5 Killer Pushup Variations for Greater Gains

What if I told you that certain types of push up may be even more beneficial for building muscle mass and strength than bench presses, dumbbell presses, or dips? Seems crazy, right? Well, read on.

The poor old push up is a miserable exercise. It doesn’t get a lot of love and generally just sits there by itself in the corner. Other more macho exercises laugh at it, and you likely haven’t performed a push up since gym class. Even if you have knocked out the odd set, it’s probably only been as part of a warm up, a bodyweight circuit, when you had absolutely no other equipment at hand, or to win a drunken dare, when you bet your equally drunk friend that your ability to bench press a baby elephant made you a push up sensei.

Related: The Best Chest Workouts for Muscle Mass, Strength, and More

Well, what if I told you that push ups have a place in your training, regardless of your goals? What if I went on to tell you that certain types of push up may be even more beneficial for building muscle mass and strength than bench presses, dumbbell presses, or dips? Seems crazy, right? Well, read on.

Why Push Ups Will Give You Your Best Gains Ever

Whenever you come back to an exercise you’ve not performed for a few months, you get that intense DOMS for three or four days afterwards. That’s because your muscles are moving in a slightly different plane of motion to what they’re used to, and they’ve become unaccustomed to this newly reintroduced movement.

The other thing that will probably happen is your gains on the new exercise will shoot up for several training sessions. You’ll add extra weight and perform more sets and reps each workout, without really feeling like you’re even trying.

Surprisingly, that will transfer over to other exercises. Coach Charles Poliquin claims that increasing your overhead press will boost your bench press, and the Westside Barbell powerlifting system is based around regular squatting variations, with heavy deadlifts performed only sporadically, the theory being that building a bigger squat automatically improves your deadlift. The same goes for push ups, too. Provided you’re using the same width grip and hand spacing you’d use on your pressing exercises, you can bet every last dime in your bank account that by getting stronger at push ups your dumbbell and barbell presses will shoot through the roof, along with your parallel bar dips.

So, What Push Up Variations Can You Do?

Let’s face it, unless you’re a rank beginner, regular pushups are probably a little easy. They work great as part of a bodyweight conditioning session, but you probably won’t get much out of them as a strength exercise.

There are five push up variations however, that will build serious strength. Even the strongest of bench pressers will feel like they have the strength of a nine year old girl when trying these for the first time.

Band Resisted Push Ups

Band assisted push ups are often recommended as a way of adding pushups to your training plan if you can’t do bodyweight reps yet. Reverse this round though, and band resisted pushups are a way of kicking your butt once you find bodyweight reps too easy.

Grab one end of the band in each hand and loop it over your upper back, then perform your push ups as you would usually. These have the added benefit of increasing the load at the top as the band tightens, which increases triceps activation. Plus, the band tension as you descend forces you to control the negative portion of each rep.

Incline Extended ROM Push Ups

Like band assisted push ups, regular incline pushups are an easier variation. That is, until you extend the range of motion. Think of the dumbbell press – you get a much greater range of motion (ROM) with these as opposed to bench presses, as your chest doesn’t get in the way of the weight. The same is true of push ups – if you go as low as you can, your chest hits the floor before you’ve achieved your full ROM.

This issue is solved with incline extended ROM push ups. You can use dumbbells, push up handles, or any other piece of equipment you like, but my personal favorite is kettlebells. These put you a fair way off the ground, meaning you can get a much bigger ROM, plus they add a small element of instability. While this isn’t as much instability as performing push ups on gym rings would add, the fact you don’t have to worry too much about balance means you can concentrate on getting a better mind muscle connection, rather than wondering how long it will be until your girlfriend gets you home so she can take you to the hospital to get your broken nose looked at.

Band Resisted Extended ROM Push Ups

Band resisted push ups too easy? Incline extended ROM push ups a pushover? Combine the two – see how you fare now.

Drop Push Ups

Drop push ups are an awesome way to teach your nervous system how to exert maximum force. They also look damn cool.

By dropping from the box onto the floor, you minimize contact time with the ground, forcing your muscles and central nervous system to react quickly, and exert a high amount of force in a very short space of time. Just like powerlifters perform dynamic effort versions of squats, deadlifts, and bench presses to increase their speed, power, and ultimately strength on the big three, drop push ups work in a similar way.

They also act as an excellent activation exercise. Perform a set of three to five drop push ups before a heavy set of bench presses. These get your nervous system primed and your chest muscle firing, meaning you can bench press more. As with all plyometric exercises, your focus should be on quality, not quantity, so keep the sets short, and stop the exercise when you feel you’re not moving as quickly.

Offset Close Grip Push Up Combo

The offset close grip pushup combo (let’s call it the OFCG pushup from now on) places extra emphasis on your triceps, but is a lot more interesting and challenging than your regular close grip pushups.

Place a kettlebell on its side on the floor, and start with your right hand on it, and left hand out to the side on the floor. Perform a pushup like this, then move your left hand onto the kettlebell too, do another pushup, then take your right hand off onto the floor, and do another rep. Keep switching round like this, for as long as you can.

Rather than going for a certain number of reps and sets, these work better going for time. Set a stopwatch for 30 seconds and go as quickly as you can between hand positions until the time runs out.

Want to make them harder? Wear a weighted vest.

The Wrap Up

Hopefully pushups don’t seem so boring now, and they definitely shouldn’t seem so easy. Bench presses, dumbbell presses and dips are all still amazing exercises, and no training routine should be without them. But if you want a change from your regular exercises, need a way to break through strength plateaus, or just fancy some killer DOMS, give these pushup variations a go – you might just be surprised.