Ultimate Guide To Push Ups (100+ Calisthenic Variations)

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
October 26, 2015

Push ups are one of the most common exercises.

There are very few people who haven’t performed push ups at least one time during their life.

However, despite their popularity, there are very few people who actually discover and harness the full potential of push ups.

Other than calisthenics athletes, most people consider push ups to be an endurance exercise at best and that it has no value for developing other physical qualities.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Training with the right push up variation you can develop explosive and maximal pushing strength (along with endurance) without needing access to any equipment.

With this post, you are going to learn how to become stronger, more explosive and build muscle all while progressing with the right push up variations.

The Anatomy Of The Push Up

624px-PSM_V25_D748_Rectus_sternalis_and_the_great_pectoral_chest_muscle

One of the main reasons I like push ups so much, is because they target an incredible amount of muscles.

In this section, I am going to describe briefly the muscles trained during push ups.

Depending on the variation, some muscles are hit more than others, and some not even at all. However, I’m not going to get too much into detail about this, as this isn’t my focus here.

The main muscle groups targeted by the push ups are:

And to a lesser extend:

Mastering The Basic Scapula Positions

track push up

Before going into the actual push up exercises, I believe it’s good to discuss briefly the fundamentals.

So, let me share an experience of mine…

After I started to become more advanced with calisthenics, I decided to start training for the planche hold and the planche push ups. I had already achieved the free standing handstand and one arm push ups and so I though:

“Why not? Let’s go for it!”

After 6 months of practice, I made very little progress.

I was disheartened and frustrated.

I had no idea what was going wrong.

After some research, I finally realized that straight arm strength is completely different from bend arm strength in regards to training.

One of the basic components of straight arm training that was missing from my practice was scapula training.

So I implemented scapula training into my workout plan.

What surprised me the most wasn’t that I started to make progress with my planche training (at last) but that I started to have more control over other movements that I had already achieved, like handstand push ups.

What Is Scapula Training?

Scapula training is about training and strengthening the different scapula (shoulder) positions.

If you master these positions, your progress towards advanced calisthenics skills is going to be much faster than it would be without this type of training.

In addition, a strong scapula will help you avoid unnecessary injuries in your shoulders.

However, if you don’t pay the necessary attention to these positions in the beginning, you are going to have trouble progressing towards advanced movements like the planche and you will eventually have to go back and learn them anyway like I did.

For this reason, I am going to focus a little on these positions so that you know what they are and how to train them effectively.

To begin with, there are 4 basic scapula positions:

  • Elevated: Your shoulders are close to your ears (shrugged)
  • Depressed: Your shoulders are far from your ears and closer to your ribcage
  • Protracted: Your shoulders are towards the chest
  • Retracted: Your shoulder blades are pulled back

From these 4 positions come the following combinations:

  • Retracted and elevated
  • Retracted and depressed
  • Protracted and elevated
  • Protracted and depressed

The Different Scapula Positions During Push Ups

Depending on which push up variation you are performing you will need a different combination of scapula positions throughout the movement.

The push ups could be categorized into 3 categories:

#1: Horizontal push ups

In this category belong the push up variations like regular push ups, diamond push ups, etc.

In the top of the movement, your scapula should be depressed and protracted. Then while moving to the bottom you can either keep your shoulders protracted or let them retract while they stay depressed throughout the whole movement.

In planche push ups, your scapula should always stay protracted.

#2: Vertical push ups (upward)

In this category belong the handstand push ups and their variations.

In the top of the movement, your shoulders should be elevated and close to your ears.

During the actual push ups your shoulder should be in the neutral position (neither elevated nor depressed).

#3: Vertical push ups (downward):

In this category belong the dips and their variations.

For the dips, your scapula should be depressed throughout the whole movement.

How To Train The Different Scapula Positions

Training your scapula is easier than you might think.

Since there are 4 different positions, I am going to share one exercise for each position:

I recommend you to train these exercises in a circuit:

A1: 10 reps of scapular push ups
A2: 10 reps of scapular body rows
A3: 10 reps of scapular elevation
A4: 10 reps of scapular pull ups

Notes

Progressing Beyond The Basics

The exercises shared previously are only the fundamentals and are not enough for later on.

If you want your scapula to grow even stronger, you will have to train with advanced gymnastic skills like the planche, front lever, etc.

Push Up Exercises & Progressions

handstand push up

In this section, you are going to find the different push up progressions that lead to advanced pushing movements.

