Are Push Ups Necessary if You Have Access to Free Weights?

August 2, 2010

People who have trained in the gym for years often look at something like the simple push up as a beginner’s exercise. I mean, why would they want to perform push ups when they can get a “real” chest workout with heavy sets of bench presses. This is a big mistake, and one that I have been guilty of. It is easy to look at the simple push up as working the exact same muscles as the bench press, but with less resistance. I would like to talk about why you should include the push up in your routine, even if you are someone who trains with free weights.

Bench

[Here are a few guys “benching” on the edge of the River Thames in London using decent form. Yes…a bad joke, but better than the typical bench press article picture…a bulky guy in a lifting suit bench pressing a ton with his face as red as a beet.]

Push Ups Balance Upper Back Strength With Chest

Ever see a guy who benches too much and his shoulders are pulled forward? Or a guy with large pecs and bad back development? Well, push ups can work the upper back in ways that a benching cannot. The scapula is allowed to go through a full range of motion with push ups, but is constricted in all forms of bench pressing. When the scapula goes through its full range of motion with push ups, it fills in the area in between the shoulder blades (upper and lower trap thickness). It also develops the serratus muscle, which frame the lower chest and abs to a certain extent.

The Most Important Part of the Push Up

Ever hear this saying…”you don’t know what you don’t know”? I had no idea that the very top of the push up was the most important part. The scapula won’t fully contract until the elbows are all the way locked out. What you need to do is push to lockout and then make sure your upper back isn’t sagging down at the top. Here is a video of Zach Dechant showing proper form.

 


[So the lockout is important. Notice how his upper back isn’t sagging downward. You want to continue to push shoulders towards the floor even at the top of the movement.]

Push Ups for Better Abs and Obliques?

So I knew that push ups worked the abs in a way that is similar to planks. Here is what I didn’t know… According to Jeffrey McBride, push ups work the obliques better than side bridges. So not only do push ups work the serratus muscles, they work the obliques extremely well. These are the muscle groups which “frame” your abs. Here is a highly scientific, textbook style diagram…

[Most of us are lagging in a bit in this area. Push Ups will help tighten up this part of your midsection. Another good exercise if you want to tighten up your obliques is Renegade Rows (link to an article on this blog).]

Do You Like to Throw Things?

…well push ups will also work your “throwing muscles” much better than the bench press. This works for any sports that involve throwing…football, baseball, softball, etc.

How to Make the Push Up More Challenging

Obviously one way to make the push up quite a bit more challenging is to do them with one arm. I have a whole post dedicated on mastering the one arm push up, but these work the muscles in a different manner than using two arms. Here are some videos demonstrating a few ways to make the two-arm push up more challenging.

Walkover Push Ups


[Stack two Olympic plates. Start with one hand on the floor, perform a push up and then walk across the plates and perform another push up. Extend all the way to the top before walking across the plates. Beginner start with 5 reps and will work up to 10+ per side. This exercise really works the scapular area (around the shoulder blades).]

Chain X Push Ups


[Criss-Cross chains on your back and perform regular push ups. You can use longer chains where a lot of the weight is on the floor at the bottom. There will be an increasing amount of resistance as you get closer to the top, as more chain links will get pulled off of the floor. The greatest resistance will be at the top of the movement. This strength transfers well if you want to increase your numbers in the bench and military press.]

Explosive Push Up Jumps


[Zach believes these to be the best serratus exercise by far. These are to be done for high reps. The reason you want a band to assist is that you are aiming to do most of your pushing towards the top of the movement. When you simply do explosive push ups, most of your effort it at the beginning of the movement. When done properly, Zach claims your serratus will be worked so intensely that it will feel like you have broken ribs the next day. Obviously he doesn’t mean that literally, but you get the point.]

Lateral Band Push Up Walks


[This one is the better for mid-back and shoulders than any of the other push up variations, because you have to continually spread the band. I haven’t done these yet, but they look awesome. You put a light ankle band around the wrists, take 3 lateral steps and perform 1 push up. Take 3 more lateral steps and perform another push up. Begin by aiming to get 5 push ups per side for a total of 10. I can see how this would quickly make your entire upper body thicker due to working both your chest, delts and mid back so well, all in the same exercise.]

So Include Push Ups for Full Upper Body Development

Again…this is yet another example of how body weight movements work a larger group of muscles than similar free weight lifts. I still plan on lifting with free weights due to the fact that you can overload specific muscle groups, but will supplement them with more body weight movements. Also, those of you doing TACFIT or other body weight routines are probably getting a much more complete workout than it would first appear.

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Hazman - Crazy Fitness Guide! August 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

Ahh Rusty, you posted exactly what i was going to write about on my website! lool…On a serios level, this is a quality post, i love pushups, as i see them as a natural way to build up alot of hidden muscles in the body that not many people realise, there are soo many variations to the normal pushup, handstands, close hands, wide hands, hip pushups, lalanne pushups, too many to name, but once again Rusty, great post and great work!

Alain - How To Build Muscle August 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

Wow Rusty, anchor great post. I personally dont do push ups….after reading this i think you have changed my outlook about them. My whole thing is, i am trying to add size to my ectomorph body type and replacing push ups with a bench press wont be the smartest thing for me.. i think, what do you think? Or how about supersetting the bench press and different variations of push ups?

Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips August 2, 2010 at 11:45 am

Rusty,
Fantastic overview of why pushups trump bench press any day. There’s such a great variety in how they can be performed that I think anyone can be challenged as well. Despite all our modern advances, old school bodyweight training is still highly effective in developing lean muscles.
Dave

Joel @ Master Cleanse August 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

This is crazy. I never knew there are so many different variations of push ups. I’ve to admit that I don’t do much push ups ever since I got into the gym.

Your post has made me think otherwise.

JC August 2, 2010 at 11:49 am

there are a lot of great variations here.

To me, push ups are something many forget about simply because of them seeming inferior when you could be doing dips, presses, etc.

While we all know you aren’t going to build a massive chest on push ups alone, they can be another tool in your arsenal for keeping the entire shoulder joints healthy and happy.

Janos - Bodyweight Exercise Tips August 2, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thanks again Rusty for the informative article. I have always loved pushups and this article has given me a few more ideas to try and add to my bodyweight exercise routines.

The pushup as well as other bodyweight exercises involves so many other muscles for stablization. To me that is the real beauty of bodyweight exercises. You get a much more complete all around body workout in less time. What’s not to love about that?

Pete - The Healthy Minute August 2, 2010 at 11:58 am

Hey Rusty,

Thanks for those AWESOME examples of some advanced variations of push-ups!

Due to a shoulder injury from a motorcycle accident, I can no longer do any barbell flat bench presses. I can still do some incline chest presses with dumbells, but only with pretty light weight.

So for the past year, I have had to use pushups almost exclusively to strenghten and develop my chest. And you know what…THEY WORK!

Best of all, I don’t feel any pain in my shoulder or elbows when doing pushups.

I’m really looking forward to trying some of the variations from the videos you shared.

Thanks again and have a great week!

~ Pete

Demond Thompson August 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Great article! I have been working on developing One Armed Pushups for awhile. I love them and I’ve been doing weights as well. Good stuff!

Mike @ Papa Star Health August 2, 2010 at 12:19 pm

The bench press can actually hurt your physique if you’re a male trying to look good on the beach. I was a power lifter for a few years in my late high school early college days. While I learned a lot and got a lot bigger, the flat bench press developed my lower pec much faster than my upper pec creating a droopy looking chest. I haven’t done the flat bench press in almost two years now. I only do flat push-ups, incline push-ups and incline presses, fly’s etc. This has allowed for the upped chest to develop and create a much more masculine looking chest. The bench press is fun but proceed with caution. Make sure to do plenty of incline work to balance out the muscular development.

Alejandro "The Fittest Vegan" August 2, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I’ve included push ups as the second part of a chest super set before to really exhaust the muscle, however after reading your info, I will adjust and add them as a single exercise and see what type of results it provides.

It makes sense that it tightens the obliques as we do a lot of tall planks in yoga and thats the biggest difference I’ve seen.

I also try to make push ups a little heavier by placing my knee on my elbows as I go down and up then switch legs, I find it more challenging and at the same time bigger effort on my core.

Great info guys, thank you!

Dan - Zenvigorate August 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I’ve been doing this workout 5 days a week for almost a month now.

5 sets to failure regular pushups (alternate wide/narrow)

3 sets to failure incline pushups

I keep track of my numbers and always try to improve the total numbers of pushups.

I can see a huge improvement in my chest definition.

Great post Rusty.

Dan

Tom- Your Fitness Quest August 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Great article as usual Rusty. I think many people view push ups as a last resort exercise or something you do if you don’t have any equipment. I am amazed at all the variations you can do with push ups and am constantly surprised as I continue to learn new variations. Thanks for the link to Zach’s blog.

Chris Cannon - Free Muscle Building Tips August 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Rusty,

I have to say that I’ve always loved using body weight exercises like pull ups, push ups, dips, etc; I can’t imagine any workout program without them.

I wasn’t always convinced though, until my college days when I found out one of my friends who was in great athletic condition swore on only using body weight training.

Another great post as always,

Chris Cannon

LD - Dead Simple Diet August 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Great article Rusty!

I love push ups, and always suspected they are more beneficial than people give them credit for. Its funny I did a similar article highlighting push ups, pull ups, and squats as the most important exercises you can do.

Darrin - Lean, Mean, Virile Machine August 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Rusty,

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a big fan of the bench press!

I’m convinced that most people would be better off sticking with push ups and overhead presses to develop their pecs. Since 80% of our fitness results tend to come from only 20% of the effort we put into it, I always encourage my readers to simplify their workouts for maximum effectiveness.

Of course, I’m a big bodyweight exercises fan as well and have been staying in great shape this summer in spite of not going to the gym at all and having an injured knee.

Thanks for posting this! I ran across this article a while back and am glad to see that you’re getting the word out about the wicked effectiveness of the humble push up. ๐Ÿ™‚

[email protected] August 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I include push ups in my routine as an additional way to fatigue my chest. A few pushups between each set of chest exercises goes a long way.

Interesting to learn that pushups tighten serratus muscles. Where do you think push ups have the largest visual impact?

Thanks,

[email protected]

Anna - Path to Fat Loss August 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Rusty, what a great and comprehensive article! I use a lot of different push up variation in my bootcamp classes for the many reasons you mentioned. I use decline, incline, offset, spiderman, etc. push ups. There’s so many things you can do it without the need for an equipment.

I also find that you can make it harder when you feel that it’s getting too easy. Thanks to Zach for showing all the other variations that I haven’t seen before.

