Different Ways to Do Push Ups

Push ups effectively challenge your chest and shoulders, biceps and triceps. Performing push ups in different ways will target the muscles differently–recruiting specific muscle fibers and stimulating more muscle growth. There are also versions of the push up that allow beginners or people with specific challenges to perform and benefit from the exercise.


The knee-based push up is beginner friendly, allowing those who have not yet built up adequate arm and core strength to modify the move. Get on all fours on an exercise mat or the floor with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms flat. Shift forward and position your shoulders over your hands, forming a long line from your head to your knees. Contract your abdomen as you bend your elbows to lower your body to the floor. Avoid caving through the back or pushing the hips toward the sky. Return to start for one repetition.


Some people find push ups put undue stress on the wrists and, as a result, cannot perform the exercise. Placing your hands on a set of dumbbells creates a prop for your arms so that the wrists stay in a neutral position; this can help make the push up manageable for those with wrist issues. According to Oxygen Magazine author Pam Mazzuca, performing push ups in this manner also increases core activation as well as engagement of the back, triceps and rear deltoids. To perform this style of push up, kneel on a mat and place a dumbbell on the ground, a bit farther apart than the width of your shoulders. Grasp the shaft of each dumbbell and straighten your arms. Extend your legs to form a plank position. Bend your elbows to lower.


Altering the angle of your body while performing a push up changes the emphasis of the muscles worked. If you place your hands on a higher surface, like a workout bench, so as to create an incline with your body, you give the lower chest more of a workout. A decline push up is performed by placing your feet on a raised surface–a workout bench or step–and stresses the muscles of the upper chest and front of the shoulders.

Medicine Ball

Use a medicine ball to increase your push up challenge–especially for your core and triceps. Select any weight ball, as you are using it for support rather than to lift. Begin by kneeling on the floor and rest your hands on the sides of a medicine ball. Position your shoulders over your hands and the medicine ball while you reach your feet to fully extend your body to form a rigid plank. Bend your elbows to lower your body down towards the ball. Keep your back straight and avoid sagging through the hips. Straighten the elbows to return to the start position. To make the exercise less intense, try to do it first while on your knees and work your way up to straight legs.

About this Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.