Weighted pushups are a great way to build size, strength, and power in the upper body. If done correctly, they are also a lot safer on your joints than the bench press. Read on for more.
Of course, before progressing to a weighted variation of any exercise, you should have the bodyweight version mastered. Here are some great tips to get your pushup dialed in before making the progression.
A few good tips to remember when executing a pushup:
- Contract your glutes really hard – this relaxes your hip flexors and gets your pelvis into the proper position
- Keep your elbows from splaying out too wide – keep them relatively tucked in along the side of your body
- Have your feet together – this helps to maximize glute activation (a tip taken from Kelly Starrett)
- Before starting the descent, lean forward so you are more “over top” of your hands with your shoulders
- Drop your chest all the way to the ground
If you need to make the pushup easier, try and elevate your arms instead of dropping to your knees. This allows you to keep your glutes activated and allows you to progress with proper form.
Dean Somerset wrote a great piece on some common pushup mistakes. If you think you are doing it incorrectly, read this.
The best way to achieve this is to simply flex everything and not allow any movement from anywhere other than through the shoulders. That means glutes, abs, lats, rhomboids, neck flexors, hair follicles, eyelids, and anything else you could throw into the pot for a tasty tasty stew of McHappiness.
At the end of the day, the pushup should be working the pecs, anterior deltoids and triceps. If you feel something else other than these muscles burning at the end of a set, chances are you’re probably doing something wrong and need to change it up before I start face-palming your attempts to look cool in front of the figure competitor chicks by rocking out some no-neck pushups.
The Weighted Pushup vs. the Bench Press
Why is the weighted pushup a better exercise for upper body size and strength compared to the bench press? One, it is a lot more functional. You can still apply external resistance (more weight than just your body), but you are relying on core strength/stability throughout the movement. If your core is too weak, you won’t be able to complete the movement, whereas on the bench press, you can arch your back and find a way to complete the repetitions.
It is a great exercise to build and maintain scapular stability (great for posture and overall arm/shoulder health). Unless you have someone handing the bar off to you on the bench press, chances are you won’t be able to set your scapula in the proper position before (or during) the movement.
The beauty of weighted pushups is there are so many ways to increase the difficulty. If you don’t have a workout partner or trainer, you can use a weighted vest, or give this variation a try:
And if you do have a workout partner, you can use weight plates to provide the external load/force. This is what I tend to do, as it also forces you to squeeze your core/glutes. Rest the plates on your back/glute area and make sure to keep your back in alignment (again, having someone watch you helps with this a lot).
Using a resistance band or adding chains are also great variations as well. You can do drop sets (stripping the weight off and finishing your set with bodyweight pushups to failure) if you really want to get a good burn or pump.
If you don’t have access to a vest or you work out alone, you can make pushups harder by elevating your feet, too.
You can build a big and strong chest with pushups. At a certain point in time, you will get good enough at bodyweight pushups that you will need to find a way to make them more challenging. I hope you can take one or two of the above variations and add them to your workout arsenal.
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