As I have discussed in many of my training articles, I think it is very import to train with a wide variety of movements. Not only does this keep training interesting, but also it keeps the body in the earlier stages of learning and in a constant state of adaptation.
Many times, we just have to think outside the box a little and toy around with tradition. For instance, I have been dubbed the "Push-Up Nazi" by many of my athletes. They question whether I have much of a social life, or if I just sit around thinking up new ways to do old tricks.
I like to utilize many different versions of the push-up exercise. I feel that it is a great tool for adding volume to your workout, improving symmetry, increasing shoulder and core stability, functionally training the triceps, etc. It is also something that can be used to create a little rivalry between athletes.
Since these activities are primarily body weight oriented, a comparison between athletes is fare, and can be used as motivation for them to push out one or two more reps per set.
Out of season, I typically incorporate one push-up activity per upper body workout. It is usually toward the end of the workout, and is performed for 3-4 sets to failure (depending on the type).
I have included 13 non-traditional push-up variations which I like utilize. These are not all of the versions I incorporate, but you should be able to mix and match to come up with the rest.
The plyometric pushup is a version that I like to utilize in two different environments. First would be superset with a speed movement such as light bench press throws. The second would be superset with heavily loaded activities as a means of contrast. The intensity can be adjusted by increasing the height of the box.
Always enforce a pogo stick like reaction off the ground. The athlete should "bounce" off the ground, not stick and go. Typically, young athletes, athletes with any type of upper body injury, and athletes with a poor bodyweight to strength ratios should avoid doing this exercise.
The chain push-up is an excellent way to overload the top of the push-up. I use 4-5 foot long pieces of 1/4+ inch chain. Line the chain up so it runs parallel to the athletes. Each time the athlete completes a repetition load another chain across his/her back.
Continue this process until the athlete has all of the chain loaded, or until they stall. At this point, don't let the athlete stop, even if they have stalled. Instead, instruct them to keep pushing as you unload the chain, a piece at a time off their back. If the athlete can continue to perform the push-up, unload the chain at the top of each rep. If they have stalled, unload the chain one piece every 2 seconds while they hold a static position.
The chain can be loaded directly across the shoulders to keep the primary overload in the pressing musculature, or it can be loaded across the lower back to greater emphasize the core.
Put a band over your back and place your hand in each side of it. Perform the push-up so the band stretches as you go up.
I like to utilize the balance push-up as a means of increasing bilateral symmetry. Simply put, if the athlete pushes harder with one side of their body, they will tip and fall over. This forces them to maintain even pressure, and to call on the core for help.
To perform this exercise, simply take the v-handle that you use for you lat pulldowns, or pull-ups, and place the handles on the floor. Now take a 2-3 foot 2x12 and center it on the point at the top of the v-handle attachment point. Place your hands equidistance from the center and perform your push-up. For increased core activity, you can offset the hands slightly.
Alt. Box Push-Up:
Assume a push-up position directly over an eight to twelve inch box. Keep your hand under your shoulders and step up onto the box with one hand followed by the other. You should now have both hands on the box. Step back down onto the floor with your lead hand, followed by the other hand.
Perform a give number of reps using one hand as the lead hand, and than match with the other hand leading. Increasing the height of the box will increase the difficulty. The box can be replaced with a medicine ball to increase difficulty.
Alt. Box Push-Up.
Suspended Chain Push-Up:
The SCPU is a great way to improve shoulder strength and stability. The nature of this exercise forces the shoulder to unilaterally stabilize through 360 degrees of potential movement while loaded. This mimics many of the PNF stability exercises used to improve the integrity of the shoulder structure.
Attach two chains to the chin-up bar of your squat rack. Attach a D-handle to the bottom of each chain (separate handle on each chain). The D-handles should dangle about .5-2 inches off the floor. Grasp a handle in each hand and assume the push-up position.
Suspended Chain Push-Up.
Suspended Chain Push-Up + Chain:
This is a combination of the SCPU and the chain push-up.
Suspended Chain Push-Up + Chain.
Suspended Band Push-Up:
This push-up expresses many of the same characteristics of the SCPU with a few added bonuses. Were the SCPU utilizes 360 degrees of potential movement freedom, the SBPU allows for absolute three-dimensional stabilization under a loaded condition.
Attach a set of heavy jumpstretch bands to the chin up bar on your squat rack. Have the athlete place a hand inside of each band and assume the push-up position. They should now perform as many reps as possible.
Suspended Band Push-Up.
Stability Ball Push-up I:
This exercise emphasis shoulder and core stability and strength while improving balance, pressing strength, and conditioning. Assume a push-up position on the ball (for more instability, bring the feet closer together). Perform a push-up. You can also perform what is known as a shock lockout to improve rate of stabilization.
Assume the push-up position with the arms slightly bent. Drop and bounce your chest off of the ball, catch yourself at the top position, and stabilize as quickly as you can.
Use 2 stability balls (one under each hand).
Stability Ball Push-up I.
Stability Ball Push-up II:
Perform the push-up with your feet on the ball. This will increase the activity of the core, and change the angle of the pressing moment.
Stability Ball Push-up II.
This drill improves functional range of motion, and increase core and shoulder stability and strength. Place two medicine balls on the ground at shoulder width. Assume the push-up position with a hand on each ball. Perform an increased range of motion push-up.
Both hands on one medball.
This is a combination of the stability ball II and medball pushup.
I will admit that I stole this idea from the powerlifter that we train with in Washington, Indiana. We original utilized a pair of slated automotive ramps. We would try to perform 3-5 reps on each slat. I liked the exercise because it changed the angle of the press during the exercise, and it was more interesting that just trying to perform a max number of reps.
I decided to incorporate this activity into my athlete's workouts. Since I did not have automotive ramps, I decided to try a pair of squat standards placed on their side. It actually worked fairly well. All you have to do is try to perform 3-5 reps at each hole on the standard. Once you have made it to the top, hold onto the highest point on the base of the standards and rep to failure.
Rolling Medball Push-Up With A Band:
Wrap a band around your back and place a hand through each end. Assume a push-up position with a medicine ball under one hand. Perform an explosive push-up and quickly roll the ball to the other hand while you are in the air. Land with the other hand on the ball and repeat.
Rolling Medball Push-Up With A Band.