Strength and mass with the body mass. Part II: push ups

In the first part of the text I wrote a lot about inverted rows – not so popular exercise for the back muscles. The variations of push ups are much more popular. Despite the common belief, it doesn't have to be an exercise just for beginners. There are many variations of push ups that can be challenging even for well-trained people.

You should definitely read:

Gym workout vs. your own body weight exercises: facts and myths


Strength and mass with the body mass. Part I: inverted rows

Variation 1: classic push ups

Muscles involved: chest (pectoralis major) – lower and upper part, anterior deltoid, triceps.

Additionally: erector spinae, rectus abdominis, obliques, short head of biceps

Push ups are a good exercise for beginners, and for more advanced – in classical version - they change into an endurance-strength exercise. In this aspect push ups can be noticed e.g. during the wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu workouts. They are performed without longer breaks e.g. in 5-15 repetitions. The only acceptable break is during the push up in plank position.

If you think that push up is too easy, you should try the following:

  • pause at the bottom (right over the floor, for a few seconds),

  • pause at the bottom and in the middle of the movement (go down half-way, hold, go down to the floor, hold, go up half-way, hold, go up to straight arms).

If the push up is too hard, do the following:

  • try female push ups – the legs are on the floor (there are many versions of this exercise, e.g. the one when knees are on the floor – push-up on knees, or the whole legs are on the floor),

  • do the push up when the body is directed upward, e.g. on the Smith's machine, on a bench, chair or other object – incline push-up).

If you want to develop strength and mass, and you are able to do at least 20 push ups – you have to start looking for other, harder exercises, or increase the load (e.g. an additional load put on the back). I dissuade programs, such as 100 push ups or similar. If you attack your chest, triceps and anterior shoulders that much – without the symmetrical load of the back, biceps and other parts of shoulders, you risk injury first of all, and second of all, you build an asymmetric hilarious image of your body. The most advantageous amount of repetitions for the muscle hypertrophy ranges between 8-15 (20) , depending on the source. If you are able to do more repetitions – you influence the endurance adaptation – you keep adjusting the muscles and nervous system to a long-lasting work. It is not the justification of strength, but of endurance. Those two features are often mixed on the Internet. If you want to consider the strength of chest, shoulders and triceps, you should rather use an exercise in which only 1-3 repetitions are possible to be done. That's why a better indicator of strength can be dips, bench press, or push ups standing on hands (under the condition, that you get the right technique of each exercise during a few weeks).


Variation 2: push ups standing on hands

This exercise, according to some sources, is aimed at developing deltoids. Depending on the version, strengths and weaknesses of the competitor, other part, e.g. triceps can be felt more.

Crossfit competitors are famous for doing this exercise, also a famous Russian weightlifter Dymitry Klokov used to perform similar exercise. You can do it next to the ladders, wall, or with a help of a partner. If it is too hard – you'll have to wait until you strengthen the muscles of triceps, shoulders and chest, as well as back and abs for stability. If this exercise is easy – slow it down, add pauses and increase the range of motion.

DIMYTRY KLOKOV and push ups standing on hands:


In the matter of terminology – many people quarrel about the names of this exercise and treat all kinds of push ups standing on hands as the assisted push ups. The only true version of push up standing on hands is supposed to be the one done by the best-trained people, where they keep their bodies vertically on their own (which is standing on hands joined with doing push ups).

Others call this version of push ups – handstand shoulder press.


Variation 3: diamond push ups

Film on youtube: Hannibal and diamond push ups

In this variation of push up, the index fingers and thumbs are together. The work of triceps is strong. Despite all, this exercise has different variations depending on the different ways of moving elbows and the place of hands. However, you shouldn't mix the diamond push ups with the pike push ups. In the first ones hands are put together. In the latter – it's opposite – hands can be wide apart. The key is to put the whole body in reversed V-shape.

Film: pike push ups

If that's not enough, pike push up exists in the variation engaging mostly chest (feet are far from hands), or shoulders (feet are closer to hands).


Variation 4: dips

You can even do them between two chairs or other equipment prepared a moment earlier. In the triceps version the body should be more vertical, in the chest version, the body is more bent. In reality, it's hard to force particular muscle groups to work in certain variation – it depends too much on the performance of the exercise. It can be assumed that very wide grips make this exercise easier – chest is more engaged. Whereas narrow grips make that triceps work harder. Attention – you can also do the version of push ups on the bar – it is a very good complementary exercise to muscle up.

If dips are too easy:

  • slow down the eccentric phase of movement,

  • introduce pauses,

  • use additional load (belt or harness).

Strength and mass with the body mass: inverted rows