The bench press is great. The cable crossover machine is awesome. And dumbbells are a guaranteed chest pump. But even if you can't access any of that gear, you can still blast your chest aggressively, building strength and stimulating growth.
Why? Because you can still do pushups. And the classic pushup remains one of the best ways to hit your chest, period. You're attacking your chest from an angle that's very similar to the one you'd hit on a standard bench press, and while you're working with a lighter load than you might use on a bench, you still get to produce a ton of total-body tension. You also get to focus on getting a good chest contraction (more on that later).
The pushup can also create even more challenge once you start introducing a handful of variations, and those variations can easily become the backbone of a vicious chest workout. By varying the angle of your torso relative to your upper arms, or shifting the focus of the pushup to focus on negative contractions, pauses, or holds, you shift the way the move stimulates your chest.
By blending several of these approaches into a single workout, you wind up challenging your pecs in multiple ways. You also explore and perfect your overall pushup mechanics, leading to better workouts later. And perhaps most of all, you wind up having a little bit of fun, too.
The Perfect Pushup
The key to getting the most out of pushup training is maximizing the pushup. That means working through a full range of motion, and not cheating yourself on any rep. There are several things you want to keep in mind. Focus on these three.
Perfect Plank: The pushup starts with a flawless plank position and you must own this for the life of every set. Squeeze your abs tight and never let your core sag.
Elbow Pits Face Forward: Turn the pits of your elbows forward, promoting shoulder external rotation and also turning on your lats.
All The Way Up, All The Way Down: Lower your chest to within an inch of the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades as you approach the ground. Then press all the way up. Don't get in a habit of doing half-reps and skipping the final bit of chest contraction.
The Challenge of Pushup Training
The greatest challenge of pushup training is finding ways to increase the load. The downside of the classic pushup is that while it starts out as challenging, once you've done enough reps, it ceases to push you. You're always lifting only a portion of your bodyweight.
That's one place where the bench press can push you more than a pushup: You can eventually load more than your bodyweight onto the bar. You can't do that with a pushup. But you can find other ways to challenge your chest.
Unilateral loading: You can, however, force just one of your pecs to shoulder almost all of the portion of bodyweight that you're moving by using a handful of pushup variations. Archer pushups and single-arm pushups do this, as does the post pushup, a favorite of fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. These pushups become valuable weapons in your chest training, placing greater load on a single pec and also challenging your core and glutes.
Can you keep your hips and shoulders square on a post pushup, which is just a half-step away from a single-arm pushup? Doing so places great load on your chest, and your entire body.
Time Under Tension and Pauses: You can also level up moves by adding time-under-tension and pauses. Pauses cancel out the momentum and "elastic energy" that allows you to "bounce" out of reps. On the bench press, you sometimes need that assist. By eliminating it on pushups, you add challenge to the move.
More Reps: And of course you can load up on reps. But first, you can aim to challenge yourself with pushup variations, which is what you'll do in this workout.
You'll do three moves in this all-pushups chest workout, and each move will challenge your chest in a slightly different way. Do this workout up to three times a week, resting at least one day between sessions (yes, you may actually be that sore). On days you don't do this workout, aim to train your back with pullups and rows, critical moves to help maintain shoulder health when you're challenging your chest.
Post Pushup Dropset
Do 4 sets per side of this pushup dropset, which combines a standard post pushup with classic pushups for a serious chest pump.
Next up, hit the half-typewriter pushup, which once again has you unilaterally loading your chest, then adds time-under-tension as you typewriter your torso halfway across before pressing back up. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side.
3-Step Pushup Series
Finish your chest off with 3 sets of this 3-step pushup series, which features a little bit more unilateral loading and starts to incorporate your triceps too.
Bonus Move: Position-Switch Pushup Countup Game
Want to rock your triceps a bit in the process too? Yes, they got work in the first three moves, but they'll take on added responsibility if you throw in one to two sets of this extra move, a "game" that pushes you to be explosive and pile up a few extra reps.
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