The Push-up Variations You Need to Get Stronger

crossfit push up

Push-ups are one of the most underrated strength exercises but they are undeniably practical and crucial for learning more advanced pushing and pressing movements.

Despite being versatile and scalable, we often take for granted the strength and technique that it takes to be able to knock out a set of artfully done push-ups. And even though they may not be one of the more impressive exercises in CrossFit, push-ups are one of the most effective exercises for building upper body strength.

If you’re looking to get your first full push-up or just interested in learning about more variations, read on.

Why are Push ups important in CrossFit?

Push-ups are a crucial exercise for CrossFit athletes as they build upper body strength, develop core stability, and mimic functional movements encountered in daily life and sports. This versatile exercises can be scaled to suit athletes of all fitness levels, promoting inclusivity and progression.

Additionally, push-ups contribute to cardiovascular endurance and can be performed anywhere without the need for equipment, making them convenient for consistent training.

By incorporating push-ups into their routine, CrossFit athletes can develop a well-rounded foundation that enhances overall performance in workouts and competitions.

How to do a Push-up (correctly!)

To perform a push-up:

  • Start in a tall plank with your neck in a neutral position, your hands under your shoulders, and your feet separated slightly.
  • Separate your fingers and root your hands and the balls of your feet into the floor.
  • Brace your core and keep your hips in line with your shoulders.
  • Your body should form a straight line from head to heels (that means no sagging hips!).
  • Keep your body rigid as you bring your shoulder blades together and down, and bend your elbows without letting them flare out to the sides.
  • Continue to lower yourself until your chest makes contact with the floor.
  • Without losing midline activation, press yourself back up while maintaining the straight line of your body. When your arms are locked out and you have returned to the tall plank position, you have completed the rep.

Getting your put first push-up

As simple as they may seem, not everyone can perform strict push-ups with a full range of motion.

Luckily, there are a lot of alternatives that will get you there.

Elevated push-ups

This is easier than a standard push-up because it keeps gravity working in our favor.

Your feet stay on the ground, your body stays in a straight line, but the movement is performed on an incline.

You can start by using the wall and then gradually work towards supporting your hands on a lower surface like a bench or table.

The more horizontal, the harder it gets (and a lot closer to the real thing). Focus on moving your body in a straight line.

Kipping push-ups

Finally, a full range of motion!

This variation is performed on the ground just like the standard version, except with a little help from a hip impulse or kip to get you off of the ground.

With your body on the floor and your hands below your shoulders, bend your knees to lift your feet before aggressively kicking them back into the floor to initiate the rising phase.

Take advantage of the eccentric phase to build strength by lowering yourself back to the ground with control.

Knee push-ups

Very similar to a regular push-up except your knees stay on the ground.

Having the additional support takes some pressure off your core and legs as you work on being able to stay active throughout the exercise’s full range of motion.

Practice makes perfect!

In order to be able to do more push-ups, your body needs to adapt or, in other words, become more efficient at doing push-ups.

Since it’s a relatively low-impact exercise, you can incorporate them into your training often.

Make a point of accumulating volume: Try to increase the number of reps you can perform until you can eventually build up to more challenging variations.

Push-up Variations

After you've consolidated your standard push-up and can perform sets with good form even while under fatigue, you can begin to work towards other variations.

Here are three push-up variations that are especially useful for crossfitters or athletes who want to improve their weightlifting or gymnastics skills.

Pike Push-ups

In this variation, the athlete’s body rests over the shoulders causing the exercise to feel more difficult since more of their bodyweight is felt in their hands.

Using pike push-ups are a common way to develop or scale strict handstand push-ups.

How to do it:

  • Begin on all fours with the balls of your feet pressed into the ground and hands shoulder width apart.
  • Lift your knees and reach your hips high to form a triangle or pike shape with your body. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible.
  • Tuck your chin to your chest and start to bend your elbows. Shift your weight into your hands and come forward as the top of your head touches the floor ahead of your fingertips.
  • To return, push-up and back until your arms are straight again. Keep your core braced move with control throughout the entire rep.

Make pike push-ups more difficult by elevating your feet or by using parallettes.

Russian Push-ups

This unique plank-to-push-up hybrid is especially challenging for the core and shoulders.

To perform Russian push-ups correctly you need to be quick, making them a great way to develop the transition phase of the ring or bar muscle up.

How to do it:

  • Start in tall plank position, just as when performing a standard push-up.
  • Begin to lower yourself to the ground as close as you can without letting your chest touch.
  • Quickly transition into a forearm plank by pushing your body backwards and supporting yourself on your forearms. Avoid letting your hips pike up excessively.
  • Move your body forward to come back on your hands in the lowest point of your push-up before rising to lock out the rep.

Make Russian push-ups more difficult by performing them vertically, like box dips.

Deficit Push-ups

As with most exercises performed at deficit, the purpose is to increase the range of motion, thereby recruiting more muscle fibers and generating more force production (think power and explosiveness).

In short, deficit push-ups will make you a lot stronger.

How to do it:

  • Use two plates of 1.5-3 inches thickness, one below each hand.
  • Perform a standard push-up with your hands supported on the plates, while still lowering your chest to the ground.
  • You should be able to keep the same quality of form as when performing a regular push-up without deficit.

This variation is a good way to prepare athletes for strict handstand push-ups. Make it more challenging by increasing the deficit or by performing pike push-ups from deficit.

Final Thoughts

The push up is a fundamental bodyweight exercise that is often overlooked. Even though it's a simple exercise, it's essential for gaining and maintaining a baseline of upper body and core strength.

Accumulating volume and practicing different variations of the exercise can provide huge carryover benefits for more complicated movements that are performed with dumbbells, barbells, as well as in gymnastics.

Now that you've seen what it takes, there are no excuses not to be able to do push-ups… Drop and give me 20!