Anna

phillip August 2, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Awesome post! I found your site a couple months ago and it has changed my life! Thank you! on a push up note I have been doing pushups as a workout for about a month. I do 100 in the morning by doing sets of 25. Doesnt take any time at all. 25 before shower 25 after brushing teeth, etc. Then throughout the day ill drop wherever possible and do sets to failure usually 50. I can not believe the definition added to my chest along with biceps and abs. Better than when i used to bench press.

Craig - Hollywood Body Fitness August 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I am a huge advocate of pushups and the endless variations that can be done with them. And yes, the muscular balance they create is amazing – something that cannot be achieved with heavy weights.

Pushups work your back, arms, shoulders, core, as well as chest obviously – and can be done anywhere.. they’re an amazing exercise in my arsenal and I’m a HUGE believer in body weight exercises.

GREAT TOPIC!

Craig – Hollywood Body Fitness

Alex Allmert - Weightlifting Workouts August 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I liked the explosive pushups video, I do them myself with no band and hand claps in between.

Howard - Energia Fitness August 2, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Hi Rusty

Excellent post. I am a massive fan of push ups and have been doing them since I was a kid. In fact I think it was watching Stallone in Rocky 1 and 2 doing one handed push ups that inspired me.

see this clip


I still can’t do these properly by the way.

Anyway what I love most about push ups is the variety you mentioned. You can include movements, change hand positions, add instability with exercise balls, medicine balls etc in fact the list is endless. I find with free weight presses especially the bench press my shoulders get more of a hit so i like to mix in press ups to really fatigue the muscle. Also I like to do the close grip presses to work the triceps and I find these work really well. I work as a trainer and have all my clients do lots of different push ups in their routines because apart from developing and shaping the chest area they work abs really well and help burn fat …just a great all round exercise.
I remember when i first did 50 press ups without stopping I was well proud and there is something really satisfying about seeing someone crank out 20 perfect press ups when only months before they couldn’t manage a couple.
I tell you I will doing press ups until the lights go out!

Bryan August 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Rusty, I have to say that I totally love this blog post. I had just updated my blog with a post on Push Up Routines. Your post and insights here only add to the fact that your workout without weights is only limited by your own imagination.
While some may continue to use the bench press as a main chest workout, varied push up routines can only add to the overall benefit of their workout program.

Yavor August 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Different kinds of pushups (and there are a ton!) will hit different weak points that we may have.

I’ve been focusing on mastering many bodyweight exercises this summer (handstand pushups, muscle ups, etc) and must say that there is value in the pushup and its variations.

For example the *hip pushup* might ignite your serratus, lats or even teres major. Or, if all of these are strong already, it might *only* fry your chest and tri’s.

Getting good (say at least 5 reps) with handstand pushups on the other hand makes it impossible not to have really nice and developed shoulders.

Btw – you got mad graphic design skills Rusty ๐Ÿ™‚

Yavor

David - Get Fit Get Lean August 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Rusty,

Take someone who only does push-ups and put them on the bench press and they’ll fine. Take some who only does bench press and make them do a lot of push-ups and usually they struggle.

Push-ups and all the variations are something that people can do throughout their lives. It should never be an either/or thing.

David

Ray Harris - Six Pack Abs Diet August 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Rusty,

Thanks for posting this excellent content on push ups. I especially appreciated you covering the physiology involved in proper push up form. It exposed what I’ve been doing wrong when performing push ups – not locking my elbows out at the top.

It’s amazing that most guys who train with free weights don’t care for doing push ups. The funny thing is that doing push ups can benefit your bench workouts (increases in pushing strength).

Ray

FitXcel August 2, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I love supplementing free weights with push-ups. It really adds a nice complement to lifting for strength.

-Drew fitexcellence.com

Raymond - ZenMyFitness August 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Cool Post and I love doing pushups it so important, its always at the end of a heavy arm session or similar working the triceps with say pulldowns and finishing with dips or close arm pushups.
I got those ideas from your program Visual Impact.

It depends on where your body is at the moment and where you want to go. If you need to gain size the simple rules “intensity and progression” and you get both of those with adding in pushups โ€ฆ

I Love SpiderMan Pushups sometimes on a decline with stability ball to show off to my Dogs! Man got to show someone. haha
Raymond

Sanford August 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Rusty,

I have been following your blog for a while now, and I mostly have the same feeling you do about exercise in general, that it’s not about being huge and lifting as much as you can, but about being healthy, functional and fit. I actually used to lift wieghts very routinely, but never to really get to big. Recently I have actually done only maybe 3-4 free wieght normal gym routines in the last 5 months. I instead decided to shift my focus to more bodywieght oriented workouts, mostly crossfit style, but hardly ever use wieghts(and even then usually in some sort of circuit). I have also fucosed more on taking up activities that give a workout themselves. I was always looking towards working out in a gym to be fit, but then I realized the excercise and fun you could get from actually doing activities. I took up rock climbing and mountain biking, both of which increased my cardio and strength. Rock climbing really increased my relative strength and the bodywieght routines really complimented it.

Many people feel that unless they go to a gym, performing certain exercises, always within a certain set frame, then they will never develop or get in the shape they want.

I found this to be untrue in my case. I went to the gym recently to lift with a friend. Having not lifted in a while, i figured I would be real weak, but I was actually just as strong as I was when I left. I owe it to the gymnastic style isometric bodywieght excercises, added with the rockclimbing (best forearm workout ever).

Also, this type of activity and workout has given me a natural physique. I actually am still pretty much the same size as always (5’9 and 155 not real big) but my strength, especially with my body, is much stronger.

