Exercise Technique: Push Ups & Variations

Man Performing Push Ups

Push ups are a great quick exercise, especially during this busy holiday season when time is precious. There are a million push up variations out there…well maybe not a million, but there are a lot. Today we’re going to explore some of the options so you can challenge yourself or mix things up.

Below are just some of the many types of push up variations that are out there. Hand positions can vary greatly between standard, wide, narrow, together, staggered, knuckle, fingertip, etc. These different arm positions are possible with all push up types and each variation progresses in difficulty as listed.


What you typically think of as a push up. For example, what the military requires for all their personnel (and what is pictured above). A simple modification to the standard push up can be done by performing the push up from your knees. This is a great variation for beginners or as you try to progress through the following types. Simply drop you knees to the floor and viola. It’ll be easier to complete them from you knees than from a full push up position initially. So, as the exercise becomes easier from your knees try progressing to your legs fully extended.

One Hand Elevated


This variation will help you open up and widen your chest. It’s a great way to target one side over another during a set. Or if you’re feeling inspired, alternate sides by rolling a med ball from side to side each rep (this is a much more demanding and harder exercise). It is also great for gaining some muscular awareness in your shoulders as this exercise is somewhat dynamic in nature.

Staggered Hands

Staggering your hands while performing the push up is a great way to get cross body core activation. What I mean by this is that when your right hand is staggered forward your left external oblique is more activated and when your left hand is forward your right external oblique is more activated. Check out the resource below for more details.

Two Hands On One Ball

Push Up on ball figure

This is a very dynamic push up variation. When first attempting this move, chose a relatively stable ball (like a Bosu ball or half round ball) that has less movement than say a Swiss ball. As this becomes easier progress to a more unstable ball, like a Swiss ball as pictured.



This is much more challenging than many people think. Besides being quite plyometric, timing is critical with this push up time so you don’t smack your face on the floor. Make sure to explode through the up phase to the push up so you actually get some air time allowing your hands to clap before catching yourself while cushioning your landing. Remember to always land soft! As you get better at this challenge yourself to clap more than once. What’s your best? I think I’ve got to 3 claps a few times, but I know more are possible.

One Arm

One arm push up man

One arm push up are very challenging and pretty much one of the more demanding push up positions you can perform. To get proficient at these takes a lot of time and strength. Keep working on all the other forms we already talked discussed and you’ll get there.

For those of you interested in the nitty gritty details of exactly what each push up variation does for you and the amount of force it takes to do them, check out this resource: Quantifying Muscle Patterns and Spine Load during Various Forms of the Push-Up. By Stephanie Freeman et al, 2006.


  1. Freeman S, Karpowicz A, Gray J, McGill S. Quantifying Muscle Patterns and Spine Load during Various Forms of the Push-Up. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2006:38(3):570-577.

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