself down as far as you can go, flaring your elbows no more than 45 degrees. Lower yourself enough to have your nose almost touch the ground (be careful)

The lift - Push the floor away, and keep pushing until your chest is fully contracted and your back is fully expanded

Once you can do 30 push-ups in a row, it’s time to progress onto the more difficult ones outlined in the rest of this article...

Why are push up variations important?

After all, if you want to build a bigger chest isn’t the generic push up good enough?

Well, it depends on your goal and where you are in the muscle growth (journey) spectrum.

The reason I like different push-ups is for when the following happens:

  1. I need to change my workout routine because I’m currently feeling a bit stale with the same framework (I get it, it happens
  2. I’m on the road and don’t have access to dumbbells and want a wide variety of body weight exercises to try
  3. No matter the reason, knowing these variations will come in handy when it comes to building a better, bigger body.
  4. The regular push up is just too, erm, regular! It’s not challenging enough or giving me enough stimulus for strength or muscle growth

If this sounds interesting to you, then let’s dive into the variations...

Push up variations for the chest

You most likely think of the chest when you do a push-up.

But depending on the style of push up you do, depends on the focus of the muscle working.

Although the following push-ups don’t just target the chest (that’s impossible) they have more of a focus on this area than other push-ups.

I’ve also done the job of placing these in an order of easiest to most difficult.

1 - The Negative Push Up (for when you can’t do 5 full perfect push up just yet)

When doing push-ups as shown before, you’ll notice that they’re difficult to do, if they’re too difficult to do right now, then this push up is a perfect transition to them.

The eccentric push up is very similar to the negative pull up in as it focuses on eccentric training to get you stronger.

2 - Hand Release Push-Ups

This is one you might have not seen before, but it’s a fantastic push up to have in your arsenal for when you feel you need a bit more strictness to your routine.

I originally came across this through strength coach Christian Thibaudeau but apparently, it originates from a popularity in CrossFit.

Have each push-up start with the body resting on the floor

“How do you judge push-up depth when dozens of reps are supposed to be done in 30 seconds? The answer was simple: have each push-up start with the body (chest, abdomen, and quads) resting on the floor, and the hands completely off it. This solved the range of motion issue.”

Christian Thibaudeau

However this isn’t just what the hand release push up is, some tweaks it becomes an even better, stricter movement that will lead to more muscle growth.

3 - Incline Push-Up

With a regular Push Up you lift about 70% off your own bodyweight.

When you place your feet on the floor in the incline push up you actually push up much less of your own weight, which makes it a much easier movement.

And as you probably guessed, the higher your hands are, the easier it is to perform the Incline Push Up.

For example, placing your hands against a wall and pushing yourself away is the easiest variation and the lower you get, the harder the movement will be to perform.

4 - Clap Push-Ups

This is the one I like doing the most.

Not only does it look badass and like some Jean Claude van Damme shit…

But they help target the "fast twitch" muscle fibers leading to a greater growth in the pec muscles.

“The clap push-up is a unique exercise, challenging muscle fibers by requiring rapid, explosive contractions while fatigue builds during longer-rep sets. Pursuing this test will bust you through a training plateau, build power, and add muscle to your chest, triceps, and shoulders.”

- Eric Bach

Plus they help build functional explosiveness in the upper body -  leading to greater power and overall speed improvement in everyday life and obviously other movements in the gym

You’ll typically find this at the start of a workout program to activate the pecs.

Note: It’s common to feel a bit more soreness on the joints when you first start doing this movement. Don’t worry, most healthy individuals don’t have anything to worry about here.

5. Decline Push-Ups

Decline Push Up works the upper chest (to a degree) more than the regular or incline push up variation.

And it’s done in the exact opposite way to the incline push up with your body close to the ground, feet up on a platform.

This means you actually push up even more of your own weight making this movement the hardest of the 3 typical push-ups (regular, incline and decline)

6 - Weighted Push Ups

This is a simple one.

