5 Killer Push-Up Variations to Upgrade Your Functional Fitness

I think we can all agree that push-ups are a bread-and-butter movement to include in regular strength and conditioning program.

When it comes to strength you must often be willing to change the angle of your hand placement, foot position, and shift your weight to distribute it in other ways.

This forces you to challenge your body in different ways so that you can continue to get stronger.

At times, a limitation on the variation of a movement will only limit your strength for that movement.

This is why variation is necessary.

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The Hindu Push-Up

This is quite a unique push-up variation that will challenge you in a different way. This is sort of a variation of the dive bomber push-up in that you start in a standard push-up position and transition from there into kicking your hips up to the sky placing your body into the downward dog yoga pose.

Like the dive bomber push-up you want to dive towards the ground leading with your head and perform a “swooping” motion as if you’re diving underneath a fence post.

You should end up with your hips down and your head up. From here you just want to kick your hips back up placing yourself back into the downward dog position to repeat the process.

The Hindu push-up will allow you to kill two birds with one stone by strengthening you and giving you a quality stretch on your lats and shoulder girdle.

The Kettlebell Crossover Push-Up

With this push-up variation all you will need in terms of equipment is either a kettlebell or medicine ball.

The kettlebell (or medicine ball) will be used to stagger your hand position as one hand will be placed on the ground and one will be placed on the kettlebell.

From here you want to perform a standard push-up elevating your grounded hand up off of the ground to transition up onto the kettlebell while the other hand goes to the ground. You want to repeat this in order to transition back to the start position.

The shift in your body weight along with having to adjust to the elevated hand on the kettlebell will add to the intensity of this push-up. Your push-up range of motion (ROM) is instantly enhanced due to the kettlebell.

Dumbbell Push-Up Drag

This particular variation only requires a single dumbbell and it doesn’t have to be heavy to be effective. In fact, you are probably going to be significantly challenged with the addition of a dumbbell between 20 and 30 lbs.

Begin this drill by getting into the standard upright push-up position. For the sake of this description let’s place the dumbbell to your right hand side next to your body just behind your right hand.

From here perform a standard push-up and once you return to the upright position simply grab the dumbbell with your right hand and drag it across your body to place it on the left side of your body just behind your left hand.

From here perform another push-up and grab the dumbbell with your left hand to repeat the process dragging the dumbbell back to the other side.

A few things to note: When your perform the drag portion of the movement resist the urge to twist your torso. You want to maintain a strict alignment with your body from your shoulders to your heels.

Resisting the urge to twist forces you to build stability throughout your core midsection by getting you to brace and activate a line of tension running from the grounded hand in a diagonal line all the way down to your foot on the opposite side.

Plyometric Push-Up

If the goal here is to increase force production for the push-up then the plyometric version of the push-up is a great option. In order to pull this off you’ve got be proficient at performing the standard push-up, but then again we’ve already established that prerequisite with the recommendation of this article, right?

To execute this push-up, you want to perform a standard push-up with enough force upon the ascent to elevate your hands up off the ground.

As your hands come up off the ground you want to be able to absorb the impact as your hands make contact back with the ground and you descend into the lower portion of the push-up to load up for a subsequent repetition.

You can vary this push-up a number of different ways by performing it straight off the ground, or if you want to alleviate some compressive forces on your wrists and elbows and you can do this off the side of a sturdy bench as well.

Plank to Push-Up

When it comes to developing power in your arms, solid core stability, and a set of iron shoulders then it’s hard to beat this unique push-up.

This variation presents a big challenge as it allows for very little leverage and momentum as you must be capable of generating enough force coming up off the plank position after slightly rocking forward over the forearms before attempting to forcefully drive up out of the plank to land solid up on your fists.

I prefer doing this driving up onto the fists for a couple of reasons. The first is because it’s great for strengthening your wrists forcing you learn how to keep your wrist in a straight line with your forearms.

This is especially good for martial arts and as it’s added wrist stability for the act of striking when punching.

The second reason is that with the hands flat it allows for several cheats for many people as they may try to rock up onto the hands instead of forcefully driving the hands up off the ground which is reinforced using the fists.

With the hands flat you might want to try to ease up onto one hand first and then the second causing a more staggered attempt. That doesn’t work here with the fists. Give this a try it will challenge you.

The Takeaway

Just remember that if you’re looking to improve your strength and ability to build lean functional muscle with your push-ups you’ve got to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. This is something that takes commitment and the will to do so.

What push-ups are you currently doing in your strength and conditioning program?

Have you attempted any of the push-ups mentioned here before?

Post up and share below in the comments and let us know!




SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.

He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.

He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.


QUESTION: I want to join the Marines when I graduate high school next year, and I’m trying to get in shape now. But I’m struggling with my push-ups. Help!

ANSWER: Check out this article: 3 Tips to improve Push-Ups for Beginners.

QUESTION: I’m getting ready to do Murph here for Memorial Day. Got some tips to help me crush it this year?

ANSWER: Yes; check out this article—Murph Workout Tips.



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