You could probably say that push-ups are the most revered of all bodyweight exercises. Think about it. Before most of us picked up a barbell, we were all doing tons of push-ups. Why? Because everyone wants a big chest. Don’t believe me? Step into any commercial gym on a Monday and you’ll see every dude in there performing somewhere around 100-200 sets of barbell bench presses.
And I’m not talking about bench pressing the hard way with good form, I’m talking about the flared elbows, shoulder snapping, barbell bouncing off the chest form. And even though they’re in pain, they’ll continue to push through each set; week after week. Eventually, they won’t be able to bench anymore, or worse, stop training altogether.
It is funny, sometimes when you’re struggling, you can’t see the answer right in front of you. It seems in their chest-building quest, they’ve lost their way with how to train smarter.
First, they need to dial-in their bench press form, and second, they need to take a step back and learn how to press correctly. For many, push-ups will be the means for young kids to older lifters, and everyone else in between, to build this foundation.
Push-ups to Build the Bench (and a Massive Chest)
Substituting more bodyweight training into your workouts can give your joints a break and help you to dial-in your form again for the bigger, more complex barbell training exercises like the bench press.
Think that push-ups can’t build the bench?
What is the push-up except a bench press movement with core thrown in. Push-ups not only build muscle for the chest, shoulders and triceps, they help to improve your core stability, allow more freer scapular movement, create more shoulder stability, and teach you how to to engage the lats. The more natural movement of push-ups is in stark contrast to the fixed technique required to perform the barbell bench press where you have to lock your shoulder blades back and down on the bench. Heavier loads on the bench can lead to flaring of the elbows and poor positioning, while putting you at greatest risk for a shoulder injury.
The control you learn by performing push-ups correctly and engaging the lats while pulling yourself downward as if you’re rowing, carry over to the bench in a big way. Technique is everything. Ask any powerlifter who benches a quarter ton or more.
Push-ups will be a building block or stepping stone to help you earn the right to bench with a barbell. And just like any other exercise, push-ups can be progressively overloaded to teach more control, have a more powerful training adaptation (more strength and more muscle mass), and full body tension or irradiation.
Simple Push-up Progressions
Stop thinking of push-ups as a regression or accessory movement for the bench; they are as important as the bench press in your program. And there are so many different variations that you’ll never get board.
If you think push-ups are easy, then try hitting 50 straight with perfect form. Or, decrease your rest down to 10-30 seconds between sets. You’ll quickly get blown out and your chest, shoulders and triceps will be on fire. You’re really only limited by your imagination on variety, but here are two quick examples on how to make them harder on a budget.
Push-ups – Band Resisted
Band-resisted push-ups are great. We’ve done them with 1 bands, two bands, and even three bands. Talk about strengthening your upper body. You’ll also notice when you start overloading the upper back, the core stability component gets real serious too. To make them even harder, just elevate your feet on a bench or box.
Push-ups with Bookbag
Don’t let limited funds keep you from becoming a push-up monster. Take an old bookbag and throw some books, rocks, or roadkill; then get to work. Wearing a bookbag also adds a level of instability to the exercise which you will feel in the shoulders and across your core.
Push-ups are only one of several hundred different bodyweight-only exercises that you can incorporate into your workouts. Bodyweight workouts are not only a great way to train, they are essential for filling in the gaps from heavy barbell wor and continuing to make progress in the gym. If you’re interested in my bodyweight training system – Body Armor – it is available for a very limited release.
How to Perform Push-ups
Step 1: Setup in a plank position, with the arms fully extended and the body locked into a straight position with the head, shoulders, torso and legs in perfect alignment.
Step 2: Spread the fingers apart and grip the ground tightly with your fingers.
Step 3: Powerfully (externally) rotate the elbows backward, creating torque across the shoulders, triceps, and chest.
Step 4: Squeeze the armpits as if holding a piece of paper under each arm to engage the lats.
Step 5: Squeeze the glutes and drive the toes into the ground to finish the full body tension.
Step 6: Row your torso downward until your chest touches the ground without losing the straight body position.
Step 7: Drive powerfully back to lockout.
Step 8: Repeat x infinity.
Ultimate Push-up Video
Here are just a few varieties of push-ups you can use in you programs:
2. Diamond Push-ups
3. Wide Grip Push-ups
4. Slow Negative Push-ups
5. Side-to-Side Push-ups
6. Staggered Push-ups
7. One Foot Push-ups
8. Hindu Push-ups
9. Dive Bomber Push-ups
10. One Arm Push-ups
11. Feet Elevated Push-ups
12. Incline Push-ups
13. Spiderman Push-ups
14. Beyond the Range Push-ups
15. Beyond the Range Push-ups with Feet Elevated
17. Plyo Push-ups
18. Lateral Plank Walks with Push-ups
19. Side-to-Side Plyo Push-ups on Med Ball
20. Band Resisted Push-ups
21. Band Resisted Push-ups with Feet Elevated
22. Chain Push-ups
23. Chain Push-ups with Feet Elevated
24. Beyond the Range Chain Push-ups
25. Beyond the Range Chain Push-ups with Feet Elevated
26. Inverted Kettlebell Push-ups
27. Double Inverted Kettlebell Push-ups
28. Modified Planche Push-ups
29. Plate Loaded Push-ups
30. Handstand Push-ups
31. Ring Push-ups
32. Alternating Reach Push-ups with Furniture Sliders