Push Up Alternatives for Effective Muscle Growth

The push-up is a common exercise that is often used as a part of many exercise routines and physical capability tests. The push-up can be performed in a few different ways. The most common way begins with lowering yourself to the floor while holding your body straight, much like how you would for a plank, while also elevated on your hands and toes. 

To perform a classic push-up, slowly bend your elbows to lower your chest closer to the ground before pushing back up again. The proper form of this exercise includes keeping your body straight and your elbows tucked in. This exercise uses the chest muscles, shoulders, triceps, biceps, upper back, neck, abdominals, and quadriceps. 

For various reasons, a classic push-up may be difficult for some people to perform. It could be that you have injured wrists or do not have the strength required for this exercise. A full proper push-up can be difficult to perform properly, which is why alternative exercises and variations exist. 

A push up alternative is an exercise that is used to replace the push up. To be considered an effective replacement, the muscles targeted by the alternative exercise should be similar to that of the traditional push up.

1. Bench Press

A bench press is another classic exercise. It is similar to a push-up in that you are using your chest muscles to push against the weight. Where in a push-up, that weight is you, in a bench press, the weight comes from a bar. 

You first need to lie back on a bench to perform a bench press. When you hold the bar, your hands should be about shoulder-width apart. Breath in as you lower the bar slowly towards your chest, and breath out as you push it back into the air. 

This is a great option for building your chest muscles, and it allows you to customize the amount of weight you use. 

A common mistake is using too much weight. You have nothing to prove. Use just enough weight that you can comfortably perform several reps without losing form. It is good for beginners who already have enough muscle mass to hold up the bar (even an empty bar counts). 

2. Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is very similar to the classic bench press. The only difference is that you are using two dumbbells instead of a bar. This exercise is performed the same as a bench press in every other way. 

Like the bench press, the dumbbell bench press helps to build the chest muscles. As the dumbbells are free weights, it also helps to build stabilizer muscles in your shoulders.

It is much easier to lose your form in this variety of bench presses, making your weight selection even more crucial. To avoid injury, only use a dumbbell weight that you can comfortably perform several reps with while maintaining form. 

This variation is perfect for absolute beginners as you can start with even 1lb weights. 

3. Chest Fly

Staying with bench-based workouts a little longer, we have the chest fly. The chest fly is also performed while laying back on a bench, and like the dumbbell bench press, it is performed with dumbbells. 

What makes this exercise different is the movement. First, lie back on a bench and lift your chosen dumbbells over your head to perform the chest fly. The dumbbells in this exercise should be oriented vertically, in line with your body. To perform your first chest fly, slowly spread your arms outward. Breathe out and pull your arms back up to the center when you are ready. 

This exercise is good for building up the muscle mass in your chest without having to rely on brute strength like in the bench press variations. 

A common mistake of this exercise is lowering too far. The bulk benefit of this exercise comes from the top of the movement rather than at the bottom. 

This is a fairly easy exercise that even beginners should be able to handle, thanks to being able to select the size of dumbbells and removing the reliance on brute strength. 

4. Plank

The plank is the notorious core building exercise to help you build the muscles necessary to keep your body in alignment during a push-up. It is great for developing the abdominals.


To perform the plank, you get down on the floor and stretch out your body. The idea is to hold up your body with your toes and hands. Alternatively, you can hold up your chest by your forearms instead. The idea is to hold this position for as long as possible without losing form. This time can range anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

A common mistake in the plank is letting your hips dip towards the floor. It is important to keep yourself in alignment by engaging the core. 

This is a great exercise for beginners as it requires no equipment, and even just a few seconds can be beneficial. 

5. Triceps Dip

The tricep dip is a great exercise for building through tricep muscles. It is also effective in developing your shoulders, chest, and core. 

The most common way to perform this exercise is to use bars, though you can also use a chair. To perform triceps dip with bars, step between the bars and grip them with your palms facing inward. Straighten your arms so that you’re holding yourself up with just your arms. When you’re ready, slowly bend your arms to let your body lower, and then push to rise back up.

