10 Easy Exercises That Work Better Than Push-Ups

Fitness websites and trainers love to tout the amazing effects of push-ups. The simple movement hits some of your body’s major muscle groups. It strengthens your chest as you prepare for the movement from the starting plank position and your arms and back as you go down and come back up. But there’s a catch: They have to be done correctly and carefully. If you compromise your form, you can strain the upper body muscles you were working to strengthen. Even if you have great form for the first few push-ups, the moment your form starts to lag, you lose the benefits of the exercise.

Luckily, push-ups aren’t the only exercise that delivers results. These moves hit the same (and in some cases, more) muscle groups and are easier to do. You’ll feel the burn and get the results without having to worry about injuring yourself.

1. Bear crawls

A man in plank position

Bear crawls are just as effective as push-ups. | iStock.com

For this exercise, you’ll need a large, open space. Head to the park or find an unused corner of the gym or your home. Start in plank position checking to make sure your shoulders are stacked over your wrists. Keep your hips low as you crawl forward reaching with your left hand as you step forward with your right foot before stepping forward with your right hand and left foot, coordinating the opposing foot and hand, much like how a bear walks on all fours. Crawl across the room, then reverse and crawl backwards. Do this for 45 to 60 seconds straight, take a limited rest, and then repeat for a total of three sets.

2. Downward dog push-ups

transition from downward-facing dog to another move

Yoga class can build serious arm strength. | Pixabay

Downward dog is one of the most accessible yoga poses out there. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that it serves as the backbone for an easy alternative to doing push-ups. This is a simple, two-step exercise that can be found in yoga routines and various exercises. Plus, it goes beyond toning your arms to target the abdominals, lats, and back.

PopSugar explains this exercise starts in the down dog position but with the weight on the forearms instead of the hands. Exhale as you push through your palms as you raise up onto your hands, lifting your hips towards the ceiling and into the conventional downward dog position. Inhale as you relax then push off your palms and lower your elbows back to the ground, for one repetition.

3. Resistance band tricep extensions

woman using resistance bands to make punching harder

Resistance bands make basic punches harder. | iStock/Demid Borodin

When it comes to full-body workouts, incorporating resistance training a la resistance bands is a win-win. And when it comes to working your upper-body without doing a single push-up, it’s good to have this piece of exercise equipment handy. Get Healthy U shows the triceps extension exercise, which requires as little prep as stabilizing resistance bands under your foot, and extending your arms over your head.

4. Squat to shoulder press

woman dumbbell squat

Add squats and weights to raise your heart rate. | iStock.com/Lunamarina

This movement does more than just strengthen your arms. It incorporates squats and full-body motion to burn more calories and raise your heart rate.

Grab two dumbbells and begin with your feet hip-width apart. Bring the dumbbells near your shoulders, palms facing each other. Bend your knees and hips to lower your body down until you come into a front squat position with your thighs parallel to the floor. From here, quickly push back to standing and press the dumbbells overhead. With control, return the dumbbells to the starting position to complete your first rep. Do a total of 10 reps and rest for 30 seconds before repeating for three to five complete sets.

5. Triceps dips

man doing bench triceps dips

Not surprisingly, this move works your triceps. | iStock/emiliozv

Naturally, with the triceps being a focal point, this exercise is a welcome alternative to the schoolyard push-up. Many sites will say that push-ups are the easier exercise, since they require less shoulder mobility and less equipment. In fact, doing triceps dips on a floor mat is both effective and not too strenuous on your shoulders.

For this exercise, sit on the floor with your legs bent in front of you, hands on the floor behind your hips with your fingers pointed toward your body. Lift your hips up off the ground, into starting position. Bend elbows and use upper-body strength to lower your hips back toward the ground, then extend back up to starting position for one rep. If you are looking to up the difficulty, try this version of the triceps dip from PopSugar.

6. Dumbbell bench press

dumbbell bench press

Dumbbell bench presses tone your shoulders and chest. | iStock.com

This exercise is comparable to the push-up in movement and does a great job at toning your shoulders, chest, and triceps. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lay on your back on a bench. Hold the weights on either side of your chest, keeping your elbows bent at 90 degrees. When you’re ready, press the dumbbells up over your chest as you squeeze your pectoral muscles, per Livestrong.com’s suggestion. With control, lower the weights back down to 90 degrees. This is one rep. Complete 10 or more reps, rest, and repeat for a total of three sets. Be careful not to let your elbows drop below the horizontal line of your body as it can strain your shoulders.

7. Standing punches

man using resistance bands at the park

Try standing punches instead of push-ups. | iStock.com/InnerVisionPRO

This great arm exercise can be done anywhere you have room for a little “shadow-boxing.” As Cosmopolitan explains, simply stand with feet about hip-width apart and have a little bend in your knees so you have a good base. Next, bend your elbows and hold clenched fists up around your chin — like a boxer protecting their face. Keep your core engaged as you twist your torso and alternate punching your right and left fists forward. Start with alternating punches for 60 seconds, and add time as you become more comfortable. Looking to up the intensity? If you have light free weights, you can hold onto them as you punch for a bit of resistance.

8. Forearm plank

young woman doing plank

Planks are easier on your wrists, but still work your core. | iStock/capdesign

One of the biggest drawbacks to doing standard push-ups is the stress they put on your wrists. (Especially if the proper form isn’t achieved ahead of time.) An easy fix to that problem is to give yourself a wider base and lower onto your forearms. Like with your stereotypical plank position, you will want to engage your abdominals by pulling your bellybutton back towards your spine. Simultaneously contract your thighs and glute muscles to keep your hips lifted and your body in a straight line. Aim to be able to hold the plank for one minute, then increase your time by 10 seconds as the exercise becomes more comfortable.

According to an IDEA Health & Fitness Association question-and-answer forum, forearm planks won’t work the triceps the same as the elevated plank. It compensates, however, by working your core harder since your center of gravity is closer to the ground. To up the workload on your tri’s, incorporate these tricep plank push-ups from Well + Good.

9. Rotating plank

woman doing a side plank on a yoga mat

Try out these rotating planks. | iStock.com

As the Body by Wright Blog summarizes, this exercise doesn’t just work the triceps and back. Adding the rotation to the plank works the core, back, and legs. And this exercise can be done in upright plank position, or from the forearm plank position to alleviate pressure on the wrists.

From the starting position, engage your core muscles as you balance on your right hand — or forearm — and raise your left arm into the air with your fingers pointing to the ceiling. Keep your muscles engaged as you lower your right arm back to the starting position, for one rep. Fitwirr recommends doing 10 to 12 reps of this exercise — maybe do five for starters and work your way up.

10. Wall push-ups

Man performing wall push-ups

Take the average push-up and rotate it upward against your wall. | iStock.com

A push-up that doesn’t require you to get down on the floor? Sign us up! Take a cue from Well + Good and try the diamond cutter wall push-ups, guaranteed to make your triceps work overtime. The only caveat here is that this easy alternative is also pretty easy to screw up. The key is to start off standing just a shade further away from the wall than arms length — so when you lean forward onto your hands in the starting position, it should look like you are doing a plank against the wall. Make sure to keep your body rigid and to put your full weight on your upper-body. (You won’t see results if you don’t put all of your weight into the exercise.)

Now, follow standard push-up protocol, inhaling as you engage your upper body and bend your elbows, drawing you towards the wall as if you were drawing yourself to the ground in a regular push-up. Exhale as you push back from the wall and return to starting position for one repetition. Start with a set of 10.