Push Ups for a Perfect Chest
They are a staple of any bodyweight program and are famous (or infamous) as the go-to tough guy exercise. "How many push-ups can you do?" is a phrase that still makes grown men shudder. But can we get more out of the traditional push-up? Could performing certain variations give you a better workout than 100 push ups performed badly? This article will show you how to do push ups that give you a huge chest, massive triceps, and an excuse to show off!
Note: The terms push up and press up will be used interchangeably in this article, just to keep you on your toes!
Variation 1. The Regular Push Up
There's no point teaching you a hundred variations if you have no idea how to perform a regular push-up (or press up as it is also known). Place your hands on the floor and lie down, your hands should be around chest height (not shoulder height!) and outside of the shoulders with elbows pointing out at a 45-degree angle.
From lying flat on the ground push your upper body up off the ground until your arms are straight. Your back should be straight and not sagging throughout this movement. Pause at the top, and then slowly lower yourself back down until your chest touches the floor. Without losing tension, raise yourself back up again.
This is your standard push-up and every other exercise on this list will be a variation of this, now you know how to do push-ups we can progress into other variations. But first, we will look at a couple of options for those of you who struggled to perform regular push-ups.
Variation 2. Knee Push Ups
There is a lot of snobbery regarding this variation, people will tell you that they don't count as regular push ups and that they're just push ups for wimps. These people are not to be trusted! Knee push-ups are a great exercise for the chest, especially if you don't already have the strength required to perform a full one.
They are also really good for people who can perform a full push up but have fatigued their muscles. What do you think is better, 40 press ups followed by 10 knee push ups, or 40 push ups followed by a two-minute lecture on how ineffective knee push ups are? If you answered with the first option you're our kind of person!
Right so performing this variation is similar to regular push ups but instead of having your legs straight out, you actually have your knees resting on the mat (hence the name) whilst your feet are crossed and up in the air at a 45-degree angle. This removes a huge amount of bodyweight from your lift making the exercise significantly easier. If you are using this as a finisher exercise after performing regular push ups then try bringing your hands wider as this will take the effort away from your fried triceps and put the emphasis on your chest.
Variation 3. Box Push Ups
An even easier variation than the knee push up, the box push up is exclusively for new gym-goers. Despite its exotic name, the box push up is very simple to perform. Start off getting into the knee push-up position, but instead of having your feet in the air rest them on the floor. If you were to look at someone performing this they would resemble a box, which explains the name. When performing it, lower your chest very slowly towards the ground, pause, and raise your chest back up until you are in the original box position again.
Variation 4. Close Grip
Back to the regular press up, here is a cool variation that will place the emphasis more on your triceps rather than your chest. All you have to do is start in the regular position, and then bring your hands in closer and tuck your elbows in so that when you lower yourself they brush the sides of your torso.
There is another exercise called the diamond press-up which is very similar to this but has your hands placed underneath your chest with your hands in a diamond shape. We are going to ignore this variation though as it is nowhere near as comfortable as the close-grip press up, and produces inferior results.
Variation 5. Wide Grip
Instead of bringing your hands in, this exercise will involve you bringing your hands out wider than usual. As such this exercise will take away a lot of triceps involvement while increasing chest activation. Think of it as similar to a chest fly in the way that it stretches the chest out.
Variation 6. Feet Raised
Perform a regular push up but with your feet on a slightly raised platform, this will increase the difficulty and place more emphasis on the shoulders than the regular version. Make sure that the increase is only slight, though, a little goes a long way here.
Variation 7. Hands Raised
This variation is the opposite of the last one, here you will place your hands on a raised surface whilst keeping your feet on the ground, taking some of the emphasis off shoulders and making the exercise easier to perform. The higher the surface, the easier the exercise. Some people may use a bench as a raised surface, but this might make the exercise too easy!
Variation 8. Plyometric Push-Up
Now we're talking, this is one of the most difficult push-ups you can perform. This exercise should not be rushed into, and you should be fully warmed up before attempting. One more bit of advice before you start, place an exercise mat underneath you. Because as funny as it is for your friends to witness, face-planting a hard surface will hurt!
Start in the same starting position, as usual, lower yourself down but instead of pausing and then returning to the starting position you are going to explosively push yourself as fast as you can. If you have used enough power your hands should actually raise off the ground.