Some people also think that legs can’t be properly loaded without wieghts. But have them try walking lunges, sprints, and pistol squats.

Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that I agree with your thoughts on the importance of the pushup. I use it everyday.

I also try to encourage everyone to try training handstands and progress to handstand pushups or walking on your hands. even against a wall, just holding a handstand becomes tiring. When I stopped with normal gym excercises, I could do handstands, but only weakly and not for long. I progressed everyday though, and now can do freestanding handtand pushups, as well as walking on them for a long time. Shoulders are as storng as ever, even more then when i did lateral raises, military presses and benching galour. Plus the ab workout from holding a handstand is intense, and my core is stronger then ever.

Well just thought I’d share my personal experience with bodywieght excersises. Many people worry so much about whether they are training a certian muscle group too much or not enough. But i find that by staying active and functional, my body takes care of itself.

I’m a firm believer that a gym, though convinoient, is by no means necessary, especially when you have the world as your gym!

Thanks for the great blogs!

Matt August 2, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Hi Rusty

Long time reader first time poster. Completely agree with your post and utilise different push-up techniques to help train everything from my fingers, (complements my martial arts,) to wrists, triceps and chest. In fact I am currently using your end of workout explosive push-ups as part of my routine.

One thing, I’m afraid to say I have to call you out on, is… well, sir… you are a liar. You regularly say that strength training and the tips and advice you give will not give immediate results as some other forms of training. THEY DO! As I dare say this a result of the modesty you display here with regards to your knowledge and part of the reason I as many others go as far as to have you on RSS, I think I’m alright with this.

A bit about myself here, in order to thank you. I’ve been plagued by a metabolism so slow that I think the Hubble telescope would struggle to detect it. Throw in my height of 5’6″ and you can probably guess that the majority of my 28 years have resembled a figure ‘8’ drawn from a floor-based perspective. I have tried all sorts of diets and exercise but never really getting the results I craved until I chanced upon your blog about a year ago. It completely revolutionised what I was doing.

By implementing things such as the 5 sets 5 rep rule as opposed to high rep/low sets and loads, your plank routine, your pieces on HIIT and, one of my favourites, Renegade Rows, I have gone from dumpy and with quite serious confidence issues to someone with whilst albeit not Daniel Craig, someone who loves the hint of six pack he has. None of this is at the expensive of looking healthy. Believe me, my mother would soon let me know! I swear I see a new bit of muscle tone pop out every week. Great reward for the hard work you put in.

Whilst I have used ESE in the past and will use it again in the future no doubt, merely your workout tips have meant that right now I do not even feel the need to use this at present. I aim for four workouts a week, but know that dropping the fourth when circumstances arise will not be an issue. This gets to the core I guess of why I always like your advice. Everything you say has the caveat that the healthy option is not necessarily the hard option. You tell us to eat nachos. You tell us to drink beer. I never feel overtrained and I never feel that I can barely lift my arm to scratch my nose the next day. And I can say with certainty that from your advice I am able to do these things AND stay in better shape than all my friends bar my my best friend, (who does decathlons for fun and is hence a masochist,) something I always thought was beyond my ‘genetic’ potential. Most importantly I am completely happy with my physique and feel in tune with it enough to know how to get on an even keel quickly and painlessly after a big weekend and understand how to target other areas.

Big apology to you for clogging up your posts with my paragraphs and to everyone else who has got RSI for having to skip this, but it’s because the thanks are a long time coming.

Thank you and don’t stop.

Your man in London

Matt

PS – Really hope I don’t sound too sycophantic!

Matt August 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Should have read ‘someone with whilst albeit not Daniel Craig’s physique’.

Could see… ‘confusion’ arising from that whilst unamended!

Clement August 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Hi Rusty, this is an excellent article. Yes, research has shown that pushups work your muscles even better than planks do! The development of the serratus is markedly more probounced than the bench. I guess bodyweight exercises are better due to closed vs open kinetic chain exercises. To e honest, the bench doesn’t even really work your chest! However, the iron addict in me still likes doing them.

If you wanted to have some extra recruitment of your abs, I would suggest T-pushups, spiderman pushups and extended pushups, where your hands are reaching ahead of you. And the serratus is worked heavily with uneven pushups (a type of stationary alligator pushup where one hand’s ahead of the other) as well!

The renegade rows post was the first I ever read from your blog. It really has been quite a while! And thanks for your advice on the Taylor Lautner physique in the previous article. I’m glad you didn’t say “bulk first”!

Nick Irons August 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Hey Rusty,

I am a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach in Bethesda, MD. I big fan of your blog, and read it on a regular basis. But I just have to call you out on something.

In the posting you wrote “Ever see a guy who benches too much and his shoulders are pulled forward? Or a guy with large pecs and bad back development? Well, push ups can work the upper back in ways that a benching cannot.”

This is simply not correct. There is nothing anatomically about the push up that works your upper back. It is an exercise of the chest, anterior deltoids and triceps, just like the bench press.

Saying push ups work the upper back is like saying that bicep curls work your triceps or leg curls work your quads. It simply is not correct.

Kelly - Fitness Overhaul August 2, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Rusty,
I was also guilty for years of thinking that push ups were ineffective compared to the bench press. I finally saw the light and have done more body weight exercises in my training this past year.

My chest was always too developed at the bottom and not enough at the top. I was too dumb to give up flat bench for more inclines, ley alone the push up. Once I finally tried push ups, I can see a big difference in my physique, especially the top of my chest and the chest-shoulder tie in. I also really keep my abs tight ever since I started doing planks, it just comes naturally now when doing push ups. I noticed that I was really feeling it in my abs, but it didn’t really make sense.

