While the bench press is king when it comes to developing a strong muscular chest, it may not be the only thing you want to use for a variety of reasons.
- You’re on the road and can’t get to a gym. Most hotel gyms suck and don’t offer much to a serious lifter.
- Perhaps you’ve been benching for years and just need to try something different. A sure way to get stale is to do the same thing over and over again, even if you’re doing different set and rep schemes.
- Maybe benching doesn’t work for your body. Various injuries and pain can get in the way.
In all three of these cases, bodyweight exercise can be a useful method to use instead of the bench. Of course, we’ll be focusing on the pushup.
Most people don’t give the pushup as much respect as it deserves. First of all, they may say that’s great for endurance, but anything more than 50 reps is just for endurance. Here’s the thing. I’d be willing to bet most of the people saying that, couldn’t do 50 reps, especially in some of the manners described here.
Yes, pushups are something you’re not going to be maxing out on, but if your goal is building muscle, they can definitely do that.
Slow Down Your Pushups
If you want to make pushups tougher, don’t do them so fast. Slow down the movement to a cadence of 5 seconds down and 5 seconds up and your muscles will be screaming before long.
Use a Full Range
Most people who do pushups don’t use a full range of motion. That means locking out your arms at the top of the pushup AND touching your chest to the ground at the bottom. In fact, I often see people treat pushups like only an inch or two of movement is involved. Sure, 50 reps like that is nothing, but do a true full range motion, and even most fairly strong guys will crap out around 30 or 40 reps. But that’s just the beginning…
Extended Range of Motion
If regular pushups are too easy for you, then we need to extend the range of motion. This not only makes it tougher, but the added range of motion places additional stretch, and therefore stress on the pecs. This means more trauma, and in the end more muscle. It is this version of the pushup, that is the classical muscle builder. Earle Liederman loved it for this reason. So did George Jowett and many others. Watch out, the first time you do these you’re likely to end up sore the next day.
Place your hands one two stable objects that allow your chest to sink down lower between them on each rep. Continue to do the pushups as you would before.
Raise Your Feet
There is a small problem with extending the range of motion as above. By raising your hands up, you’re actually making it easier in the angle that your body lies on. To correct this, all we have to do is raise your feet.
You can make it so that they’re level with your hands. Or for even more resistance raise the feet up higher than the hands. Don’t go too far though. If you’re close to a handstand, then typically the shoulders and triceps end up working much more than the chest, so leave that for working those muscles.
Select a variation and a tempo that you could do about 20-25 reps if you went all out. A guess is fine. But you’re going to take that variation and use it for the following workout:
4-6 sets of 12-15
That’s it. Simple right? If you can do all six sets and fifteen reps in each one, then up the intensity for your next workout by slowing them down or raising your feet up more.
While pushups tend to hit the chest more, if you’re looking for overall strength, I like to move people onto handstand pushups when they’re ready for them. It’s taking the idea of raising the feet up to where they can’t be raised anymore, thus increasing the intensity. My complete guide to these exercises is found here.