Once you can do this comfortably you can progress onto clapping press ups, which is where you raise yourself so far off the ground that you have time to clap your hands together before returning back to the ground. There is no particular benefit to this, unless looking like a badass counts as a benefit?
Variation 9. Long Arm Push Up
This exercise is a precursor to the one-armed push-up and is very difficult. Only attempt if you want to look really cool. Get into the standard position and straighten out one of your arms so that it is at right angles to your body.
Once you've done this try to perform a normal push up. You may have to shift your bodyweight slightly by spreading your legs wide, rather than keeping them close together. What you will notice is that only one arm is doing the work, whilst the other arm's function is pure to keep you balanced. Once you have managed 5-10 reps (whatever you're able to) repeat that number with the other arm.
It's a good idea to always start with your weak arm as you can then match the number of reps managed with your strong arm afterward.
Variation 10. Weighted Push Up
Perform a regular push up with a weight resting on your back (preferably a weighted plate rather than a dumbbell!). Alternatively, you can use a weighted vest if you're the kind of person who spends money on a weighted vest.
Using These Variations Successfully for Strength and Fat-Loss
There we go that's ten variations of push ups/press ups. When performing remember that form is crucial, terrible push-ups aren't going to get you strong or sexy, they'll get you rotator cuff injuries. Once you feel your posture is slipping either rest or regress the exercise to make it easier.
You're well on your way to hitting 100 press ups, so here's a quick workout you can follow to get you there quicker.
Push Up Program
- 3 sets of 10 knee
- 2 sets of 10 Hands-elevated
- 2 sets of 10 regular
- 3 sets of AMRAP Plyometric
(AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible)
Make sure you rest sufficiently between each set so that you don't cause injury to yourself, 45-60 seconds should do it!
Another program you can follow is a TABATA style push up program. Yes, we are using press ups as a form of High-Intensity Interval Training! Exciting huh?
TABATA Push Ups
(20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest x 8 = 1 set)
- Press Ups x 1 set
- Hands Elevated x 1 set
- Knee x 2 sets
Rest for 45-60 seconds between each set, perform each rep slowly. 20 seconds seems like such a short time, but when you're half way through a set you'll be glad you didn't exhaust yourself immediately.
The Push Up and Squat Program from Hell
This workout is a fantastic way to work your upper and lower body when time or space is an issue. All you need to do is know how to perform a bodyweight squat, which we will go into quickly here.
The squat works the Gluteus Maximus and Quadricep muscles. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing slightly outwards. Squat down as if you were about to sit on a small chair, when your legs get down to parallel with the floor it is time to slowly raise yourself back up to the starting position.
So now let's get into how the workout goes. Start out by performing ten bodyweight squats followed immediately by one push up. Then, without resting perform nine bodyweight squats and two push ups. Keep decreasing the number of bodyweight squats by one, whilst increasing the push ups by one to match it. Eventually, you will get to the point where you are performing one bodyweight squat, and ten push-ups.
You can do this with lunges instead of squats, or burpees, abdominal crunches, squat jumps, or any other bodyweight exercise. It is really fun when doing it in a group too!
Push Ups with a Partner
This is quite difficult, but also very effective. Especially if you are a competitive person (or your friend is). The idea is that you perform one push up, then your friend performs two, then you perform three, he does four until one of you fails to complete their allotted number.
You can also do this with a large group of friends, with a slight variation. One person starts doing push ups after 5 reps the second person starts doing push ups, then after their 5 a third person starts, and so on until everyone is doing push ups. The trick is, that you cannot stop until the person who was before you stop. So if they do 50 push ups in a row you need to do at least 45, whilst the person after you can't stop until you stop.
Another push-up game you can do with a partner is where you both face towards each other, and perform push-ups at the same time. After each rep, you and your partner clap your left hands together, then you're right after the next rep, and back to your left for the rep after that. What is good about this game is that instead of competing with each other, you and your partner are working together to get as many push-ups as possible completed.
The 100 Push Ups Challenge
Another excellent way to get better at push ups is to try and master the 100 push ups challenge. It is a very simple challenge to accomplish, but 90% of people who attempt it will fail it the first time. The entire goal is just to hit 100 push ups, you have as long as you want to do it in, and it doesn't have to be continuous. So you could knock out 20 reps, then another 15, then another 15, then 10, another 10, then 5, another 5, and then finish in 1s, 2s, and 3s.
Try it once a week and your push up game will improve massively!