Workout Challenge: Push-Ups For Pros

7 of the Toughest Variations

Think you’ve outgrown push-ups? Think again. Try one of these each week for seven weeks as a new workout challenge. And try not to cry.

Workout Challenge: Test Your Fitness with Advanced Push-Ups

The push-up is more than just a beginner exercise. In fact, in many ways (such as muscle activation), the push-up rivals the bench press. Need some new upper-body growth along with a workout challenge to keep things interesting? Try one of these tough variations every week.

1. Hand Release Push-Up – Christian Thibaudeau

Hand-release push-ups will give you a much stronger pectoral contraction than a regular push-up. Each rep starts from a “dead” position where there’s no contraction in the prime movers. This forces a much stronger initial contraction to get the body moving. During a regular push-up, the stretch reflex and pre-activation of the muscles contribute to force production at the beginning.

Hand-release push-ups will give you roughly 10% more range of motion than regular push-ups. This is significant for muscle building. And when properly done, this version will primarily recruit the pecs, so they teach you to use your chest better during pressing movements, like the bench press.

This exercise can build power if you push your body up as explosively as possible. Basically, cock your arms back fast and quickly reverse the motion to strike the floor.

2. Chaos Push-Up – Tony Gentilcore

Wrap a strong, thick band around the supports or hooks of a power rack. Using the band as the “floor,” perform slow push-ups.

Do your best to keep the band from moving. It will, but your goal is to stay in control. Spread the band a little as you go through the movement and try to keep it “quiet.”

To make it tougher, use a thinner band or elevate your feet on a bench. To make it easier, raise the supports up where you have the band wrapped, making sure your body is more vertical.

3. Ring Push-Up – Drew Murphy

Ring push-ups train shoulder and trunk stability and promote proper elbow tracking. Best of all, this is the most user-friendly way to perform a push-up.

Have shoulder pain? The rings will allow your wrists to orient and your arms to move comfortably. Too weak to do push-ups from the ground? Bringing your body to a more upright position will decrease the intensity enough that you’ll be able to do the exercise.

4. Incline Plyo Push-Up – Eric Bach

Compared to a clap push-up, elevating the hands on a bench allows larger individuals to generate maximum force with less compressive stress on the joints while maintaining a neutral spine position (non-saggy push-up position).

On a bench, assume a push-up position with hands aligned under the shoulders, legs fully extended, abs braced, and back straight. Don’t allow your hips to dip.

Lower yourself rapidly to the bench and then explosively push your body away. The energy should make you rock back to mid-foot or heel. As gravity carries you back to the starting position, slightly bend the elbows at impact to reduce stress and “stick” the landing with minimal movement through your torso. Re-set and repeat.

5. Banded Push-Up – Eirik Sandvik

This is another variation that’ll increase explosiveness. Do it with the intent of being as powerful as possible through the WHOLE range of motion. Ballistic training methods like med-ball throws are perfect for this, but the resistance band does the trick in the world of push-ups.

There are basically two ways to do this exercise: pausing in the bottom position or repeating without the pause. The former will train explosive starting strength; the latter will improve reactive power.

6. Positional Isometric Push-Up – Dan North

Positional isometrics are when you add segmented pauses throughout an exercise’s range of motion (during the eccentric and/or concentric phases). Here’s how to do it with push-ups:

  • Start in a full push-up position. Lower yourself halfway down and hold.
  • Lower yourself fully with your chest an inch off the floor and hold.
  • Push back halfway up and hold again.
  • Push back up to your starting position and repeat.

7. Descending Range Of Motion Push-Up – Charley Gould

This sequence is a hybrid of a mechanical drop set and a partial-rep protocol. It involves progressively decreasing the push-up’s range of motion, making the movement “easier” as fatigue begins to set in.

The idea is that you’re extending a set at a point when you’d otherwise have to stop due to failure. The execution is simple:

  • Start by placing an object down that’s about 2-4 inches in height (Airex pads, books, pillows, etc.).
  • Using the object as a target, perform as many push-ups as possible before stopping 2-3 reps short of failure.
  • Immediately after stopping, add an additional 2-4 inch object and do another set to just shy of failure.
  • Keep raising the target until the range of motion is virtually non-existent, at which point you’ll be moving a few inches on each rep.

What sets this apart from other push-up finishers? It shifts the focus away from the chest and more towards the triceps as the set goes on due to the progressively smaller range of motion.

This is similar to the triceps of death protocol popularized by Louie Simmons, except it involves push-ups rather than the bench press.