Triceps Dip
Triceps Dip

The chair variety involves bracing your hands on a chair behind you and extending out your legs. Like the other version, simply lower yourself slowly by bending at your elbows and pushing to rise back up. 

A common mistake is to let gravity do the work to lower you before struggling to push yourself back up. The idea is to raise and lower with slow, controlled movements. 

This exercise is suitable for a beginner, particularly the chair variety.

6. Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are also known as running planks as they are performed in a plank position while your legs engage in a running-like movement. This exercise is not only good for building core strength but also acts as a cardiovascular activity. It is good for developing the abdominals, arms, shoulders, and quads. 

To perform a mountain climber, first, begin in the plank position. This is down, facing the floor as you hold yourself up by your toes and your hands. Next, you bring one knee forward before switching legs. Continue switching legs so that you are effectively running against the floor. 

A common mistake in this exercise is to let your weight shift back so that you are in less of a plank position and more of a down-dog. Another mistake is bouncing on your toes. 

This exercise is suitable for beginners and can also be a good indoor cardio workout. 

7. Rotational Punches

Rotational punches are an exercise that works the core and shoulders. It can be performed weighted or unweighted. 

To perform this exercise, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width. To perform the first “punch,” rotate your torso to the right and pivot on your left foot while you extend your left hand and rotate it so that your closed palm is facing the ground. After you pull back, alternate to your other side. The idea of this exercise is to perform it slowly and controlled. 

A common mistake in this exercise is to use heavyweights. It works better if you use lighter weights as it is designed to engage your core rather than build your arms. 

This exercise is perfect for beginners as you can either use no or very light weights. If you want to make it harder, you can even add a squat between rotations. 

8. Bear Crawls

Bear crawls work your core, shoulders, and quads and are similar to the mountain climbers mentioned above. 

Start on the floor on your hands and knees, and lift yourself up on your toes so that your knees are no longer touching the floor. Your knees should be hovering at a 90-degree angle at this point. Next, move your left hand and your right foot forward and then switch to your right hand and left foot. 

A common mistake is lifting yourself off the ground during the movements. The idea is to stay low to the ground. 

This exercise is suitable for beginners. However, if you have issues with your wrists, one option is to ball your hands into fists. 

9. Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is very similar to the bench press, just that instead of laying back, you’re sitting up. You also have the option of performing this with either dumbbells or a bar. Both exercises target the shoulders, triceps, trapezius, and core. 

To perform a shoulder press, first, sit up straight on a bench with a straight back and engaged core. Lift your dumbbells (or bar) so that your arms are bent at 90-degree angles. Next, breathe out as you push the dumbbells (or bar) upward, and breathe in as you lower them back down.

A common mistake in this exercise is not to sit up straight and not engage your core. Also, be sure to use a weight that is appropriate for your skill and strength level. 

This exercise is suitable for beginners as you can use very light weights.  

10. Machine Press

Finally, we have the machine press. This exercise is performed on a chest press machine and works the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. 

To perform a machine press, first, sit at a chest press machine. Adjust the weight of the machine to something that you are comfortable with. Grip the handlebars in front of you, breathe in, and then breathe out as you push outwards, and breathe in as you bring your hands back to you. 

A common mistake in this exercise is using too much weight and locking the elbows. 

This exercise can be suitable for beginners but requires a chest press machine. 

What makes an effective Push-Up Alternative? 

An effective push-up alternative is any exercise that works some of the same muscle groups as that of the push up. 

What are the muscles that work for Push Up Exercises? 

The muscles used in a push-up are the chest, shoulders, back, triceps, biceps, abdominals, and wing muscles. 

Is performing a push-up better than a push-up alternative? 

Performing a push up is not always better than performing a push up alternative. While a push-up works for many muscle groups at once, it can be a very difficult exercise if you have an injury or lack the core strength to keep proper form. 

What are the Push-up Variations? 

The push-up variations are bench press, dumbbell bench press, chest fly, plain, tricep dip, mountain climbers, rotational punches, bear crawls, shoulder press, and machine press. 

Athletic Insight

Athletic Insight Research


The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.