The Almighty Push-Up

Push–Ups and its variants are one of the most convenient, quick and effective exercises to perform. Push–Ups are great chest developers when there is not a bench press to be seen. The main muscles that these bad boys focus on in a compound movement is the pectoralis major (Chest), triceps (back of arms), and deltoids (mostly front part of shoulders). They also place emphasis on the biceps (front of arms), upper back, core muscles (abdominals, lower back) and many other stabilizers. An overall great body weight exercise. I have chosen 6 variations out of many countless others to showcase. What is important to remember is that in every chest exercise such as push–ups, ALL OF THE CHEST FIBERS IN THE MUSCLE WILL BE ACTIVATED TO A CERTAIN DEGREE and that you cannot just simply “spot train.” DIFFERENT ANGLES AND MOVEMENTS MAY ACTIVATE MORE FIBERS IN A SPECIFIC AREA. For example, if you hear the term “an upper chest exercise” realize that the whole chest is working with more of an emphasis on Training the fibers of the upper chest portion. Use the video as a guide. If you do not have a bar you can always improvise with dumbbells or other items as long as they stay in place and are level.


Normal (Neutral) Push–Up: This one is a classic at developing the pectorals (Chest). Keep the arms closer to the sides to reduce the stress on the shoulders and increase more pec activation. When descending to the bottom position make sure the palms are level with the mid to lower chest. Press up for a full range of motion without locking the elbows.

normal push-up





Reverse Grip: This variation is most practical when using push–up bars. This is the same movement as a normal Push–up except the palms are now reverse and facing away from you. The wider your arms travel outward passed your sides the more your wrists will naturally turn with them. Most likely your wrists will be in a diagonal direction. This exercise tends to focus more on the upper part of the chest.

reverse grip push-up

reverse grip push-up





Diamond Push–Ups: This Push–Up focuses on the triceps more than anything else and the inner portion of the chest. Make a diamond with your hands and position them in the middle of your chest. Come down all the way until you touch (or close to) the middle of portion of your chest and “push” back up. Do these sparingly as they put a higher level of stress on the elbow joint.

diamond push-up

diamond push-up




Straight Bar Push–Ups: This movement is the same as performing a bench press and hits the chest very nicely. An overall developer. When descending the bar should be at level with the lower chest and arms not too wide.

straight arm push-up

straight arm push-up





Traditional Push–up (90°): I call this a 90 degree push–up because the position of the arms and sides of the body form a 90 degree angle at the arm pit. Because the arms are farther in front of the body, it is wise to go down just enough so that the arms do not pass parallel (or way past parallel). This puts unwanted stress on the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. Perform these sparingly.


traditional push-up

traditional push-up





Dive Bomber Push–Up: This variation has the same benefits as a standard push-up but includes different angles and is a bit odd. This stretches the hamstrings and lower back nicely as well. The motion is more of a “scoop” than a “push.”


dive bomb push-updive bomber push-updive bomber push-up



Be That Injury Prevention Expert:

  • To protect those intricate shoulder muscles do not put your arms to far out in front of you or too wide at the sides. Be kind to those shoulders and be careful not to put unnecessary stress on them. It is best to have your body and arms in an arrow position than a T position unless a specific variation calls for it. If you do not look like an arrow make sure you perform these types of push–ups properly and sparingly
  • Be careful not to go too far down when performing push–ups on the bars. Since bars give you the opportunity to increase a greater range of motion you can run the risk of impinging the shoulder.
  • The closer your hands come together to perform a push–up such as a diamond, the more force and stress is put on the elbow joints (ligaments).
  • Do not sag the lower back or raise it high
  • Becoming a Push–Up master requires finding that sweet spot. Arms positioned too wide or too narrow can put unwanted stress on other joints. Despite popular belief wide push – ups does not necessarily activate more chest fibers in the muscle.     


Try It:

These are sample workouts designed for different levels of athleticism using just different variations of the almighty push-up. Everybody responds differently to certain exercises and these sample workouts should be used simply as guides. Change up the exercises and routines to fit your program but do not ignore an exercise because it is “hard” or “too difficult.” Work on proper form, be consistent and you will naturally progress.


Beginner: 2 Weeks, 3 Sessions a Week, 90 Seconds Rest Between Sets

Normal (Neutral) Push-Ups 8-10 Repetitions 3 Sets
Reverse Grip Push-Ups 8-10 Repetitions 3 Sets
Straight Bar Push-Ups 8-10 Repetitions 3 Sets


Intermediate: 2 Weeks, 3 Sessions a Week, 60 Seconds Rest Between Sets

Normal Push-Ups 10 – 12 Repetitions 3 Sets
Reverse Grip Push-Ups 10 – 12 Repetitions 3 Sets
Straight Bar Push-Ups 10 – 12 Repetitions 3 Sets
Diamond Push–Ups (Sparingly) 10 – 12 Repetitions 3 Sets


Advanced: 2 Weeks, 3 Sessions a Week, 45 Seconds Rest Between Sets

Normal Push-Ups 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets
Reverse Grip Push-Ups 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets
Straight Bar Push-Ups 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets
Diamond Push–Ups (Sparingly) 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets
Traditional Push–Ups (90°) (Sparingly) 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets
Diver Bomb Push-Ups 12 – 15 Repetitions 2 – 3 Sets



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John Machado

John Machado

John Machado is a co-founder/editor in chief of Bodyforward. He has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Stony Brook, ACSM certified with 15 years of experience with fitness and nutrition, and he aims to achieve his Master's degree in Nutrition.

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