It’s not new and it can be performed anywhere without the need for equipment, yet there are few exercises to rival the good old push-up when it comes to improving all-over body strength.

When performed correctly, it’s an exercise that builds optimal upper-body strength in the chest, shoulder and arms. Last year, a study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found the traditional push-up to be as effective as a bench press for building chest and arm strength. When trained athletes performed a six-repetition maximum of both the push-up and bench press exercises, the muscle-building results were the same.

But its benefits don’t end there. The push-up engages abdominal muscles for stability, but also recruits the lower back, gluteal and leg muscles to keep the lower body lifted.

What adds to its appeal for athletes is the variety. Alter your hand position to form a narrow base and you achieve greater muscle activation in the triceps and pectoral muscles. Place one or both hands on an exercise or medicine ball and the emphasis shifts to increase triceps activation, studies show.

Here are five ways to vary your push-ups:

Medicine Ball Push-Up

1. Start in a push-up position with one hand on medicine ball and other hand on floor
2. With your abdominal muscles engaged, lower your chest toward the floor and then drive your body up and over explosively so your hands leave the ground and ball
3. Land with opposite hand on the medicine ball and repeat for prescribed number of repetitions.

 

Exercise Ball Push-Up

1. Position yourself into a push-up position with your hands about shoulder-width apart, back straight, and toes on top of the ball.
2. While keeping your back straight and the ball still, lower yourself towards the ground with your arms until your face is a few inches above the floor.
3. Repeat.

 

Diamond Push-Up

1. Start in the push-up position with your hands beneath your shoulders and your body in a straight line. Separate your feet so they’re about shoulder-width apart.
2. Place your hands together directly under your chest, with the tips of your index fingers and thumbs touching. Your fingers and thumbs should form a diamond or triangle shape.
3. As you inhale, bend your elbows out to the sides and lower your chest toward the floor. Then exhale to straighten your arms.
4. Repeat.

 

Spiderman Push-Up 

1. Assume a standard push-up position, your body in a straight line from ankles to head.
2. Lower your body toward the floor, lifting your right foot and swinging your right leg out sideways as you descend. Aim to touch your knee to your elbow.
3. Return to the starting position, and repeat with your left leg.

 

Rotation Push-Up

1. Assume the classic push-up position with a straight body from ankles to head.
2. Lower the body by bending the elbows and, as you come up, rotate your body so your right arm lifts up and extends overhead. Your arms and torso should form a T-shape.
3. Return to the starting position, lower yourself, then push up and rotate till your left hand points toward the ceiling.
4. Repeat, alternating from left side to right side.


This article was first published in Athletics Weekly. For more of the latest running and athletics news, plus performance features and much more, grab a copy of the magazine or check out www.athleticsweekly.com