Pushup Alternatives

Pushups are arguably one of the most effective full-body exercises you can perform.

They may seem old school, but they target the upper body, lower body, and core, and require no equipment. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Maybe not. Pushups require quite a bit of strength, making them a challenge for many beginner and even intermediate exercisers to complete effectively. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon them entirely!

Whether you despise pushups or are looking to build size and strength to work your way up to the standard variety, we’ve put together a list of 12 pushup alternatives below.

From body weight to free weights to machines, these moves will help you get there.

Things to consider

Choose two to three of these exercises to target what we think of as the “pushup muscles” — the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps — and incorporate them into your workout routine at least twice a week.

Three sets of 10 to 12 reps is a great place to start.

Wall pushup

A starter modification for a pushup, using the wall is effective for beginners and the easiest way to improve your pushup strength.

This move works those pushup muscles (the pectorals, deltoids, triceps). The further away your feet are from the wall, the harder it will be.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your arms extended straight out in front of you, palms on the wall.
  2. Step back while keeping your legs straight, allowing your weight to fall into your upper body.
  3. Keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle, lower your body toward the wall as far as you can go. Keep your neck neutral and your shoulders down and back.
  4. Push up and return to start.
Bent knee pushup

A progression for a wall pushup, coming down to the ground on your knees will get you closer to the real thing.

The key here is to focus on the full range of motion, allowing your chest to drop as close to the ground as you can get it to really build strength.

How to do it:

  1. Start on all fours, then walk your hands forward so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.
  2. Allow your feet to fall toward the ground, rolling forward on your knees to avoid discomfort in your kneecaps. Keep your neck neutral and your shoulders down and back.
  3. Keeping your elbows at 45 degrees, lower your chest down toward the ground as far as you can.
  4. Push up and return to start.
Incline pushup

Another modifier for a standard pushup, an incline pushup uses an elevated surface to help you progress.

While it works the same muscles as a standard pushup, there’s more of an emphasis on the lower chest here.

You can continue to challenge yourself by choosing lower and lower inclines until you’re knocking out standard pushups in no time.

How to do it:

  1. Choose a stable inclined surface to work off of. A bench or a stair works great.
  2. Get into a high plank position with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Keeping your elbows tucked at 45 degrees, lower yourself down as far as you can go, then push back up to start, ensuring your core stays stable throughout the movement.
High plank to low plank

Don’t discount the value of planks to build strength, particularly for a pushup. The setup is very much the same, and you’ll need to comfortably be able to support your whole body weight in each move.

In this move, you’ll transition from high to low plank, giving the upper body muscles a run for their money just like a pushup would.

Muscles targeted here include the deltoids, triceps, quads, and almost the entirety of your core.

How to do it:

  1. Start in a high plank position with your wrists in line with your shoulders, your body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Keeping your core engaged and back straight, drop down into a forearm plank one arm at a time, holding here for a few seconds.
  3. Inhale. On the exhale, push back up into a high plank, again maintaining a strong core and back.
Dumbbell chest press

Dumbbells are a fairly easy piece of equipment to work with for all levels of fitness.

The dumbbell chest press hits many of the same muscles as a pushup would while potentially being easier on the wrists.

How to do it:

  1. Lie with your back on a bench or on a stability ball with a dumbbell in each hand, resting them at chest level.
  2. Face your palms toward your feet. Ensure your feet are flat on the floor.
  3. Push the dumbbells straight up over your chest, ending with your arms directly over your shoulders.
  4. Pause here slightly, then in a controlled motion, release the dumbbells back to chest level.
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Resistance band chest press

If you don’t use resistance bands in your workout routine, now’s the time to try!

Not only are they a perfect option for those who work out at home, but they al put less force on the joints than a dumbbell or barbell would while still building strength.

Using a band for a chest press is another alternative to a pushup.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a resistance band by the handles and loop it underneath your armpits and behind your back. Choke up on the hands by looping the band around your hands to adjust the resistance.
  2. You can split your stance here or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put a soft bend in the knees.
  3. With your palms facing the floor, push the handles out, extending your arms as you go.
  4. Pause here, then release back to start.
Barbell bench pressShare on Pinterest

Also targeting the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps, the barbell bench press will improve your upper body strength. Pushups, here you come.

How to do it:

  1. Lie with your back flat on a bench, positioning yourself so the barbell is in line with your shoulders.
  2. Grip the barbell at about shoulder-width position.
  3. Inhale. On the exhale, push up on the barbell, bringing it off the rack and above your chest.
  4. Inhale and lower the barbell down to your chest.
  5. Exhale and push it back up to start.
Incline dumbbell press

The incline dumbbell press will target the upper part of the chest more than a pushup would, but it will still help build size and strength in the upper body.

How to do it:

  1. With your bench at a 45-degree angle, lie back with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing out.
  3. Push the dumbbells up overhead, pausing slightly at the top.
  4. Release the dumbbells slowly back to the sides of your chest, then push back up.
Chest press machine

One advantage of machines over free weights is that because of the added stability they provide, you can load up the weight.

Try the chest press machine if you want to build strong pecs without pushups.

How to do it:

  1. Sit in the machine, gripping the handles and placing your back flat against the pad.
  2. Inhale and push the weight away from your body, using your chest muscles to initiate the movement.
  3. Pause at the top and return to start.
Dumbbell chest fly

A move that mainly works the pecs and deltoids, the dumbbell chest fly is a great supporting exercise to practice pushups.

The key here is control to ensure that you’re really targeting the chest muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie back on a bench or stability ball. Your feet should be flat on the floor.
  2. Extend your arms out to your sides with the dumbbells parallel to your body. Maintain a soft elbow.
  3. Inhale and bring your dumbbells up to meet at the center of your chest.
  4. Exhale and release, stopping when the dumbbells are at shoulder level.
TRX pushup

TRX straps rely on gravity and your own body weight to test your strength, balance, and stability.

They’re easily scalable, though, so don’t let them intimidate you.

Performing a pushup on TRX straps will work the chest and shoulders as well as the core and plenty of other small stabilizer muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust the TRX straps to knee level or shorter. The higher the handles are, the easier the pushup will be.
  2. Grab the handles with your palms facing down. Step back, positioning your wrists so they’re directly underneath your shoulders.
  3. Straighten your legs so your body forms a straight line.
  4. With your elbows at a 45-degree angle, lower your upper body down, ensuring that your core stays tight and your hips don’t sag.
  5. Don’t let your body lower further than your hands, as it can cause shoulder injury.
  6. Push up back to start.
Dumbbell overhead press

An exercise that mainly targets the shoulders, an overhead press will work wonders to strengthen and build your deltoids and core — both super important muscles for a pushup.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keep a soft knee.
  2. Bring the weights up to shoulder level with your palms facing out.
  3. Maintaining an upright torso and tight core, push the dumbbells up overhead, ensuring that your neck stays neutral.
  4. Pause here, then release in a controlled way back to start.
The bottom line

While pushups are a big bang-for-your-buck exercise, there are plenty of other moves that will help you build size and strength in your upper body.

Mixing it up can actually help your pushups get better, too — become a master in no time!


Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife, and more.

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