The simple press up. Such a standard, stereotypical exercise in the gym, there’s a reason it’s stood the test of time and is returned to over and over again in workouts. It’s amazing.
A press up done with correct form is a serious bodyweight exercise that has great benefits. Targeting multi-joint movements and hitting those triceps, pecs and deltoids, it helps you to focus on all of your key muscle stabilisers, toning and firming your body. It’s also ideal for the abs, which many people forget!
What it makes so great is that you can do a press-up anywhere, without any equipment. Just make sure you maintain good form, keeping your body (head, neck and spine) aligned and in a neutral position, with your abs engaged and lower body activated. When you lower your body, you want to make a triangle with your arms and nose. Never tip your head forward before your body.
Once you’ve mastered the standard press up (comfortably performing 3 sets of 8 reps), there are so many variations you can move towards, each challenging your body in new ways. Here are just 7 of our favourites:
Wide arm, narrow arm
In a normal press up, your hands will be placed on the ground underneath and in line with your shoulders. For this variation, you’re simply moving your arms further apart and then bringing them together.
The wide arm press up will challenge your chest more, whilst the narrow arm (where your arms are together and you lower down with them under your chest) will focus more on your triceps.
You can either perform a set of wide and then a set of narrow, or you can alternate between the two, either walking your hands in, or pushing up away from the ground and moving both arms from wide to narrow simultaneously.
Plank press up
We love the plank, and we love the press up, so why not put them together? Start in a press up position and then lower down slowly onto your forearms, with your body fully extended in a plank position.
Then push up and raise back onto your palms, and repeat. Be sure to hold the plank for at least one count, and keep your abs and legs locked tight at all times, so all the effort is in your upper body.
Want more of a challenge? Perform a full normal press up, but then turn onto your side into a side plank position, extending your arm and leg out in a starfish motion. Drop back to a full press up, and repeat on the opposite side.
Superman press up
Keeping your elbows tight by your side, lower down into a press up. As you push up from the movement, extend your right arm outwards and lift your left leg off the floor, as if you were Superman flying through the sky.
Hold your balance in this position for one count, then drop back into another press up, before raising up and extending the opposite arm and leg (your left arm and right leg). Alternate and repeat for the full set.
Mountain climber press up
Add extra oomph to your press up, burn more calories and hit those abs even harder with the press up/mountain climber combination.
Simple but highly effective, perform a standard press up, and then when you’re in the raised position, bring your right leg into your chest, then immediately extend back as your left leg comes into your chest.
You could perform just a single mountain climb move like this before returning to a press up, or add further variation by doing 2, 4 or 8 mountain climbers. You could even utilise a pyramid workout for the number of mountain climbers done each set.
Sliding press up (or walk outs)
Using a dedicated press up block, or with a towel under your arms, a sliding press up allows you to add an extra dimension to the movement as you throw your shoulders into the mix.
As you drop into the down press up position, your left hand will slide in front of you along the floor, staying straight as your body lowers. Extend your arm as far as you can without falling on your face, and then slowly slide back up.
If you’re unable to slide, perform a walk out instead, where you start in the raised press up position and slowly walk your hands forward as far as you can, lowering your body down to your limit and then walking them back to the raised position.
Press up rows
With a pair of kettle bells or dumbbells, you can add extra back into your press up routine! Grip the weights whilst they’re resting on the floor, and lower down into the bottom press up position.
As you raise back to the starting position, lift your left arm and pull the weight up and into your ribs, with your elbow retracting in a rowing motion. Return the weight to the floor, lower down, and repeat with your right hand on the opposite side. Alternate sides throughout the set.
Pike press ups
One of the toughest press up variations to master, you’ll really feel the effects of the pike press up throughout your shoulders and upper body.
Start in the traditional pike position, which looks like an upside down ‘V’ shape – hands tucked right underneath your shoulders, feet raised on tip toes, bum stuck up in the air. You could place your feet on a step or stability ball to provide extra height.
Then bend your elbows back, keeping your lower body still, as you drop down into a press up movement, with your head descending to the floor in between your arms (rather than slightly in front). Raise up, and repeat. There won’t be as large a range of movement here as with a standard press up, so bear this in mind.
Do you have a favourite press up variation? Share it with us in the comments below. If you need help trying any of these exercises, just speak with any of our personal trainers.