This section is structured like this:

  • In the beginning, you are going to find all the necessary information on how to master the regular push up.
  • Then there will be a subsection on intermediate push up exercises that don’t necessarily lead to any advanced push, but will help you develop further your pushing strength.
  • In the last section, you will find tutorials for some of the most advanced push up variations.

So… let’s get started!

The Basic Push Up

Before going into more advanced progressions, it only makes sense that you should have already mastered the regular push up first.

Even though push ups are a fairly popular exercise, very few people are able to perform them correctly.

When I first started training, I used to think that I was pretty good at push ups. I mean, after some months of training, I could easily hit 60 reps with no sweet.

Then I decided to join a Kenpo jodo so that I can reach the next level. I was super excited.

I got there and we had to do some push ups as a part of the main strength and endurance training.

I thought: “No big deal.”

I started doing push ups as I used to do them by myself. Then, the instructor came and showed me the correct form.

Dude. That was a rude awakening!

I could hardly perform 15 push ups with that form!

That may seem like a fairly good amount of push ups, but there is nothing pleasant going from performing 60 push ups easily to struggling to perform 15.

This moment is when I decided that whenever I train, I’ll train with the best form possible.

Looking back, I am very glad I had this experience as it help me progress further into calisthenics mastery.

So what is the correct way to perform push ups?

The Perfect Push Up

Improving the form of your push ups is actually quite simple.

That’s because there are only three areas where something might potentially go wrong.

These areas are the neck, the shoulders and the hips.

During push ups, your chin should remain tucked. A good way to do that is to look down in front of your hands.

As described in the previous section, your scapula should remain depressed during the whole push up sequence. For the completion of a full push ups, you should protract the scapula at the top of each rep.

Furthermore, your pelvis should be tucked so that your lower back doesn’t extend. To achieve this, you should squeeze slightly your butt and abs while performing push ups. A very helpful exercise to strengthen this position is the plank.

Before moving on, I’d like to talk a little about the elbow position. Lots of people suggest that during push ups your elbows should always be by your side. I don’t agree with that.

As long as your scapula remains depressed you are good to go.

So, you can choose whatever position feels comfortable to you.

Despite this, keeping the elbows close to your body is going to help you progress more easily towards the one arm push up.

Lastly, for a regular push up, your hands should be shoulder width apart.

Progressing Towards the Regular Push Up

If you can’t yet perform regular push ups with good form, don’t worry. It doesn’t take too long until you are able to do them properly.

Push Up Progression #1: Wall Push Ups

Push Up Progression #2: Incline Push Ups

Push Up Progression #3: Knee Push Ups

Push Up Progression #4: Regular Push Ups

You should start with the progression with which you can easily and comfortably perform 5 reps with good form (as described above).

The way you should train is with 3 sets of sub-max reps having 2-3 minutes of rest between sets.

You should test your max reps every 3-4 weeks. When you are able to perform 15 reps in a progression with good form, you are ready to move on to the next progression.

Once you reach the final progression, you should aim to achieve 30 consecutive reps before training with the intermediate variations or progressing to the advanced skills.

You can find a beginners training program in the training program samples section below.

Intermediate Level Pushing Variations

In this subsection, you are going to find lot’s of different push up variations that can help you develop further your pushing strength. Some of these variations don’t necessarily lead to an advanced pushing movement, but they can be used to prevent boredom and to target muscles from slightly different angles.

Keep in mind that this is not a definite list.

Push Up Variation #1: Diamond Push Ups

Push Up Variation #2: Tricep Extensions

Push Up Variation #3: Dips

Push Up Variation #4: Wide Push Ups

Push Up Variation #5: Lalanne Push Ups

Push Up Variation #6: Plyometric Push Ups

Push Up Variation #7: Hindu Push Ups

Push Up Variation #8: Pike Push Ups

Push Up Variation #9: Decline Push Ups

Push Up Variation #10: Dive Bomber Push Ups

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ocX6GqMjEQ

Push Up Variation #11: Crucifix Push Ups

Push Up Variation #12: Flying Superman Push Ups

Push Up Variation #13: Tight Slap Push Ups

Push Up Variation #14: 360 Push Ups

Push Up Variation #15: Pseudo-Planche Push Ups

Push Up Variation #16: Staggered Push Ups

Push Up Variation #17: Bridge Push Ups

Push Up Variation #18: Spiderman Push Ups

Push Up Variation #19: Dorsal Push Ups

Push Up Variation #20: Scorpion Push Ups

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg4mS9RXq7I

Push Up Variation #21: Archer Push Ups

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAF5Yw6VMEI

Push Up Variation #22: Typewriter Push Ups

Advanced Push Ups

Advanced Push Up Variation #1: One Arm Push Ups

The one arm push up maybe the most popular of the advanced variations and is one of the simplest to achieve.

