At some point, the classic push-ups become too easy for the intermediate athletes. However, this exercise can still be effective by tailoring it to challenge your strength and muscles. So, in this guide, we will explore the best intermediate push-ups designed for higher-level strength and bodyweight mastery.
These variations help you build on the foundational strength gained from traditional push-ups and add an exciting twist to your workout routine.
Whether you’re aiming to enhance your upper body strength, develop more muscles, or diversify your workout regimen, these intermediate push-up variations are the perfect solution.
Why do we need to make push-ups harder?
If you want to make progress in life, you want to choose the more challenging path. The same thing goes if you want to build strength and muscle with body weight further.
In fitness, we call this process progressive overload. This principle means making each workout more challenging than the other to keep getting gains.
When push-ups are too easy, we can still keep on adding more reps to make this harder as long as the effort in your workout is high. You can still build muscle and further develop your muscular endurance, as supported by a study from Schoenfeld and colleagues. Performing 50 push-ups in a row is still a good way to progress.
However, relying solely on normal push-ups with high-volume training will no longer develop strength, especially with trained individuals. Workouts will also take much longer to finish, which isn’t an efficient use of your time.
Specificity is still key. Choosing the correct and appropriate method of overloading the exercise is crucial to achieve faster progress. This leads to less frustration and overall enjoyment in your journey toward your goal.
Progressions and Variations
Now, there are many ways to induce progressive overload with your push-ups. Today, we’re going to focus on more advanced progressions and variations.
These are modified push-ups that offer more stimulus. Every exercise on the list is much more difficult compared to the beginner push-ups we’ve previously covered.
But as mentioned earlier, there’s an element of specificity in each push-up variation we’re going to cover. We will not just build general pushing strength but also target specific attributes and muscle groups.
Best Intermediate Push-ups
For the intermediate people, let’s keep on progressing to unlock your full potential. These push-ups are ranked from easiest to hardest, but they also offer different benefits as well.
If you want to try out these push-ups below, make sure that you have at least mastered the basic floor push-ups. A good indicator is that you can easily rep out 30 push-ups in a row.
If not, then you might want to focus first on solidifying your fundamentals. There’s no harm in taking your sweet time with the basics. Not only will this help you progress faster in the push-ups below, but the basics will also set you up for a strong foundation of body control to avoid any injuries.
Give walking push-ups a try and test your abilities. We’re basically moving like a lizard during our push-ups. This rhythmic movement challenges both upper and lower body coordination.
Step forward with a staggered stance. Time each step from left to right in synchrony.
This exercise strengthens your forward arm to a greater extent. This means that this exercise is unilaterally based, which is great for fixing muscle imbalances between the arms.
Don’t be afraid to look silly. Anyone training hard understands and respects the difficulty of walking push-ups.
- Sync the movement for better coordination
- Staggered steps allow unilateral development
- Fixes imbalances
Tricep extension push-ups
Bodyweight training is known for compound movements, but calisthenics can also offer isolation for bigger arms.
If you want bigger arms, then you’ll want to develop your triceps further since it makes up more of your arms than your biceps. The tricep extension push-up is the perfect exercise for this purpose.
Simply bend the elbows without rocking the shoulders forward. This helps us primarily target the triceps in isolation. As you can see, isolation is possible with calisthenics if you know how. The movement pattern is similar to tricep extensions using a cable machine, dumbbells, or skull crushers.
You can easily increase the difficulty of the exercise by shifting the weight forward. Using a straight bar or gymnastics rings can also offer more challenge by increasing the range of motion of the exercise. The deeper stretch allows for more muscular growth. A recent 2023 research also found that having the arms overhead with tricep extension offered superior muscular gains compared to performing the motion in a neutral arm position.
In addition, tricep push-ups on rings also add instability, making it more challenging. Stabilizing the whole body throughout the range of motion requires more effort.
- Tricep isolation exercise
- Shift the weight forward to make it more challenging
- Bar or ring tricep push-ups allow for greater stretch and more gains
- Rings add instability for further challenge
Plyometric push-ups build unique qualities. Speed training using explosive reps is categorized as power training.
According to the OG Newton, Force is equal to mass times acceleration or F=mxa for simplification. This means that when we increase the acceleration by exploding fast with push-ups, we can increase the force production.
