a soldier doing pushups with hands close together

The Ultimate Push Up Workout for Size, Strength and Power

by Cole Matthews - Last Updated March 31, 2019

a soldier doing pushups with hands close togetherIf you’re a person who works out at home, then the push up has got to play a huge part in your upper body training program. But even gym goers should be utilizing this age-old classic to get the most out of their chest workout. In this article, you’re going to discover how you can make maximum use of the humble push up in order to take your workouts to the next level.

What Does the Push Up Do?

Push ups are perhaps the most well known and easily accessible of all bodyweight exercises. All you need is a patch of ground and your body. The amazing thing is that this most primitive of whole body exercises is one of the single best exercises you can do to work the muscles of your whole body

Most people think of the push up as a chest exercise. While it’s true that the pecs are the prime mover, this movement actually activates virtually every muscle in your body. All of your major muscles groups have to support your body as you do the exercise. That includes the biceps, triceps, core, shoulders, glutes and thighs. In the process, the exercise is providing a great stretch to the biceps and latissimus dorsi muscles.

Push ups, as a result of being a compound exercise, provide you with a decent cardio effect and so stimulate fat burn. A little-appreciated benefit of the push up is that it helps to protect the shoulder from rotator cuff injury. It does this my building up the strength of the stabilizing muscles which surround the shoulder joint, taking the load off the rotator cuff.

A properly executed set of push ups will improve your stability. This is achieved by the natural strengthening of the core which occurs. At the same time the lower back is strengthened to help ward of erector spinae injuries.

Of course, the major muscular benefit of the push up is that it strengthens and builds the muscle in your chest. By moving a weight (your body) through the full range of motion of one of the two key functions of the chest, which is to moves the arms away from the body, the push up effectively does the same thing as a bench press. In the case of the push up, however, it is the body rather than the weight which is moving.

A secondary muscle that is involved in this exercise is the triceps at the back of your upper arm. To bring the triceps more into the action simply move your hands closer together, just as you would when doing a close grip bench press.

How to Do a Perfect Push Up

The Basic Push Up

Lie on your belly with your legs straight behind you and your feet together, the balls of your feet on the floor, and your heels in the air. Place your palms on the floor so they’re at chest level and directly under your elbows. Straighten your arms so that your body rises off the floor, keeping your neck straight and your chest lifted, your eyes focused on the floor slightly ahead of you, your abs held tight, and your body as straight as a board. Slowly bend your arms and lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms are parallel to the floor; if this is too difficult, lower yourself just halfway down. Exhale then push back up to the starting position.

To get the most out of your push ups, you should try to move through both ranges of motion of the pectoral muscles. The pecs move your arms away from upper body but they also move them across your body. The push up does a great job of moving them through the first range of motion but not the second.

In order to activate the pecs through their crossing the body action you should have your hands a little closer than normal. You should also be trying to push your hands together as you go up and down. Of course, your hands will not move but you should be consciously pushing them in together anyway.

Another way to bring in the second action of the pectorals is to do your push ups while holding onto a pair of dumbbells. Make sure that they are round plate dumbbells and not the hexagonal type. As you perform the push up, roll  the dumbbells in toward each other. Then,  as you come up, roll then back out to shoulder width distance apart.

10 Push Up Variations

Diamond to Normal Push Up 

Muscles Involved:

  •   Primary: Pectorals
  •   Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Assume a normal push up position, with your shoulders over your hands and your feet together.

(2) Go down into a bottom push up position. As you push back up bring your hands together to form a diamond shape with thumbs touching.

(3) Perform a close grip push up.

(4) As you push up spread your legs apart and move your left hand out to ready yourself for another normal push up.

(5) Repeat – this time as you push out of the close grip push up, move to the right.

 

Incline Push Ups

Muscles Involved:

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself in front of a box or chair that is 16-18 inches off the floor.

(2) Rest your hands on the outside of the box or chair, with your feet about four feet away. Your body should form a 45-degree angle when your arms are extended.

(3) Lower yourself toward the box.

(4) Exhale as you push straight up. Keep your elbows and arms over the box / chair at all times. Keep your body in a straight line throughout.

 

Side-to-Side Rocker Push Up

Muscles Involved 

  • Primary: Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps


Execution method

 

(1) Assume a normal push up position but spread your arms a little wider than normal.

