The push up is rarely seen in gyms these days, particularly in bodybuilding gyms that are packed with benches, incline benches, dip bars, and chest press machines. But a pandemic-induced lockdown may have changed things for many people. Do bodybuilders do push ups? Or are there better alternatives out there?
Most bodybuilders avoid performing push ups unless they use them for a warm-up. Push ups are great for beginners, but after a certain point, they are not effective for building strength or muscle. Other chest exercises are much more effective, and bodybuilders are more likely to use them.
In this article, we will look at why bodybuilders don’t often perform push ups, why the push up is still an excellent exercise, and what exercises bodybuilders perform instead of push ups.
In a recent Reddit post, Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted a useful bodyweight workout that people could follow while unable to access the gym. Push ups were one of the main chest exercises. This makes sense, upper body exercises are notoriously difficult to perform without weights. Without push ups, you are left with dips – which can be very difficult for many people to perform, and require parallel bars.
Does this mean that Schwarzenegger and other bodybuilders use push ups when training for Mr Olympia? I doubt it. Push ups are a great exercise for beginners, and thanks to hundreds of variations, they can be made progressively harder. This is crucial for strength and hypertrophy gains. But push ups will only go so far. At some point, it becomes very difficult to create progressive overload without having to perform hundreds of push ups.
Bodybuilders can build much more muscle with exercises such as the bench press, the incline bench press, the chest press machine, or exercises like chest flyes and dumbbell pullovers. If they wanted a good bodyweight exercise that has better progression options, then chest dips are preferable. Not only do they work the chest more, but they can be progressed a lot easier by adding a weighted vest, or weighted belt with plates attached.
While many bodybuilders are able to train a lot more than regular people due to taking anabolic steroids, there is still only so much time that they can dedicate to working out. Push ups represent an inefficient exercise, as it would take a long time for them to perform enough push ups to see any progressive overload. This would be muscular endurance-based in any case.
I’ve spent a lot of time so far talking about why bodybuilders rarely use push ups in their training. That does not mean that I am not a fan. In fact, I think that push ups are a superb exercise, that any new bodybuilder should be focusing on before they bother with bench pressing or other chest exercises.
Too many people skip the push ups and go straight to the bench, but this is a mistake. Push ups can be performed anywhere, they are virtually risk-free, and don’t require a gym membership. Why not dedicate a month to getting better at push ups, rather than spending your cash on a fancy gym membership?
Try and get to the point where you can knock out 15-20 push ups in a row with good technique. This means getting your chest to almost touch the ground for each rep. Once you can do this, you are ready to progress to bench pressing. However, you can of course look to progress by increasing the difficulty of your push ups. Perhaps you could learn how to perform plyometric push ups, where your hands briefly leave the ground after each rep?
Place both of your hands shoulder-width apart with your palms flat on the ground. Raise your body and hips off the ground, so that there is a straight line running from your shoulders down to your heels. With your feet on tiptoe. Ensure that your hips aren’t sagging at this point.
Take a deep breath and then slowly lower your chest all the way down until it is almost touching the ground. Pause, and then drive your chest back up to the starting position. That is one rep of a perfect push up.
You can change the emphasis of your push ups by moving your hands. With your hands closer together there will be more emphasis on your tricep muscles. With your hands wider apart there is a little more focus on the chest. You can perform plyometric push ups, when you rise back upwards you use more force and push your hands off the ground. This can be progressed further where you perform clapping push ups.
Then there are decline push ups, where you place your feet on a slightly raised surface, increasing the range of motion of the push up, and targeting the chest more. Or incline push ups, where you place your hands on a raised surface. Shortening the range of motion and making the exercise easier.
I’m sure that all bodybuilders have done push ups during their lifetime, and some may still do push ups now. But as a chest, shoulder, and tricep exercise, it has its limitations. You can only progress them so far, which means that at some point they aren’t going to be challenging enough for increases in hypertrophy or strength to occur. Sure, there is muscular endurance, but that is not particularly useful for bodybuilders.
That does not mean that I don’t rate the push up, it is in fact one of my favourite exercises. Perfect for new lifters, or for people who want more muscular endurance. It’s wonderful for home workouts, circuit training, warm-ups, and supersets.
Most people reading this will still benefit from adding push ups to their routine. But if you are already massive, and super strong, then a push up may be less useful than jumping onto the bench press or a similar exercise.
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.