For those who are limited on equipment, one of the biggest problems with an exercise like the pushup is that it’s very easy to outgrow its usefulness – you’ll see lots of growth and muscle development by going from being unable to perform one full pushup to doing 15, or maybe even 20, but beyond that, it becomes more of a test of endurance, and in the long run excessively high pushup reps could even reduce your strength on exercises such as barbell or dumbbell presses (short explanation: muscle fibers turn more slow-twitch and are less efficient at producing lots of power). If all I have is a floor, what should I do then?
Getting Creative with Progressions
The pushup, like any exercise, can be made harder or easier by changing angles and leverages. Keep your knees on the ground, and the exercise becomes easier. Move your hands in closer and keep the elbows a little tighter, and the range of motion gets longer and it becomes harder. With that premise in mind, here are four of my favorite twists on the pushup (plus one bonus exercise that’s just a little bit different but is quite an impressive feat when done properly.
#1. Suspended Pushups
The premise behind the suspended pushup is twofold – 1) the range of motion becomes longer because your chest can now drop below your hands (similar to using pushup handles), and the dynamic movement of the handles creates instability in the shoulder girdle and the core. These can be done with gymnastics rings, Blast Straps, TRX bands, chains suspended from a pullup bar, whatever you have access to. Setup is pretty easy – just set the straps so you’re as close to the floor as your strength permits.
#2. Pushup Plus
These are great for somebody with bum shoulders or pain during conventional pressing exercises such as the bench press. The extra movement in the scapulae creates more stability throughout the shoulder girdle and strengthens a lot of the smaller muscles that serve to keep you injury-free.
#3. Pseudo Planche Pushup
Now we’re starting to get into more advanced pushups that have roots in gymnastics training. The planche is more or less one of the best examples of how to get a lot of strength and power development out of a bodyweight exercise – ultimately it’s intended to be done with the feet in the air using only your hands as a base of support. This is a more stripped-down version that I was introduced to through my coach Luke Leaman. While it looks a lot like a regular pushup, in the bottom position the hands should be as close to the hips as possible, keeping the lats and upper back contracted and the elbows held close to the sides.
#4. Pseudo Maltese Pushup
Even harder than the pseudo planche pushup is the pseudo Maltese pushup. The hands are rotated so that the fingertips point down toward the feet, and the hands are placed at about 45 degrees out from the hips.
#5. BONUS EXERCISE: Russian Dips
While technically not a pushup variation, it is extremely badass to perform and is a step up from regular dips, which are also typically used as a major bodyweight movement in a limited-equipment program. As a warning, you definitely need to have healthy shoulders to do this one.