Dec 04

Liven Up Your Workout With Push Up Variations

For decades, maybe centuries, the push up has been the mainstay of the military’s workout regimes, and why not. It is a great exercise for chest, biceps, shoulders, and indirectly strengthens the core because of the position that is necessary to execute them properly. It is also a mainstay in circuit training, particularly bodyweight circuits. But what if you are not strong enough to do a standard push up? On the other hand, what if you have mastered the standard and wish to provide more difficulty? What if you are just plain bored with standard push ups? There are exercise variations. Variations allow you to modify the exercises to make them easier or more difficult. They also allow you to provide variety to your circuit training. Lets explore five different variations.

INCLINEDS are performed against a wall, on a chair, or a step where the head is higher than the feet. This variation is ideal for the person that is not quite ready for the standard push up and is working their way up to it. The head level can be adjusted lower and lower as the person gains strength until they are ready to perform a standard push up.

BENT KNEES are ideal for the person who is working their way up to a standard push up. They are also effective for people with lower back strain. Sometimes they are referred to as girl’s push ups. In any event, the knees are on the ground and are used as the fulcrum as the push up is performed. One excellent use for bent knee push ups is during supersets. Standard push ups are performed until exhaustion. Immediately, the knees are lowered to the ground and the participant continues with bent knee push ups until failure. This technique is very effective in building both muscle strength and endurance.

ELEVATEDS are performed by placing the feet above the level of the head, on a step, a chair or any other object. The raised feet not only cause a greater degree of difficulty but also work more of the upper chest due to the angle.

Performing ELEVATED AGAINST A WALL is an even more difficult version of the elevated exercise. Instead of the feet being placed on an elevated object, the feet are elevated above the head but placed against a wall. In order to successfully perform the exercise, the participant has to provide pressure towards the wall in addition to raising the chest causing even more pressure on the upper chest. As the feet are placed higher on the wall, the strain shifts toward the shoulders. I’ve added this technique to the earlier superset for a killer chest workout; elevated push ups against the wall to failure, followed by standard push ups to failure, followed by bent knee push ups to failure. That’ll pump your chest up!

SPIDERMAN STYLE is a challenging variation. When done correctly, they look like Spiderman climbing up a wall, but just on the floor. You’ll get upper-body and core work because you’ll be lifting a foot off the ground and alternate bringing each knee towards your head each time you lower yourself to the down position. There are plenty of videos on YouTube if you need a visual.

Finally, HINDUS are my favorite variation. I’m going to attempt to describe how to perform them but your best bet may be going to YouTube to watch it on video. A picture is worth a thousand words. First, get on all fours then put your behind in the air while supporting yourself on your hands and feet with your legs straight. Now you should like a triangle with your hands and feet at the base and your behind as the apex. This is the starting position. Your head should be aligned with your back facing towards your feet. Take a deep breath and then sweep down in a circular arc motion and bend back looking up at the ceiling and breathing out. From there, push back toward your heels into the triangle position and start over. Hindu push ups not only work the entire upper body, they provide a great stretch for the lower back. Again, there are plenty of YouTube videos of Hindu push ups.

To summarize, these exercise variations can be used to make circuits more or less difficult or to provide variety. If you can’t do standard push ups yet, you might want to do bent knees and inclines in the same circuit in order to build up your strength. If you are on the other end of the scale, you might want to use the elevated or the elevated wall method, or Spiderman style in your circuits. Experiment a little and find a combination that is beneficial to you.


If you want exercise advice feel free to email me at or message me on Facebook. You can also see my exercise videos there. To get the secret of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight go to

Clint Grimes, is a retired US Navy commander. He is certified by the California Interscholastic Federation and is currently the strength and conditioning coach for the boys soccer teams at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, CA.

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