11 Push-Up Alternatives For Size and Strength


Push-Up Alternatives

Push-ups are a classic exercise that targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

But, they can be challenging for beginners or those with wrist or shoulder injuries. If you’re looking for ways to mix up your training program or want to try some new exercises to target the same muscles, this article is for you. I’ll be discussing a variety of Push-up alternatives that you can try to improve upper-body strength and muscle mass.

So whether you’re a seasoned lifter or just starting out, there’s something for everyone in this article.

Alternatives for Push-Ups

I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list as possible. I have exercises that use all different kinds of equipment – dumbbells, barbells and even one that requires barely any equipment at all. I’ve also tried to include both beginner-friendly and more advanced movements as well.

Hopefully, regardless of what equipment you have access to or what your level of experience is, at least one of these alternatives for Push-ups is just what you’re looking for.


Dumbbell Bench Press


Dumbbell Bench Press Lock Out Position

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • The dumbbells should be slightly angled (representative of the path you are descending with your elbows).
  • Press the dumbbells up.
  • Control the dumbbells down during the eccentric movement and draw the dumbbells in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The dumbbells will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the dumbbells back up.
  • When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.
  • The best way to finish a set is to bring the dumbbells back to your thighs and stand up with them. Or have a lifting partner take them from you.

Coaching Points

Dumbbell Bench Press is a very shoulder-friendly pressing movement. Because the implement is a dumbbell, the range of motion is increased, the shear force on the shoulder is decreased, and the shoulder stabilizing muscles are engaged.

I would highly recommend this movement to any athlete. It provides all the benefits that a pressing movement can offer with minimal risk.

Remember to finish your sets with awareness so that you and your training partner/fellow gym members stay safe and injury-free.


Feet Elevated Push-ups


Feet Elevated Pushups

Equipment Needed:

  • Bench or Box

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie face down on the floor and place your feet up on a bench or box.
  • Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
  • Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
  • Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
  • Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
  • Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
  • Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
  • Lock out your push-up and pause.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground.

Coaching Points

When doing Feet Elevated Push-ups keep the elbows at a 45-degree angle. For maximal chest, shoulder, and rotator cuff engagement, do not let the elbows flare out away from the middle. Also, do not let the elbow hug right next to the torso.


Bench Press


Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

When doing Bench Press, do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.


Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and a bench.
  • Sit on the edge of the bench with dumbbells resting on each thigh.
  • Lay back on the bench and press both dumbbells to full extension.
  • Now, lower the right dumbbell down to just outside the chest, keeping the elbow at roughly a 45-degree angle to the body.
  • Press that dumbbell back up to full extension.
  • Next, lower the opposite dumbbell down, same as the first, and press back to extension.
  • Continue alternating arms back and forth until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Hold and stabilize the non-repping arm at full extension and only rep one dumbbell at a time. As the arms begin to fatigue, you may find one (or both) arms start to drift down as you’re repping the opposite arm. Try to keep that opposite dumbbell pressed at full extension!

Don’t turn Alternating Dumbbell Bench into a ‘piston-pumping’ type action. I’ll see athletes that will have one dumbbell going up at the same time the other is going down. Keep one dumbbell at extension until the opposite rep is completed.

Some will teach to keep the ‘resting’ dumbbell at or on the chest while the other arm is repping. Personally, I much prefer to keep the non-repping arm extended because helps to improve shoulder stabilization.


Incline Barbell Bench


Incline Barbell Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline when doing Incline Bench Press. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.


Landmine Press


Equipment Needed

  • Landmine Attachment
  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Set up a landmine attachment with a barbell.
  • Grab the end of the barbell and start with it at chest level.
  • Feet should be shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and core braced.
  • Remove one hand from the bar and then press the bar to full extension with the other arm.
  • Lower the bar back to chest level under control.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch to the opposite arm.

Coaching Points

When doing Landmine Presses, keep the core braced and maintain a neutral torso. If you find yourself leaning back and arching the low back, lower the weight if needed and correct your form.

If you don’t have a landmine attachment, don’t worry! Here is how you can make your own DIY Landmine Attachment with just a tennis ball.


Dips


Man Doing Dips on Dip Rack Attachment

Equipment Needed

  • Squat Rack
  • Dip Attachment
  • A Dip Station can be used as well if you have access to one.

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Shoulders (Anterior Delt)
  • Triceps

Step By Step Instructions

  • Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
  • Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
  • Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
  • Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
  • Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with Dips is a poor range of motion. If someone is struggling to be able to do reps, the easiest solution is to simply not lower yourself into a full rep, but this is incorrect. If a lifter cannot perform a full rep they should switch to one of the variations listed below.


Medicine Ball Chest Pass


Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball
  • Partner or Solid Wall

How To

  • Grab a medicine ball and a partner (or a solid wall)
  • Start on your knees, sit back onto your calves and hold the ball at your chest.
  • Explosively drive forward with the hips and throw the ball forward to your partner.
  • The forward hip extension should cause you to fall forward.
  • Catch yourself with your hands and then explosively push yourself back up to your starting position.

Coaching Points

Med Ball Chest Passes can be done from the knees as described above, but can also be done from a standing position. Regardless of what starting position you use, brace the core and be explosive!


Med Ball Push-ups


Medicine Ball Pushups

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a medicine ball and find an open spot on the ground.
  • Start on your knees and secure your hand placement on the ball first.
  • Use a neutral grip hand position with palms facing one another on each outer edge of the ball.
  • Now, lift the knees off the ground and raise up into a pushup starting position.
  • Lower yourself down, keeping the elbows tight to the body as you descend.
  • Lower down until the top of your abdomen (just below the sternum) touches the ball.
  • Drive back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Perhaps the most important part of Med Ball Push-ups is getting the proper hand placement on the ball. Don’t be afraid to experiment slightly with what hand position feels best as it may change slightly depending on the type and size of the medicine ball you are using.

Keeping the elbows tight to the body is key here to make sure that the focus stays on the triceps.


Dumbbell Incline Flys


Dumbbell Incline Flys

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Adjustable Bench (Capable of changing angles)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • Grab your dumbbells, sit on the edge of the bench, and sit the dumbbells on your thighs vertically.
  • Take a deep breath, lie flat on your back on the bench, and get your dumbbells in position ready to press.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor and your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Press the dumbbells up.
  • Now, keep a slight bend in the elbow and lower the dumbbells down until they’re at shoulder height.
  • Finally, flex the chest and pull the dumbbells together, back to arm’s length over the chest.
  • When your set is done, do not freely drop the dumbbells without checking your surroundings. You could drop the dumbbell and it might hit a person nearby. Or your could drop your dumbbell and crush your fingers on a dumbbell that was left next to your bench.

Coaching Points

Remember as you move your bench up, the more you are engaging the shoulders and less chest. Be sure your angle matches the goals you’ve set for pressing.

Dumbbell Incline Flys should not be done with heavy weights. Stay relatively light, keep the movement very controlled and focus on the stretch.


Cable Crossover Flys


Cable Crossover Fly

Equipment Needed

  • Cable Machine

How To

  • Place single-handle attachments on both sides of a cable crossover machine.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight forward lean through the torso.
  • Hold handles with your arms spread and a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Press the cables forward until your hands touch. (crossing the arms in the front will add more emphasis to the upper pectorals)
  • Slowly bring the hands back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Make sure both pins on each side of your machine are on the same notch when doing Cable Crossover Flys.

Final Thoughts

Push-ups are an excellent exercise for developing a strong chest and triceps, but sometimes you might want an alternative for Push-ups.

In these situations, you’ll need a Push-ups alternative and I hope that at least one of the alternative exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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