Thanks for enforcing in my mind what I thought was happening with my abs and obliques! I have started to pay more attention to other body weight exercises like inverted rows and pull ups and actually do a little of both types, with weights and body weight exercises. I think a combination of both is a great. I have made so much more progress once I finally gave up my ego problem about how much I can bench!

Clint @ Crude Fitness August 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Rusty,
The pushup and it’s MANY variations are something I perform religiously in and out of the gym.

As you’ve pointed out, they are SO easy to make difficult that you’d be doing yourself a disservice on your path to hollywood-type-goodness by not incorporating them into your regime.

This holds even MORE true when you are away on business trips/vacation for a long period of time – Throw your feet up on the end of your bed and do some decline pushups.

I did plenty of these on my last big trip ๐Ÿ™‚

Alykhan - Fitness Breakout August 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Rusty,

I have had a similar experience to Kelly (post above). I used to exclusively do flat bench press and nothing else for chest. As a result, I never got good upper chest development. Now, I do mostly incline exercises with pushups mixed in. Glad you touched on some of the lesser known facts about pushups such as how they engage the core. Anyone who is striving for a six pack and not already doing pushups should read this post!

Alykhan

John Cortese - Cortese Training Systems August 3, 2010 at 3:16 am

I love push ups, handstand push ups, walking pushups, push ups on the power wheel, weighted push ups, blast strap push ups, etc.

They are truly a great and HIGHLY underrated exercise for upper body strength.

If you can’t do 50 push ups with excellent technique and rhythm, you’ve got some work to do!

Michael - Lean Athlete Fitness August 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

Rusty,
As always great post of why bodyweight exercises are still useful. The good thing is they can be done in so many different ways,too. Like Dave said, old school bodyweight training is still highly effective in developing lean muscles and really help you develop an athletic look.

Michael

Darren August 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

Thanks for the information. I have been doing pushups for a while and I have found it translates into real world strength and prevent injuries. In addition, I feel I am much stronger when I do go back to benchpressing in the gym.

Jon E. August 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

Rusty, I just want to thank you for your humor you put in all your blog posts. ๐Ÿ˜€

admin August 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm

So short on time today…just going to respond to some comments…wish I had time for all!

@ Alain,

I’d still include push ups even if you are an ectomorph. I wouldn’t replace the bench press, just do afterward in addition to benches.

@ JC,

Not the best for a massive chest…but great for balance and additional details that benches can miss. A good supplement for sure.

@ Mike,

I agree with focusing a lot on incline…good call.

@ Alejandro,

I watched a video of a pretty young kid who probably weighed less than 150 pounds, bench press 225. He supposedly got there by doing the push ups with chains. 225 isn’t a crazy amount of weight, but he was a pure ectomorph and had a long arm length, etc.

@ Darren,

I think push ups tend to tie everything together better than bench presses. The front delts, upper and lower chest, etc. Some guys who have crazy bench strength don’t look as balanced.

@ Phillip,

Glad you dig the blog. What you are doing is similar to a really good article I read in a magazine years ago written by Pavel Tsatsouline. It was this article that made me do further research and order his books, etc. He wrote an article about how to build chest definition by dropping down and doing sets of push ups whenever you had time, several times per day. I think it was a 4-6 week specialization plan and I used it back then with outstanding results.

@ Yavor,

Yes…I do make some extremely good text book style graphics don’t I? Thanks buddy. I can’t do handstand push ups to save my life. I would be put to shame in your Eastern European gym…you guys are hardcore!

@ Sanford,

Awesome comment! About handstand body weight training and hand stand push ups. I was working out for a few years and felt pretty darn strong at a lot of lifts back in my early 20’s. Then I began working out with a friend who was two years younger. He had a background in diving and was able to walk on his hands as well as do hand stand push ups. I remember showing him the ropes, about how to train in a gym…he had never lifted a weight. It took him about 2-3 total shoulder workouts to school me in the shoulder press. Within a few months he was stronger than me at everything…and I had been training for 2 years. It just goes to show you that you can get really strong with body weight work.

@ Matt in London,

That is awesome that you are getting such good results, so quickly. I’m all about staying in shape while having beer and nachos. Since you live in London, beer is a must…it is a must where I live as well…too many microbreweries, too little time. Thanks for the nice compliments and look forward to hearing more updates on your progress.

@ Nick Irons,

I get where you are coming from when you say push ups do not work back. It is a pushing exercise and it is “similar” to the bench, but here where it differs.

When Benching…the scapula is pressed and retracted, due to the bench pushing against the back.

When doing Push Ups…the scapula is allowed to protract fully at the top of the movement. This scapular protraction develops the musculature around the shoulder blades to a certain extent (the mid back)

I do agree that push ups aren’t going to use the back as prime movers and that you still need to do rows, pull downs, chin ups, etc…but push ups do have the benefit of working the region around the shoulder blades, where bench presses do not. For an even greater mid back activaton those lateral band push up walks are awesome. It is outside-of-the-box thinking, which is why I like Zach’s site so much.

@ Jon E,

Humor? That is simply my best attempt at a syuntifik diagram. Glad you like it!

