Fitness influencer, entrepreneur and strength coach Jeremy Ethier has previously made videos which include common pushup mistakes to avoid and some of the best weighted exercises for chest growth. Now, in a new video on his YouTube channel, he argues that when it comes to developing strength and size in your chest, pushups are actually all you need.
He cites a 2018 study which looked into two approaches for building strength in the chest area: the first group used progressively heavier weights on the bench press to target their chests, while the second used a series of increasingly difficult pushup variations. After four weeks, the pushups group exhibited just as much of an increase in upper body strength and muscle growth as the bench press group.
Ethier uses the findings of this study as the basis for his equipment-free chest workout program, consisting of three pushup workouts per week, each of which focuses on a different element: skill, strength, and endurance. These workouts use different variations depending on the level of upper body strength you are starting with. He recommends you start by testing your ability, performing as many pushups as you can, ensuring that you are fully extending your arms with each rep.
If you managed between 1 and 10 reps, you fall into Level 1. 11 to 30 reps is Level 2, and Level 3 is anything over 30 pushups.
For the skill day, Ethier suggests that Level 1 start out with incline pushups for the skill day. "Choose an appropriate height, and lower it over time as you get stronger," he says. "Use a height that allows you to get 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps." For Level 2, Ethier advises sticking to regular pushups, and doing 70 percent of your pushup max for 3 sets. Level 3, meanwhile, are given a slightly more difficult variation: hand release pushups. These involve lifting your hands momentarily at the bottom of the pushup when your chest is touching the ground, in order to remove the stretch-shortening reflex and make the ascent tougher on your muscles. Ethier suggests 3 sets of half your pushup max.
On strength day, Level 1 should focus on slowing down the downward portion of the pushup movement as much as possible. "This has been found to be a unique way to quickly build strength," he says, assigning 5 sets of just 1 rep. Level 2, meanwhile, will do the hand release pushups for 3 sets of half their pushup max. And Level 3 will do one-sided pushups, lowering just one arm at a time, for 3 sets of 50 percent of their max.
When it comes to working on endurance, all three groups do EMOM (every minute on the minute) pushups, combining short bursts of effort with short rest periods. Each group takes 50 percent of their pushup max, and performs that number every minute for a total of five minutes. "This allows you to get a lot of reps in to build up your endurance without letting your body completely fatigue," says Ethier. "They're tough, but very effective."
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