My favorite way of progressing for this skill is with incline one arm push ups. You start with a height where you can perform 5×5 reps per arm with good form and gradually decrease the height until you reach the floor.

Here are some good tutorials that I have found for the one arm push ups:

Beyond The One Arm Push Up

Once you have achieved this skill and you are pretty good at it (10 consecutive reps), there are still a lot of ways to become even stronger.

Here are some of the variations you can practice afterward:

Advanced Push Up Variation #2: One Arm Dip

This exercise is similar to the one arm push up but way more difficult.

The way to progress towards this skill is with assisted reps and archer dips. The goal is to gradually decrease the assistance from the nonworking arm.

You should be able to do at least 15 consecutive bar dips before starting training for this one.

Some other advanced variations of dips are:

Advanced Push Up Variation #3: Full Handstand Push Ups

The free standing full handstand push ups is one of the most impressive and difficult upper body calisthenics exercises.

This awesome move other than incredible strength it also requires a lot of kinesthetic awareness.

Before starting training for this move you should be able to hold a solid handstand for about a minute or so and be able to perform handstand push ups against the wall.

The first step is be to achieve full handstand push ups against the wall. You can do this by training with partial reps and by gradually increasing the range of motion. You should train with 3×3 or 5×5 reps.

The second step is be to achieve free standing handstand push ups but without full range of motion. This is still a hard move and requires a lot of control.

The last step is to train with free standing partial reps similarly to the first step.

Here are some other handstand push up variations that you may enjoy:

Advanced Push Up Variation #4: Triple Clap Push Ups

If upper body explosiveness is one of your goals, this is one of the best calisthenics exercise to aim for.

Other than extreme explosiveness this exercise also requires lots of speed and coordination.

Before attempting this move you should first master the behind the back clap push ups. Once you do that, you only have to add more clap in a similar way.

Advanced Push Up Variation #5: Aztec Push Ups

I was really impressed the first time I saw this awesome movement. It seemed very creative and original, and it is.

Unlike other variations of push ups, this one requires a lot of core flexibility and explosiveness.

The way to achieve this movement is by training with thigh slap push ups and by gradually touching lower and lower until your reach your foot.

Then you gradually start to open your legs until you can do it while keeping them totally straight.

You can train with 5×5 reps or 3×12.

Because this exercise requires a lot of hamstring flexibility, it’s good to stretch regularly.

How To Warm Up For Push Up Training

coast guard push ups

Warming up with the goal of achieving advanced push up feats is very similar to a regular calisthenics warm up. The main difference is going to be that scapula training should be included in the warm up.

Based on how your main workout is going to look like, I have included in this section two sample warm up sequences.

Warm Up Sample #1: Full Body Workout

This is a warm up if you are going to train your whole body in your main workout.

As such you are going to need a full body warm up as well.

A: 3-5 jump rope (optional)

B: Scapula training

C: Squat Clinic 1.0 or 2.0

D: Wrist Conditioning (optional)

Notes

  • Rest 30-60 seconds between A,B and C.

If you are going to train with handstand push ups, planche push ups or any other variations that make your wrists feel uncomfortable, then you should warm up your wrists (exercise D) regularly.

Warm Up Sample #2: Upper & Lower Body Split

This warm up is designed for workouts that are totally focused on upper body exercises.

A: 1-2 minutes lats foam rolling or lats stretch

B: Shoulder 8’s

C: Scapula Training

D: Wrist Conditioning

Notes

  • Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises A,B,C and D.

Push Up Training Program Samples

military push ups

The main focus of the push ups training programs, presented in this section, is going to be building strength and achieving advanced push up movements.

If you are interested in increasing your push up numbers of consecutive reps, you can check out the 100 push up training plan.

In this section, I am going to present you three different program variations so that you can choose the one that suits you best. The programs are going to be based on:

In all the training sample, only one week is going to be described. The rest of the weeks should follow the same pattern unless stated otherwise. Every 4th or 5th week is going to be a deload week, in which you will train with lighter loads.