-Rusty

Alexis segura August 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Hi Rusty, Iยดm about to travel to Montreal (first time) and I have in mind spent like month and a half there. Iยดm traveling with my jump rope (for hiit), my shcedule for push ups but iยดm particularly concern about exercises for biceps, are there anyone i colud do without any machine or barbells? Obviously i will look a park in which i can perform some pull ups but need a backup plan

regards

Dave Ridarelli August 4, 2010 at 2:26 am

I like doing the walkover pushups with a med ball at the end of my workouts just to make sure my entire chest is completely toast…

Anita August 4, 2010 at 4:07 am

Rusty – love the first pic in your article – the only way it may have been better is if it was summer and these men were less clothed (hihihihi)…

But seriously – thanks for this – a lot of stuff I didn’t know. I always thought locking the elbows at the top of the motion is not good for the joints, but after trying it out I can totally feel the difference in intensity – awesome.

I love my pushups for many reasons – strongest one is because they are so versatile – you can vary them endlessly.

Just as an aside – my newly favorite pushup variation is the one from Zuzana (BodyRock.tv) – it’s hard to explain but you can see it in the 3rd round of her “Fcuk The Gym Workout”.

jason August 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Some great variations in there. I love push ups and think they are great but have gotten away from them because I found them too easy. I switched to 1 hand push ups but now I may have to try the Lateral Band Push Up Walks.

Great stuff

Thanks

Rajiv August 5, 2010 at 7:11 am

Really good post, coincidentally I have some scapular winging and pushup exercises really help with scapular rehabilitation as the serrartus is targeted when doing certain types of pushups. The push-up plus is really good, although you won’t feel a ‘burn’ you will definitely strengthen this area considerably. In only 3 weeks I have made massive progress and my winging has improved on both sides, on the left side it doesn’t wing anymore. Here are some good articles on this subject :

t-nation.com/article/bodybuilding/everything_pushups

nicktumminello.com/2010/01/push-up-plus…

That explosive pushup with the band is a great exercise, you really do feel it the next day.

I think that pushups done with proper form really fine tunes the body as it strengthens multiple areas.

Great work Rusty!!

Rajiv

Tony August 7, 2010 at 11:54 am

I have pretty well developed serratus muscles but I never knew why till I read this post. It’s because I do lots of pushups. I never thought of pushups as working these muscles – thanks for the revelation!

Alex "Dude Where's My Muscle" Siddy August 7, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Ahhhhh, the ever faithful but much forgotten trusty push ups. They may not be shiny, new, or hip. And you may not hear the cool kids talk about them too much (apart from you rusty) but push ups will always be one of the premium exercises that is available to anyone…anytime.

With so many variations, there are no boundaries for creative guys and girls out there!

On a personal note, I have been using push ups for well over 4 years now and have experimented with just about every variety under the sun. Totally in love with them ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for the informative post Rusty, learned a few functional things about the humble push up that I did not know about.

nick d August 8, 2010 at 1:52 am

For another reason why pushups >> bench press, google “Stafon Johnson bench”

VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV August 8, 2010 at 2:31 am

Yesterday I did pushups only and now I have sore lats just below the shoulderblades. That can attest that pushups work the back somehow.

David Harms August 8, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Modified Push Ups -As I read your blog post, I couldnโ€™t help but think of the Push Up Bench as the most effective way for people who struggle with push ups , to be able to do them correctly (with full range of motion). Most modified push ups make them easier but only allow one or two variations. The Push Up Bench has 11 different levels to work through on the way to a full push up.

Crispy August 8, 2010 at 10:17 pm

You can take a simple exercise like a pushup, lunge, pullup and make them challenging enough to fatigue even the most hardcore athlete.

I see a lot of people who can’t even do 25pushups with good form, doing 1/2 range bench presses with their backs arcing all over the place and grunting like crazy. Then they wonder why they develop muscular imbalances and don’t progress.

Alex B August 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Hey Rusty I’ve been reading this site for a long time now and since I’m going into college and will have access to an excellent gym I wanna start hitting the strength training hard. This isn’t exactly related to this article but I remember reading somewhere that you recommend 5 sets of 5 reps for strength. I can’t remember though how many exercises you recommend doing for each muscle group. Also, could you post an example of how you would break up your workouts (as in what muscle groups you would do on the same day and what not)?

Thanks a lot Rusty you do great work

-Alex

CR August 9, 2010 at 12:45 am

Rusty,

I like this post as I have believed that the Push up is a lifetime exercise that everyone should do. There is no excuse not to unless there is a physical ailment preventing you.

I have included push ups in my lifetime plan for longevity and advocate that Men and Women both do pushups, reiterating there is no excuse, even for an overweight person. They can be done anywhere, they are free and the result to the physique is rapid.

Alex Allmert - Hardcore Natural Bodybuilding Tips August 9, 2010 at 4:20 am

@Alex B

“I remember reading somewhere that you recommend 5 sets of 5 reps for strength”

Strength training involves low reps, less than 6.

The best way to develop strength is to treat your body as one unit, this way you will develop strength better.

Also isometrics are good for strength training.

-Alex Allmert

Bryan - Workouts Without Weights August 10, 2010 at 11:01 am

Neuro-muscular control of muscles is a frequently over looked aspect of strength training and body building. Workouts without weights gives you the flexibility to learn to control your muscles in various scenarios so much more than the linear aspect of most weight lifting movements.
The videos above make the point better than any comment that the only thing that limits your routine is your own imagination.

Anferneyy August 12, 2010 at 5:13 am

Great Post as always

Do you recommend if i do 250-500 push ups 5days a week would this fatigue my muscles or be considered over training. cause when i did track i basically did abs every night before bed and i felt great.

