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5 Pushup Variations To Build a Stronger Upper Body, From an Expert

Ditch old-school pushups and do these variations instead.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

When you envision pushups, images of Rocky Balboa doing one-arm pushups in an epic training montage may come to mind (cue "Eye of the Tiger"). Or you might have nightmarish flashbacks to high school gym class. Either way, if your fitness goal is to build a stronger, leaner upper body, then pushups are a must. This classic exercise is essential in any gym-goer's toolkit, as it strengthens and tones multiple areas of your upper body, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps. We've put together five pushup variations to build a stronger upper body, so listen up.

Though pushups are a great way to increase overall strength, doing traditional pushups on repeat can make workouts feel stagnant and boring. Also, your body will become so used to conventional pushups that it will stop responding to them. This is because your muscles adapt when exposed to a new stimulus, causing them to grow. However, you'll experience diminishing returns at a certain point if you don't implement "progressive overload" into your training.

Progressive overload is the principle of increasing the intensity (weight) and volume (amount) of your exercises once your muscles have adapted, and it's considered a significant factor in muscle growth and increased strength. So instead of cranking out hundreds of pushups to build a more muscular upper body, train smarter by adding these clutch pushup variations to your workout routine.

If you've hit a wall with your strength training, we've got your back. We spoke with Kate Meier, CPT, a certified personal trainer with Gym Garage Reviews, who shares five top-notch pushup variations to build a stronger upper body and help you avoid plateaus. Keep reading to learn more, and next up, don't miss Build Up Your Boulder Shoulders With These 5 Exercises, Trainer Says.

Raised Leg Pushups

woman on mat demonstrating raised leg pushup variations to build a stronger body

The first pushup variation to build a stronger upper body is the raised leg pushup. This advanced version of the classic pushup engages your core and lower body while improving your balance. It also works the three main muscles activated during pushups—your pecs (chest), triceps (back of upper arm), and delts (shoulders).

To start, Meier instructs, "Set up in a typical pushup position, then lift one of your legs until it is just above the height of your hips. Keep the raised leg straight as you lower down into a pushup. Once you push back up to the starting position, place your raised leg down and raise the opposite leg before your next rep."

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Spiderman Pushups

Next up are the aptly named Spiderman pushups. This variation annihilates your core and helps improve your coordination since you perform multiple movements simultaneously.

"Set up in a pushup position, making sure your hips are in line with your shoulders and ankles, and your core is tight. Next, begin lowering yourself toward the floor while also bringing one of your knees out to the side and up to touch your elbow before pushing back up. As you push back up, bring the knee back down and into the starting position, then switch sides," explains Meier.

Pike Pushups

fitness man demonstrating pike pushups

The pike pushup is a challenging variation that will sculpt your shoulders, chest, and triceps. Be sure to maintain a strong core while focusing on performing reps with proper form.

"Start in a classic pushup position, then move into a downward-facing dog yoga pose, raising your hips until your body forms an upside-down V-position," instructs Meier. "Keeping your back and legs straight, bend your elbows, and lower your upper body toward the floor. Next, straighten your arms to push back up into the starting V-position."

Staggered Pushups

Another excellent variation in building your upper body is the staggered pushup. This variation engages muscles on each side of your body while delivering a solid upper-body workout.

"First, get into a typical pushup position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then, move one of your hands forward until it is above your shoulder," instructs Meier. "Move the other hand back until it is below shoulder level. Then, lower down into a pushup, return to the start position, then switch your hand positions before the next rep."

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Stability (or BOSU) Ball Pushups

fitness man demonstrating Bosu ball pushups

Get ready for an intense pushup variation that will activate stabilizer muscles in your chest, triceps, and shoulders while you balance on a stability ball. If this one's too challenging, Meier suggests using a BOSU ball with the flat side up to build muscle stability.

"Start by lying face-down with your chest supported on a stability ball. Place your hands at about shoulder-width apart on the ball, and make sure your entire body is aligned with your toes on the floor," Meier says. "That means your shoulders should align with your hips and ankles. Push up from this position, then pause at the top before lowering back down. Make sure your arms are nearly straight, but your elbows are not locked out at the top."

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more about Adam