While keeping your hips down, push upward with full force, then clap your hands at max elevation. As you catch yourself with your hands, be sure to keep your muscles engaged to avoid injuries. You can scale the exercise by exploding at your capacity. You don’t have to clap if the height you gain isn’t sufficient.
With this variation, it’s not about doing a ton of reps. We want quality and not quantity. Since we can only accelerate with high velocity in short bursts, we want to keep the reps low and do more sets instead.
Explosive push-ups are a great assessment tool for recovery. If your height and speed are consistently down, these are signs and symptoms that indicate unrecovered fatigue.
- Keep reps low and sets high
- Explode with maximum capable speed; clapping is not necessary
- Assessment tool for recovery
Let’s move to the vertical plane. The pike posture makes it possible to train overhead using only our body weight. While it’s not directly the same, the pike push-up is the equivalent of the military press in weight lifting.
Your goal is to form a tripod shape between your head and hands. We need to keep the weight shifted forward and on our hands to challenge our shoulders with this push-up. Otherwise, coordinate the push by straightening the arms and opening the shoulders with one motion.
Pike push-ups, namely the planche and handstand push-ups, are essential preparations for advanced calisthenics. It’s also a primary entry point towards handstand push-ups. It’s not a horizontal pushing exercise as it’s more categorized as vertical pushing.
Take this exercise to the next level by elevating your hands and your feet. This allows you to go into a greater range of motion to build more muscle and more strength.
- Prioritizes shoulder strength and muscle development
- Preparation for advanced calisthenics exercises
- Maintain weight shifted forward so your arms bear most of the weight
- Elevate the feet and arms for an increased range of motion
Here’s a push-up you’re going to be excited to master.
The archer push-up is a stepping stone towards real one-arm push-ups. This builds unilateral strength on the left and right-hand side. This means weaknesses in your non-dominant hand can be improved.
An alternating push-up manner is ideal when starting out. It’s still challenging yet manageable. For best results, keep your assisting arm straight when going down. This allows the working side to bear more body weight, helping you get stronger.
Focus your mental energy on that bent arm. The straight arm is just for balance and directing the movement. Be sure to keep the rep speed consistent between sides to make sure both arms are getting worked equally.
- Working arm bent, assisting arm straight
- Focus the attention on the working arm
- Assisting arm for balance
- Alternating reps before working on single-sided reps
Here’s an unpopular opinion: weighted push-ups are underrated.
As mentioned earlier, push-ups are often criticized since they get too easy early in your training. But with weighted push-ups, they are meant to be challenging throughout your lifetime.
Progression is limitless by going heavier. You can continue improving through a lifetime, even at an advanced level already. On top of the additional weight, you can even perform this variation on rings for a significant increase in challenge in terms of intensity and range of motion.
There’s no reason to separate calisthenics and weights. A combination of both is the future of fitness that allows you to unlock new levels of strength and muscle.
You have options to perform this exercise.
Using a dip belt placed on your mid back with weight plates is the optimal way to perform weighted push-ups. This method makes the loading work against your pushing effort, which feels awesome.
An advantage of this is solo training. There is no need for a partner to become the external weight or someone who needs to place the weight on your back.
Another good option is using weighted vests. The loading is quite similar to using a dip belt. However, adjusting the weight can be a bit of an inconvenience when removing one plate at a time. Regular cleaning is also required to prevent the accumulation of odor.
Once you’ve become strong enough, the amount of weight you can add can be limited unless you buy an appropriate weighted vest for you.
If you don’t have any access to training equipment but have a training partner, then they can help you safely build up resistance for weighted push-ups.
The downside to this variation is staying objective with the weight. You can’t really measure the amount of resistance you’re pushing.
Banded push-ups can make your push-ups much more challenging. The setup is easy, and the bands are quite accessible. Choose the band difficulty that offers enough challenges according to your level.
No equipment at all while training alone at home? No problem. Just get a backpack and place full water bottles in it. You can also use books or anything that’s safe and then weigh your backpack to keep things objective.
Intermediate athletes need more stimuli to grow bigger and stronger. When the regular push-ups become too easy, it’s time to switch up the exercise for your horizontal pushing plane.
Learn more about the push-up variations for different levels in the video below:
With this in mind, these intermediate push-up variations should provide enough challenge for you to unlock newfound strength that can advance you further in your calisthenics journey.
If you’re interested in using and implementing some of these exercises into your routine, we invite you to explore the FitnessFAQs programs. Find the best one that fits for you in the quiz below.