I’m tired of “bodybuilding experts” and fitness forum know-it-alls sound off about how pushups aren’t effective for building muscle mass, particularly in the chest and upper body. Yes, I too enjoy the multiple variations of the bench press and flys (among other chest-targeted exercises), but this doesn’t make me partial to one of the most primitive yet proven compound movements in history – the pushup. Regardless of what people say, the pushup will always be an effective compound exercise for increasing strength and subsequent muscle mass in the chest and upper body region.
Here is a step-by-step pushup guide that will outline how you can get the most of out of the standard pushup and build muscle mass. The following will provide you with little nuances or adjustments that you should try in contrast to what you may be used to doing.
Step-by-Step Pushup Guide
As you probably know, the standard pushup requires no equipment or external support. All you need is your body and the ground. It specifically targets the entire pectoral region (your whole chest); however, because it is a compound movement, your triceps, back, shoulders, core, and neck (when properly executed) are all recruited in each repetition.
1) Assume standard pushup position by placing your hands a little further than shoulder width apart, elbows nearly locked (arms almost completely straight, but with slight bend), and core elevated by way of your tip toes on the floor.
2) Do not look down. Rather, look forward. When you look down, you lose the opportunity to recruit the muscles in your neck, a region too commonly overlooked. Keep your eyes forward throughout the movement and don’t give in to doing extra repetitions at the expense of looking down.
3) Slightly squeeze your abdominal region to ensure that your back remains straight and your core is stabilized.
4) In a controlled motion, begin by lowering your chin and upper body to the ground. At the bottom of the movement (technically the top), your arms should be a little more than 90˚ in relation to the floor because your chest should be touching or just barely above the ground. Because your eyes and head are looking directly forward, your face or nose are not going to touch the ground. If your chest is at the floor and your body is straight, you’re doing perfect.
5) Squeeze your back muscles by flexing your shoulder blades towards each other at the bottom of the movement and pause. This is a crucial element of the pushup that many fail to implement. It is an excellent way to recruit more muscle fibers in your back and shoulders for optimum and simultaneous development. Do not bounce off the floor or use the ground as a force to propel yourself back into the movement. Focus on control and form. Feel each and every muscle fiber work and don’t allow your ego to get in the way. Performing each repetition in this manner guarantees that you won’t be able to do as many pushups as you may be accustomed.
6) Return to the pushup position and remember to not fully lock your elbows. This ensures that your body doesn’t cheat itself of extra work. You can get the rest you need after the set. Repeat these steps until you’ve reached failure at a set number. For instance, if you know you can do 30, don’t stop until you’ve done 33. Rest for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at most and repeat. Perform 3-5 sets of your desired number of pushups over 15 minutes at most.
In a later article, I will describe two other basic variations to the pushup that will specifically target the lower and upper region. It’s important to realize that any exercise or training regiment will yield positive results of added strength and muscle mass if used in conjunction with sound nutrition and rest. The pushup is no different. Good luck!