(2) Lower yourself to a 90-degree angle with your elbows.

(3) rock your chest from one side to the other. Feel the pecs stretching and engaging as your move from side to side.

(4) Keep a tight core and maintain a straight line with your body.

 

Slow Motion Push Up

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps


Execution method

 

(1) Assume a normal push up position with shoulders just over your hands.

(2) Lower yourself to a count of 15 seconds as you lower to the ground.

(3) Count another 15 seconds as you push back up. Exhale as you push back up.

 

Floating X Plank

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Pectorals
  • Secondary: Front deltoids

Execution method:

 

(1)     Assume a plank position with all your limbs spread out and fingers pointing out.

(2)    Lift your body and bend your elbows slightly to increase the pressure on the outer pecs.

(3)    Hold this position for 30 seconds. Resist the urge to push towards your back side. Keep your body in line and your core tight.

 

Foot Plant Push Ups

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself on the floor with your feet up against a wall and assume a normal push up position.

(2) Place your feet on the wall so that your body is in a straight line. In this position, your toes should be about ten inches from the floor.

(3) Maintain this position as you complete your set. Push back into the wall as you go up and down.

 

Hand Plant Push Ups

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself on the floor with your head a few inches from a wall. Assume a normal push up position.

(2) Perform the first half of a push up, then, as you push back up, explosively drive your body up so that you are airborne.

(3) Plant your hands against the wall, being sure to keep your core and shoulders tight. Push your hands into the wall to hold for a split second before dropping into the next rep.

 

  Cliffhanger Push Ups

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself on the floor in a normal push up position, but with your hands stretched out as far as possible above your head. Your feet should be together.

(2) Perform your push ups in this position, being sure to keep your core tight.

 

Archer Push Ups

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself on the floor in a assume a normal push up starting position but with your arms about a foot wider than normal on each side.

(2) Begin the push up by moving down towards your right hand, coming as close to the hand as possible.

(3) Push back to the start position. Now come down on the right side. Both sides count as one rep.

 

Single Arm Posted Push Up

Muscles Involved

  • Primary: Lower Pectorals
  • Secondary: Triceps

Execution method

(1) Position yourself on the floor with your body parallel to a wall. Assume a normal push up start position. Spread your legs out more than when doing a normal push up.

(2) Place the hand closest to the wall against the wall with your palm pushing into the wall. Keep your core tight and your glutes contracted.

(3) Push the hand on the wall into the wall and the other hand into the floor as you perform your reps. Do half of the required number on one side and the other half on the other side.

The Workouts

Workout A: 10 Minutes to 150

In this workout you will be performing a total of 150 push ups over a period of 10 minutes. The 150 reps will be broken up into ten sets of 15 reps with each set being a different variation drawn from the exercises described above. You will need a stopwatch to time yourself.

At the beginning of the first minute perform your first set of 15 reps. You are then able to rest for the remainder of that minute. As soon as the second minute hits, go into your second set. Again, once you have completed the 15 reps, rest until that minute is complete. Complete all ten minutes in this manner.

Here are the push up variations and order:

Basic Push Up

Foot Plant Push Ups

Cliff-hanger Push Ups

Side t0 Side Rocker Push Ups

Hand Plant Push Ups

Diamond to Normal Push Up

Incline Push Up

Single Arm Posted Push Up

Floating X Plant

Basic Push Up

Workout B: Iso-Tension Burn Out

This workout makes use of an isometric hold in the fully contracted position of the exercise to give your chest muscles the ultimate challenge. Begin by performing a set of normal push ups until failure. That means that you keep going until you cannot do another rep with good form.  You now have exactly 30 seconds to rest.

Once your 30 seconds is up, begin doing more push ups. Your goal is to do twice as many reps as you did in your first set. However, every time that you stop, you have to perform a 30 second isometric hold in the bottom push up position. Hover in this position with your chest just off the ground.

As an example of how this works, let’s say that you managed to do 67 good reps on your first set. You then rest for 30 seconds. Now you need get to 134 reps in as few sets as possible. Each time you stop, you must do a 30 second iso hold. Try to keep your rest time as minimal as possible in order to keep the tension on your chest muscles.

By the end of this workout, your pecs will be on fire. Limit this workout to once per week to give yourself plenty of time to recover – good luck!

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