Training Program #1: Beginner Training Plan

If you can’t perform 30 consecutive push ups, then from the programs presented here, this is the one for you.

You are going to train with full body workouts.

Workout

A1: 3x(sub-max) push up progression
A2: 3x(sub-max) bodyweight squats

B1: 3x(sub-max) horizontal pull ups
B2: 3x(sub-max) calf raises

C1: 3x(sub-max) knee raises
C2: 3x(sub-max) hip bridgess

Notes

  • Sub-max means that you are going to perform as many reps as possible without going to failure.
  • You should perform A, B and C as circuits resting 60-90 seconds between exercises. So, you will first complete 3 rounds with exercises A1 and A2 before moving on B.

You should train 3 times per week with the current workout. Like this…

Monday: Workout
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Workout
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Workout
Sat/Sun: Rest

Training Program #2: Full Body Workouts

As the name suggests, this training consists of full body workouts.

Since the focus of this plan is to achieve difficult push up moves, you should start your workouts with the pushing exercises.

Workout 1

A: 5×5 push up variation

B: 5×5 pull up variation

C: 5×5 pistol squats progression

D1: 3x(sub-max) leg raises
D2: 3x(30-60)s bridge hold

Notes

  • Rest 3-5 minutes between sets and exercises for A, B, C.
  • D should be performed as a circuit with 1-2 minutes rest between rounds.
  • Sub-max means that you are going to perform as many reps as possible without going to failure.

Workout 2

A1: 4×5 push up variation
A2: 4×5 pistol squat progression

B1: 4×5 pull up variation
B2: 4x(sub-max) single leg deadlifts

C1: 3x(sub-max) leg raises
C2: 3x(30-60)s bridge hold

Notes

  • After performing the first set in A1 go to A2 after 60-90 seconds rest. Then rest 60-90 seconds and repeat 3 more times. Do the same for B and C.

Training program Sample

With this program, you are going to train 3 times per week. You can choose whichever of the two workouts suits better to your need.

Monday: Workout 1/2
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Workout 1/2
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Workout 1/2
Sat/Sun: Rest

If you want to train for explosiveness as well, you can follow the same program alternating between maximal strength and explosiveness based workouts.

Like this…

Week 1:

Monday: Maximal strength
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Explosiveness
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Maximal strength
Sat/Sun: Rest

Week 2:

Monday: Explosiveness
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Maximal strength
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Explosiveness
Sat/Sun: Rest

To train for explosiveness just replace the push up, pull up and squat exercises with an explosive variation and change the sets and reps to 3x(8-12) instead of the 5×5 or the 4×5.

Training Program #3: Upper & Lower Body Split

In this training program, the workouts are going to be split into upper and lower body workouts.

Upper Body Workout

A1: 4×5 push up variation
A2: 4×5 pull up variation

B1: 3x(sub-max) triceps extensions
B2: 3x(sub-max) horizontal pull ups

Notes

  • Perform A and B like circuits. Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises 1 and 2.

Lower Body Workout

A1: 5×5 pistol squat progression

B1: 3x(sub-max) single leg deadlifts
B2: 3x(sub-max) calf raises

C1: 3x(sub-max) leg raises
C2: 3x(sub-max) headstand leg raises

Notes

  • Do A and B like circuits. Rest 60-90 seconds between exercises 1 and 2.

Sample training program

With this program, you are going to train 4 times per week.

Monday: Upper Body Workout
Tuesday: Lower Body Workouts
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Upper body Workouts
Friday: Lower Body Workouts
Sat/Sun: Rest

Training Program #5: Push, Pull, Lower Body Split

In this training program, the workouts are going to be split into push, pull and lower body days.

Pushing Workout

A: 3×5 horizontal pushing variation

B: 3×5 overhead pushing variation

C: 3x(sub-max) dips

Notes

  • Rest 3-5 minutes between exercises.

Pulling Workout

A: 3×5 pull up variation

B: 3x(sub-max) wide pull ups

C: 3x(sub-max) horizontal pull ups

Notes

  • Rest 3-5 minutes between exercises.

Lower body Workout

A: 3×5 pistol squat progression

B: 3x(sub-max) calf raises

C: 3x(sub-max) single leg hip bridges

D: 3x(sub-max) leg raises

Notes

  • Rest 3-5 minutes between exercises.