Thanks

Kurt August 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Love all of the push up variations that you gave. I have been getting myself back into shape and push ups have been a major part of my exercise program. I look forward to trying out the walkover push ups and hopefully working up to the band push up walks.

Curt August 13, 2010 at 7:14 am

Another great post Rusty. Push Ups are also a great exercise to do on non-workout days to help increase your overall workout volume so over time you can do more work for your upper body.

Also, one other great way to make Push Ups more challenging is to to do them with a Power Wheel. This turns the Push Up into an exercise that trains your upper body and core completely.

G August 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

Rusty, I have a totally unrelated question, I hope you don’t mind. I have a natural hourglassshaped body. Normal to slightly broader shaped shoulders, slim waist, broad childbaring hips. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s a body I learned to love and to properly dress since the hourglass shape wasn’t very popular when I was a teen.
The problem I have with my hips is not their size but their shape. It’s really difficult to describe without a photo but from the leg up they start round, then the part between the widest part of my hips and the hipbone is hollow and then from the hipbone on my body curves to my waist. This hollow part makes my hips look somewhat straight and from the back it makes my ass look long and slightly flat instead of short, perky and round. I thank god that I have some junk in the trunk or my ass would look totally deflated.

I don’t want to build out my hips or the side of my butt, I just want to make them look rounder. Is there an exercise for this? (Sumo) squats or dead lifts?

Thanks!

G August 13, 2010 at 10:46 am

Forgot to mention that I don’t want to build out my thighs either…so maybe squats are off the list then I guess…

Jeffrey343 August 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I think that you can get great results with pushups & pullups as your primary resistance exercises. They get your entire upper body as well as your core. And you can do pushups anywhere (pullups too if you get one of those pullup bars), and they don’t take much time at all.

Eight years ago when I was 36, I started working out regularly after about six years of not doing much at all. My workouts consisted of nothing but running (usually 3 – 8 miles) and 100 pushups performed five times a week. I dropped 30 pounds in five months and got a nice athletic look. I haven’t always been consistent on pushups, but I’m trying to get consistent on them again. I really have no excuse not to take three minutes a day to do them.

Juan Pablo August 14, 2010 at 4:47 am

Awesome piece as habitual, Rusty. I fully agree with you as I do not perform bench press: it is less effective than dips (another great exercise to build impressive pecs) or/and ordinary plain push ups to build a good chest. In the ‘ 40s and ’50s none of the old champs used to bench press either; you could see the testimony of legends like Vince Gironda and Steve Reeves who confirm this fact!!

All the best from Madrid, Spain!

//Juan Pablo

lipo August 14, 2010 at 7:38 am

I feel push ups, since they are a bodyweight exercise, is much better than free weights, because you’re not actually lifting anything but all your bodyweight, and also you will see great results as a result.

HHp August 19, 2010 at 3:00 am

I agree with lipo, I prefer push ups rather than free weights, because for me push ups develop the pectoral muscles and triceps, with ancillary benefits to the deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis and the midsection as a whole.

Brian August 19, 2010 at 8:33 am

Rustyyyyyyyy.. Come out, Come out, Wherever You Are…

Paul Nicolson August 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I prefer to use an olympic bar rather than dumbells, you can burn up your chest with some good heavy weights. ๐Ÿ™‚

FrankV August 20, 2010 at 11:20 am

I agree that push-ups should be part of your chest workout. I love to do them right at the end of a chest session. Its a great way to completely fatigue the muscles in your chest and squeeze every last bit of energy and strength out. Exercise to fatigue and your muscles will grow. Keep up the great work!

Fred August 21, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I wonder if anyone has tried varying the rep speed within a workout or/and even within a set.
Inspired by Art Devany’s Fast Twitch Threshold Sets I have tried doing my pushups like this:
1 set x 20 reps. Superslow. The goal is to “kill” the Type 1 fibers.
1 set x 10 reps. Normal speed. For the intermidiate fibers.
1 set x 5 reps. Explosive. For the fastest twitch fibers.
Very short rest, like 15 seconds, between sets.
Art Devany thinks that this is a good way to make sure that you hit all different fibers. You make the slower twitch fibers drop out until only the fast twitch fibers are left. It should work with pushups, even if he’s not talking about bodyweight exercises in his work.
Opinions?!

scott August 25, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Rusty, to answer your question, pushups are one of the best upper body workouts one can do. I should know.

After I graduated from college, I started moving around from state to state (trying to find myself LOL). I put all my weight lifting equipment in storage and took the bare essentials. After awhile, I got a hankering for working out. I started doing 300 pushups a day, EVERY DAY.

I would do 150 in the morning (25 reps x 6 sets), then 150 in the evening. I did this for three years straight. Man, I have never been as big and as strong as I was during that time. My chest and triceps were huge. I didn’t take any measurments, but in retrospect, I wish that I would have.

My weight jumped up to 250 pounds. Granted it wasn’t all muscle, for I ate a lot of fast food LOL. However, the majority of it was. After getting through the initial days of being sore, my strength grew exponentially and when I finally reverted back to the bench press, I was able to set an all-time high for myself.

I attribute all my gains in size and strength to pushups, for I wasn’t doing anything else. It paid off big time for me.

Nowadays the thought of doing 300 pushups a day makes me cringe. Boy was I a machine in those days LOL.

DragonMatt August 26, 2010 at 4:44 am

RUSTY!!