Add a weight to your back and go on to thank me for the mass you’ll add to your chest.

You can add resistance to this via bands or via a plate.

When guys get stronger they stop doing push-ups in their workout programs. This is a great way to bring them back in, with the added benefits

Push-up variations for bigger shoulders and more mobility

This section is different than you’d expect.

I don’t think push-ups should be used a shoulder building exercise. In fact, quite the opposite.

Certain push-ups can put stress on the shoulder negativity but fear not, I have a few push up variations up my sleeve that although not designed to build shoulder mass, are here to help with your shoulder mobility and overall health and posture with the upper body.

However, there are two exceptions...

The Pike Push-Up

The Pike Pushup is a great way to progress towards the handstand push up.

It’s a great movement to target the core and shoulders. It’s also much a variation above the decline push up, making it even more challenging.

The Handstand Push Up

Without a doubt one of the best exercises you can do for the shoulders (and best of all, can be done at home)

However, with that comes to them being one of the most intimidating and difficult movements to get right at the get-go.

Here’s a progression I recommend to getting to them:

Decline push-ups - Pike push up

Handstand push-ups against - Negative Handstand

Full handstand push-ups - Laugh, as you’re now like Thor

Here’s a great article on how to get better at these

3 - Scapula Push-Ups

You most likely have shoulder issues.

It’s a ‘modern’ problem that most people who lift or sit in awkward ways often experience…

The scapula push up is designed to help reduce this and correct certain issues

“Strengthening with serratus anterior exercises will keep your shoulders mobile and strong, helping you avoid injury and live your active life”

- Eric Wong

The serratus anterior plays a huge role in how you move your shoulder and arm, so improving it is imperative to how well your upper body functions.

There’s a bunch of ways to do the scapula push up…

4 - Supine Push Up

Also known as the reverse push up, this is a great movement for the back, and because of that, overall posture.

If you’re pushing (as you are in push-ups and most chest movements) you’ll want to almost always balance things out with a pull (back movement) of some kind.

The benefit to this vs rows is that it can be done anywhere.

Push-up variations for triceps

If you want bigger arms (well triceps) then here are some movements you’ll want to have in your toolbox.

I’d recommend always doing these towards the later side of your program...

1 - Diamond/Close Grip Push Up

Diamond push-ups are a quite a leap from the regular push up (in difficulty) so don’t be surprised if you fail after doing half as many diamond push-ups as you normally would.

In fact:

This is without a doubt one of my favorite tricep burner movements that will pump up your triceps in the no time.

The main thing to bear in mind with this is making sure you get your hands as close to your body as possible

2 - Spiderman push up

If you’re after a great movement to have during your dynamic warm-up then this is a great place to start.

Since you are only supporting yourself on three points of contact when you move your leg forward you’re working your abdominals (and other core muscles) to work harder to maintain stability.

Moving your legs forward and back also helps to work your lower abs since it mimics the movement used in many abdominal exercises.

To make this even harder on the triceps opt for a closer grip.

Want to know my favourite push-ups and how I’d use them in a program?

I’ve given you a lot of push-ups to choose from

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I get it.

I hope this article helps you get away from being bored and stuck with regular push-ups, but let’s be honest, it’s not going to be the thing that makes or breaks your muscle growth...

If you’re someone that’s been struggling to build muscle for a while and consider yourself a skinny guy, then I’ve got a free assessment that will show you exactly what you’re #1 reason for not building muscle is…

You can find that below!

  1. It wasn’t long after I had gained a tonne of muscle (around 35 lbs)

  2. The weird thing is I’m stronger than I ever was and I’m sure as heck in better shape...

Author headshot
Written By
Dean Phillips
Former skinny guy and the owner of The Superhuman Lab. I’ve helped thousands of men build more muscle, gain more confidence and become superhuman. I’ve also gained more than 60 pounds myself (going from 112 pounds to more than 172 pounds).

The Lab Notes

bookmark-oclock linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram