5 Ways to Spice Up Your Push-Up Workout Routine

Members of Team Whiteman take part in an operator challenge workout at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
Members of Team Whiteman take part in an operator challenge workout at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 9, 2017. (Airman Michaela Slanchik/U.S. Air Force photo)

Push-ups are the most common exercise we will ever do. It is likely the first exercise you ever did as a kid. Then you played around with one-arm push-ups. Applying "variety" to push-ups seemed natural, even from a young age. Here is a question from a gentleman who wants to get better at push-ups (without getting bored):

Stew, when training for pushups (training, not the actual PST), should I make my chest hit the deck, or should I stop an inch or two above the ground? Thanks, James

James, that's a great question. My quick answer is yes to both. Mix in a wide variety of push-ups during your sets of push-up workouts. You can try many options, from where to place your hands and adding a weight vest to the range of motion and choreography of other exercises. Consider the following ideas for your push-up workout library:

1. Full Range of Motion (ROM) Push-ups

Going chest to ground is a smart idea to maximize your push-ups. However, there are testing protocols that allow you to touch a pad or fist at the bottom of the repetition. You may get stronger with the full ROM push-ups, especially when tested with 1-2 inches off the floor or a 90-degree elbow bend for the down position of the push-up. But yes, practice both.

2. Vary Your Hand Placement

The big three in hand placement create a common push-up variety. Place your hands wider than your shoulders for the "wide-grip" push-up, and you will find that your chest gets more attention. Place your hands close to each other (touching), and you will work your triceps more. The normal push-up is perfectly balanced just outside shoulder width, and when in the down position, your chest and hands make a straight line to and through each other, as if doing a bench press. This way, you balance the workload to engage the chest, shoulders and triceps in this perfect push-up.

3. Add a Weight Vest

Make push-ups harder by wearing a weight vest of 20-40 pounds. If you tire of doing high-repetition push-up sets, add weight, cut your push-up reps in half and get twice the pump.

4. Suspension Trainer (TRX) Push-ups

Another way to make push-ups more challenging is to place your feet in the straps of a suspension trainer and practice mixing unstable push-ups with a controlled knee up between the up/down position. See video.

5. PT Reset

Do not forget to apply the opposing muscle groups of the push-up to your regular workouts to balance out your upper back and shoulders. These exercises are effective posture muscles that will help you not become internally rotated at the shoulders by only doing push-ups. Add pull-ups, rows and reverse flies to help with the push-pull balance. These are easy calisthenics that balances the push-up specifically:

Repeat 2-3 times.

As you can see, this list of options will make your push-up workouts less monotonous and healthier overall. This only touches the surface of the options available to add diversity to your push-up workouts. Enjoy the training options.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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