Where are you? COME BACK!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

DragonMatt

DR August 28, 2010 at 4:48 am

Hey Dusty,

Big fan of your site, used to read it basically every single day, and I was wanting to talk about some stuff, hit me up!

Richard August 28, 2010 at 6:18 am

Hi, just found your site. I too am a body weight fan. I change my workout around so as not to get board. One of my favorite is this.
Doing 21`s on these exercise`s. Hip pushups/wide grip chinups(palms facing in)/dips/handstand pushups(these rip the crap out of me and i may only do 15`s)/squats. With the squats i am only using 16kg in a weight vest due to a recent knee op. On the last rep of each 7 i hold an iso for around 7 sec. With the pushups i turn my fingers out as this keeps my elbows close to to the body. I do this 2/3 times a week. Somebody else may want to give these a shot. Another workout i do is Hindu pushups/ hindu squats. (not full squats due to the knee)/ dips/ a shoulder combo. with bands/ plank with ibuki breathing. I will do 3/4 set of each, 2/3 times a week. I change the speed/reps within a set etc. and time of day to fit around my life.

Keith J. August 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

Great article! I wish I could integrate more push ups into my routine. Rotator cuff problems limit my exercises so I need to work around it.

When I do a series of push ups I hold at the midway point and count to 10, push up slowly,then lower.
Thanks.

Angela August 29, 2010 at 8:01 pm

It’s crazy how something so “simple” can be so “effective.” Thanks for the reminder.

For any moms out there – I highly recommend push-ups with your child on your back. They think it’s fun and since they are involved, you have no excuse not to get in some fitness. Plus…as they grow, it gets even harder. ๐Ÿ™‚

Alex Allmert - Hardcore Natural Bodybuilding Tips August 30, 2010 at 5:14 am

You can wear a backpack with some stuff in it to weigh you down while doing pushups, great for building strength.

-Alex Allmert

Josh August 30, 2010 at 10:04 am

Push ups are an interesting thing. Once I was able to bench over 315, I figured, well, no need to keep doing push ups.

But they do have injury prevention benefits, and they are a great rehab exercise. I still keep them going for warmups, and use different varieties for conditioning purposes.

Digital Pet Paintings September 2, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Had no idea that push-ups helped with your obliques. Great, informational post.

Azri Miskal September 11, 2010 at 3:26 am

I definitely agree with your post. Push ups are extremely useful for upper body muscles and while weights actually help with bulk and power, push ups are just easy to do and all you need is yourself!

Gaetan September 23, 2010 at 5:04 am

I never really do push-ups but i will start doing them now more often after i’ve read this. I don’t really bench press but use a lot of free weights and my shoulders are really hanging forwards.
Is there a way to get my shoulders to hang more backwards?

No BS Muscle Building Secrets November 24, 2010 at 4:52 am

Hi Rusty-

Great post.

My new favorite pressing exercise is a sort of bodyweight/weight hybrid.

I do weighted (throw some weight in a backpack) feet elevated pushups (feet up around 2′ or so targets that hard-to-reach upper chest) using a suspension trainer set so the handles are right near the ground.

The combination of the suspension trainer’s instability with the feet elevated and extra weight in the backpack all adds up to a killer chest and shoulder move.

Now I know, from your article, the importance of pressing until my arms are locked out to fully activate the upper back.

Maybe this move will overtake the bench press in popularity?

Probably not, but in the meantime, I will enjoy it!

Thanks again,

Ian

Cai - Quakefitness.com December 24, 2010 at 2:51 am

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Sam- Look Like An Athlete January 13, 2011 at 12:43 am

I haven’t done push ups lately but when I want to really change it up I will sometimes mix push ups along with my free weights workout. I might do three sets of incline presses and three sets of push ups. Or do do push ups at a different angle to target a different area of the muscle.
Just some ideas to switch it up.

Jeremy - Self Health Atlas January 14, 2011 at 3:01 am

Push ups cannot be overrated. I travel quite a bit for my job and push ups are always one of my go-to exercises when I don’t have access to a gym. The endless number of variations with form, angle, reps, and pace allow you to destroy your pecs, lats, and shoulders in a ways that free weights can rarely achieve. I am always surprised at how sore I am after an intense push up routine.

Cheers,
Jeremy

Sam- Look Like An Athlete June 8, 2011 at 9:13 pm

I have been guilty of neglecting push ups in favor of weights…. With that said, for a few months I have been implementing them in once again as part of my weight training and I am always surprised by how sore I feel for a few days afterward. Not a bad thing at all.

One thing you point out is the serratus muscle getting developed more with push ups. This is very true and a tip I learned some time ago is this- when you come up on your push up push or press your weight up beyond the usual press. Give an extra push using your shoulders and this forces the serratus to work extra.

-Sam

Mark - Look Sharp Fitness August 3, 2011 at 10:10 am

Push-ups > bench press any day of the week ๐Ÿ˜‰

Liposuction November 17, 2011 at 7:36 am

I’ve been working on my physique for a while and feel a regular gradually increasing routine of squats, push-ups, sit-ups and mild cardio do wonders. I suppose it’s each to his/her own at the end of the day. You create your own routine that suits you lifestyle.

Tim @ Behind The Workout December 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Push ups are always a staple of my chest workout. I prefer working with machines and free weights, but once in a while I just get on the ground and start doing different push up variations

John Oxnard- Fitness Leads To Good Health April 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Thanks for the great post. I always do push ups in my workout and I will definitely incorporate the new techniques to make my next workout more challenging.

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