Sample Training Plan

Monday: Pushing Workout
Tuesday: Pulling Workout
Wednesday: Leg Workout
Thursday: Pushing Workout
Friday: Pulling Workout
Saturday: Leg Workout
Sunday: Rest

How To Cool Down From Push Up Training

640px-Doug_Pruden_doing_back_of_the_hand_push_ups_MG_0045

After training with heavy push ups, you should always perform a cool down so that you can recover faster and more effectively.

What I really like to do after training with advanced push up progressions, is to train the extremities, like the fingers and the grip.

Then after I complete the extra training, I do some light stretching or foam rolling depending on my workout.

My cool down sessions last from 5-15 minutes.

Cool Down Sample #1: Full Body Cool Down

This cool down can be applied if your main workout was a full body workout.

A: 2x(5-10) reps fingertip push up variation

B: 2x(30-60) seconds rope/fat grip deadhang

C: 1-2 minutes pecs foam rolling or stretch

D: 2-3 minutes glutes foam rolling or stretch

Notes

  • Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises. Don’t rest between the foam rolling or stretching.
  • If you feel that a certain muscle group is very sore, be sure to foam roll or stretch it.

Cool Down Sample #2: Split Training Cool Down

This cool down is designed for workouts that are totally focused on upper body exercises.

A: 2x(5-10) reps fingertip push up variation

B: 2x(30-60) seconds rope/fat grip deadhang

C: 1-2 minutes lats foam rolling or stretch

D: 1-2 minutes pecs foam rolling or stretch

E: 3-5 minutes thoracic foam rolling

Notes

  • Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises. Don’t rest between the foam rolling or stretching.
  • If you feel that a certain muscle group is very sore, be sure to foam roll or stretch it.

Extreme Push Up Feats Of Strength

Before closing this article I would like to share with you some of my favorite push up feats.

Very few of us will ever reach such an extreme level of strength, that is only attained by the most dedicated.

However, you can easily use such feats of strength as an inspiration to keep going and to keep training harder and harder with each passing day.

Extreme Push Up Feat #1: Two-finger Handstand Push Ups

 

Extreme Push Up Feat #2: One Arm Wrist Push Ups (@ 1:00)

Extreme Push Up Feat #3: One Finger Lalanne Push Ups

Extreme Push Up Feat #4: Two-finger Planche Push Ups

Extreme Push Up Feat #5: Bruce Lee Classic Two Finger One Arm Push Up

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WCQGghedDM

Extreme Push Up Feat #6: 10 Handstand Clap Push Ups

And my all time favorite…

Extreme Push Up Feat #7: One Arm Handstand Push Up

https://instagram.com/p/6SznwOu9Hf/

Conclusion

As you can see there is a lot more to push ups than meets the eye.

There are some skills that can literally take a lifetime to accomplish.

But is it worth the effort?

That’s totally up to you.

For me, feeling that you have the strength to push the earth itself is always a goal worth achieving.

I honestly hope that this post will be a helpful resource in your journey to become stronger.

Do you have any questions that were left unanswered from this post?

Feel free to comment below. I would love to help you out.

– Bodyweight Todd

Show/Hide Comments (8 comments)
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8 Comments
  1. thiyagu rajan

    Hi dears:really your doing wonderful job. I like workouts. I have been doing your past one year. Now I have good shoulder strength 6 packs and storage leg. Now I am easily doing 40 km run all so because of your training. Thank you very much sir . God bless you.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Thyagu,

      That’s absolutely fantastic. Way to go, man!

      – Todd

      Reply
  2. Suvern

    This is an awesome document. Made me realise my weakness in in my training. I will look to apply some of these principles regarding the scapula movements as my shoulder strength is not what it should be. Thanks Todd!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      I’m glad I could help, Suvern. Let me know how it goes.

      – Todd,

      Reply
  3. Ken

    I agree. Great report. What is your opinion of the Perfect Pushup or similar rotating handles? I really like them. Granted they wouldn’t be compatible with the more advanced moves but at 62 y/o I don’t see myself getting that adventurous anyway. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Ken,

      The wrist is one of the most fragile structures in the body. I’d be very careful to play with it at any age.

      – Todd

      Reply
  4. George

    Excellent report. Really appreciate you made the effort putting it together. Long live the Push Up!
    George

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks, George. Push ups are awesome indeed.

      – Todd

      Reply
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