The push up is a fantastic exercise. It is functional, versatile, and can be done anywhere. It can be modified to any fitness level and can accommodate almost any goal( The exception being maximal 1 rep strength). I would also go as far to say that the push up is better than the bench press because it allows free motion of scapula during the action(If you don't know what that means, don't worry, its a good thing). The push up is ideal for those that want functional strength and healthy shoulders, have limited equipment, and those looking to loose weight/tone up. Since max strength is not really a goal of mine I rarely use the bench press. I do however perform a variety of pushups that I feel keep me strong and in great shape.
So in this post I would like to share with you the many different push up variations that I perform. They range from the very easy and basic, designed for beginners, to the advanced that should challenge anybody. So here they are.
Modified Push Up
This can be done on any object that is stable and elevated. It simply changes the angle of the body to decrease the amount of resistance. If you are at the gym than the smith machine is the ideal place to do this. Simply adjust the level of the bar to the height that allows you to perform full range of motion. Just make sure that you progressively lower the bar until you are doing regular (real) push ups.
(Standard Push Up)
This is the tried and true exercise. Performed for generations around the world. This is the exercise that your grandpa did, and he was a BEAST! Key things to remember are put hands shoulder width apart, keep head/neck/lower back in neutral position. Do not let the hips sag and poke your butt in the air. The body should move up and down as a unit, pivoting from the feet. Always bring you chest to within an inch or two to the ground and always go to full extension at the top. No points for half push ups.
Weighted Push Up
This is a great exercise that helps to increase max strength without using benches or barbells. Simply have a partner place a weight on your upper back while performing the exercise or wear a weighted vest or back pack. I typically have my wife put weight on my upper back while I am in the push up position. Notice I said UPPER back, if you put the weight on your lower back it could cause too much stress for that area.
Suspension Push Up
This is a great exercise that really activates the stabilizers of the shoulders. It can be done with any suspension trainer I just prefer the TRX system. The same rules apply as the basic pushup. Engage the core to keep the spine in neutral and perform full range of motion. You can adjust the resistance by changing the angle of your body is relation to the ground.
Archer Push Up with Sliders
This is an advanced pushup that kills the chest and really works the core as well. You can use sliders at your gym, buy some furniture movers from any home improvement store, or simply use a wash clothe on tile/wood floors. You start in a standard push up position but as you go down one arm goes out to the side while the other arm remains in the standard push up position. At the bottom one arm is bent and the other arm is straight (similar to an archer's pose). You can alternate sides or perform all sets on one side before switching.
Plyo Push Up
This is another advanced variation. It trains power in the upper body muscles and should be used for lower reps. You do not want to do these to failure (unless you want to smash your face). From the bottom position, push hard and explosively so that your body leaves the ground. You do not have to clap at the top, that is just a parlor trick. On the way down control your descent back into the bottom position. If this exercise causes joint pain, or you have previous joint pain/injury in the upper extremities, I would advice against this exercise.
So there you have it. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of push up varieties but these are simply the ones that I use and recommend on a regular basis. They are very effective at increasing strength and muscular endurance, increasing functional fitness, and aiding is weight loss. They also make you look good with your shirt off. So don't be a slave to the bench press. Find a spot on the floor and start pushing.