The weighted push-up, in theory, could rank as the best pushing movement. It involves a similar horizontal pushing motion as the bench press but also challenges the core, limits your range of motion to a strong range, and involves stabilizing your shoulders. In practice though, the difficulty with increasing the load ranks it lower than the bench press. The dubious advantages of bodyweight exercises can sometimes harm results as well.
The push-up focuses on the chest, the front half of the shoulder, and the back of the arms. These areas include the major muscles of the sternal and clavicular portions of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii. Although not mentioned in most sources, the front half of the middle deltoid receives work as well. Major joint motions include arm extension, shoulder flexion, horizontal arm adduction, and scapula abduction. Many muscles in the legs, upper back, shoulders, and torso stabilize.
This guide focuses on the standard push-up.
You can perform the push-up just about anywhere. You may need weight plates and a backpack possibly or a weighted vest if adding a load. Some trainees also need push-up handles to reduce the stress on the wrists due to the extreme extension required from them. If needed, pick stable handles and not those that rotate. Push-ups on your knuckles can have a similar effect but may not direct force through the forearm as well and can feel uncomfortable.
Stick to regular push-ups. Elevating your feet can place your hands above your head. This overhead position causes shoulder impingement as if doing an overhead press while including less muscle. Focusing on adding weight and reps with the basic push-up will grow the entire chest and all the other involved muscle groups evenly.
Variety serves no purpose for strength training and can be harmful instead. Avoid performing plyometrics by clapping between reps. Avoid various grips outside the standard. Do not use a medicine ball as this makes it a close-grip push-up which can harm the elbows. Ignore fancy variations too such as dive bomber, Hindu, uneven, or walking push-ups.
The best exercises use medium positions that work all of the muscles evenly. Any deviation from this also places shearing forces on your joints. This rips them apart as if breaking a stick in half with your hands.
- Get on all fours and face the floor.
- You want to maintain a plank position that from the side would have your body’s head, torso, and legs line up.
- The hands should place slightly wider than shoulder width. Use a pronated (overhand) grip. Any other position can harm the wrist.
- The feet should usually remain fairly close together, say within a foot’s length. This depends on preference though. Some prefer a wider base so just make sure you remain stable and the feet feel comfortable.
- Make sure the weight distributes across your back in a way so that it remains in place and stays consistent for each workout. Make sure you can add this weight safely. You may need a partner to help place the weight plates on your back.
- Look down somewhere at the floor no more than a few feet in front of you. You want to keep your neck in neutral. Looking up extends the neck too greatly.
- Keep the lower back in a neutral position. This means neither extended nor flexed. Imagine you are standing up with good posture and mimic this position.
- Keep your toes in contact with the ground. For those with less strength, you can bend at the knees and place them ground. An elevated horizontal bar and performing the push-up while standing can also work.
- Keep the chest out and this will pull back the shoulder blades slightly. Maintain this position throughout the exercise. This creates tightness and maintains the natural arch for the lower back.
- Lock out your elbows to assume the starting position.
Lowering (Negative) Phase:
- Begin the push-up by bending your elbows and extending the shoulders.
- Descend at whatever speed allows you to feel in control.
- Keep your lower back in a neutral position. Prevent the hips from sagging or lifting. Squeeze your rear to encourage the neutral position if you sense any change.
- Keep the forearms perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the motion. This should happen if you keep your elbows neither tucked nor flared. This means keeping your head slightly beyond your hands and making sure you placed your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart in the first place.
- Descend until you hit a reference point such as the chest or nose grazing or near the ground. If this feels like too much range of motion by irritating the elbows or shoulders, then place a ball or other object below you to touch with your torso as a reference point. Make sure the elbows at least pass the plane of the shoulders (a bit more than 90° at the elbow).
- Hold your breath during the descent. The increases stability and protects the lower back. Inhaling slowly may work as well.
Lifting (Positive) Phase:
- Once you reach your reference point, stay tight and push your body back up to the starting position.
Fail the motion by resting on the ground.
The push-up may work for quite some time or perhaps forever but still lacks the free weight advantage in loading. I would consider the long run and suggest performing the bench press if you have the equipment. Nonetheless, consider the push-up if you cannot perform the bench press.