With all the best home gym equipment sold out, people started to look at alternative ways to get big arms. Bodyweight exercises can build muscle definition – just looks at all those calisthenics Youtube influencers – but only if you do them right. Push ups are particularly great for sculpting big arms and a broad chest, all at the same time.
Not to mention, according to science, push ups (a.k.a. press ups) are equally as good for building pecs as the bench press. Pretty surprising, right? Not so much if you think about it. Using the correct form, push ups and bench presses are very similar moves and also work pretty much the same muscles. And admittedly, setting up a press up station is cheaper than getting the best home gym equipment required to do bench presses.
But it begs the question: what are the best push up workouts that will build big chest and big arms? How should you structure your press up workout in order to maximise chest muscle gains? What push up variations are the best for building pecs?
• Spice up your push up workouts with the best push up variations you've never heard of
First and foremost, you'll need to know how to build push ups. As in the case in most resistance training exercises, a good push up form is more important than churning out 'half-reps', so make sure your core, delts and pecs are all engaged when performing press ups. Slow, controlled reps are key to build muscle.
Ready to soak up some push up knowledge? Here are the best push up workout advice we can provide that will get you to broad chest heaven sooner.
- The best push up variations you've never heard of
- This is the easiest push up variation plus tips to get better at press ups
- How to do bicep push ups
- How to do diamond push ups
Push up tip #1: do more reps
When performing resistance training with the best home weights, you want to stay within the 'hypertrophy range' which is between 8-12 reps per set. This is said to be the best build increase muscle mass, as opposed to a lower rep range that build strength and a higher rep range that build muscle endurance.
That said, bodyweight training is a bit different, especially push ups. Once you can do 10-12 push ups, if you stay in this range going forward, you won't see results anytime soon, or ever. Doing 20-30 or even more reps per set is advised to increase resistance and stimulate the pecs more.
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Push up tip #2: wear a weighted vest
No need to increase the rep range if you add resistance to your push ups. Wearing a weighted vest in one way to add resistance to your push ups. Most vests come with detachable weights so you can adjust the amount resistance and follow a progressive overload pattern in your push up training.
Adidas Weighted Vest | Buy it for $171.11 at Amazon
Add extra resistance to your push ups using the Adidas Weighted Vest. Also ideal for runners, the Adidas Weighted Vest is constructed from highly durable material so it will last for longer. There are eight weight packs on the vest, totalling 10 kg, placed around the upper body to ensure correct balance. These weight packs can be individually removed to drop resistance levels.
Push up tip #3: add elevation
If you want to keep the training as minimal as possible and don't want to invest in the best home gym equipment, you can add more resistance by elevating your legs off the floor. The higher up the legs, the harder the push ups will be. You can gradually increase resistance by increasing the legs higher and higher as you progress.
It is worth mentioning that at some point, as you elevate the leg further and further up, you will end up working your shoulders more and the pecs less. Handstand push ups work the pecs very little but are excellent for the delts and the triceps.
Wolverson Sterling Plyo Box | On sale for £99.99 | Was £149.99 | Save £50 at Wolverson
When it comes to elevation, nothing beats a solid plyo box. For the untrainer eye, it might just look like a wooden box but plyo boxes are sturdy enough to withstand people jumping on them thousands of times. The Sterling's new material has the added benefit of being water-resistant so feel free to sweat on it if you must!
Push up tip #4: use resistance bands
Especially at the apex of the push up movement, you might find it less challenging to hold this pose. Resistance bands provide the most resistance when your arms are extended and as long as you don't lock your elbows, the band's resistance will work the triceps beautifully too. Even the best resistance bands are pretty cheap and can be stored wherever, ideal for smaller living spaces.
WODFitters Assisted Pull-Up Resistance Bands | On sale for $99.99 | Was $159.99 | You save $60 at WODFitters
Most people associate workout bands with pilates bands : pilates bands are softer and are often used for stretching only. On the other hand, the Mirafit resistance bands were designed for resistance training and therefore require a lot more effort to pull/push. There are six different resistance options with the thickest band generating as much as 230 lbs (104 kg) of resistance! Not for the faint hearted.
Push up tip #5: look after your wrists
One of the complaints most often brought up about push ups is that it it kills the wrists and indeed, that's certainly a disadvantage over bench press. The way the hands are placed is important and so is to warm up the joints before you get down on the floor.
If you are happy to invest a little, we recommend getting a push up handle or a couple of parallettes to give your wrists a break. Using these, your hands take on a similar pose as if you were doing bench press, which is way better for wrist health. And much like resistance bands, push up handles are cheap and take up very little space.
Perfect Fitness V2 Pushup Handles | Buy it for £29.99 at Amazon
Push up handles – not to be confused with love handles – can reduce some of the stress your wrists are undergoing during push ups by keeping them in a neutral position. The Perfect Fitness V2 Pushup Handles feature a steel-ball bearing system, making them more durable than other models.
Push up tip #6: take the right supplements
Do you need to take the best protein powder or chow down on the best protein bars or best jerky if you want to build muscle? Of course not, but all of these are convenient ways to add extra protein to your diet which is essential for muscle building and recovery.
One supplement every fitness expert recommends is creatine. One of the most scrutinised supplement of all time, creatine can help you lift more and build muscle more efficiently. Not to mention, it hasn't got any side effects and the daily dose is pretty small too (only 3-5 grams).
If you are going all out, you can also consider taking BCAAs before workout. Branched-chain amino acids supplements are taken in order to "boost muscle growth and enhance exercise performance." According to Healthline, "your body can use BCAAs to build muscle protein and produce energy. They may also have an effect on your brain that reduces fatigue."
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Diozyme's Ultra Whey Protein is as good as it gets. It contains heap loads of BCAAs and EEAs, not to mention it tastes great too. Each serving has 27 grams of muscle protein in it and the product is also paleo-, keto- and eco-friendly. There are no GMOs either. Try it today!
Best push up variations to build chest muscles
Wide push up
Diamond push ups are great for activating the triceps more but a nice wide push up will really bomb the pecs and even the serratus anterior, the muscles covering the upper part of the ribs, just under the pecs, making your chest muscles looks wider and larger in the process.
Even when you perform wide push ups, don't let your elbows flare to the sides. Keep them pointing towards you legs to reduce pressure on the shoulder joints and to apply force to the right areas, such as the pecs and the triceps.
Medicine ball push up
Just like narrow the grip bench press, the medicine ball push up works the triceps just as well as it works the pecs, but this exercise also have the added benefit of adding a lot more core activation to the mix. Using the medicine ball, your wrists are in a more natural position too.
Resistance band push up
As mentioned above, exercise bands are an inexpensive yet efficient way to add resistance to your push up training. With resistance bands, you can ensure your muscles get a good pump, even if you stay in the hypertrophy rep-range (8-12 reps per set). Make sure the band runs around the upper back and not the neck as that might result in pain rather than gains.