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10 Versions of the Push-Up

The motivation to write this article comes from a driving force to remind people that often times in life the simple answer is the correct answer. Unfortunately, what seems to happen more often yet, is over complication of simple matters. In the fitness world, novices or the uneducated are guilty of this most of the time. In my opinion this happens for two reasons. One, it just seems too simple to be true and thus something more complicated must be the answer. Two, people just want to feel or look smarter for coming up with a complicated equation to solve a simple solution. These two reasons, even though they are wrong, are the only reasons I can think of for the lack of popularity surrounding the push-up in strength training.

If you are a frequent visitor of this blog you know my thoughts on the importance using the barbell lifts to build strength no matter your goals. However, a close second is body weight exercises and for the purpose of this article specifically the push-up. The push-up has been around since the beginning of time yet most people brush it off when it is referred to as one of best exercises to build upper body strength. I can only assume that this is because most people perceive it as boring and too simple to be so effective. In reality, it still is and always will be, one of the most effective ways of building not only upper body strength but also shoulder stability and health. For these reasons, it is one of the best accessory lifts you can choose to build a bigger bench press or overhead press yet I rarely ever see anyone doing pushups in the commercial gyms I visit. This can also be because pushups are generally very difficult for the untrained individual. Now, I have never not done an exercise because I deemed it boring. Heck I’d watch paint dry if I thought it would give me a bigger bench press. However, I am also not naïve to the fact that some may find the push up boring and I also respect the push-up enough to know that it can be very difficult for some people. So in the following sections I have provided how I teach my clients to progress the push-up and also different variations of the push-up you can try with all being effective in their own way.

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Best Upper Chest Routine YouTube Video

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3 Exercises to Improve Bench Press Lockout

In all the years that I have been weight training I can count on one hand the amount of people I have come across in the weight room that wasn’t trying to get a bigger bench press. This is not counting the hamsters running on the elliptical for an hour at a time. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants a bigger bench press and if you are the one person that doesn’t well then just keep quiet because you are weird anyways. I will always say that the best way to get good at something is to simply do it and do it often. If you want a bigger bench press then you must bench and bench often. However, there are ways to be creative and work on specific parts of the lift. Training specific parts of a lift is a form of weak point training and is how powerlifters train for competitions. Side note, you do not need to be a powerlifter training for a competition to use these techniques. Instead of looking at the bench press as one single lift we break it down into one lift that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are exercises and techniques to target each of these different parts of the lift and in this article I want to focus on the “end” of the lift which we refer to as the top or lockout portion. This is a common part of the lift to get stuck on, myself included. In the bench press the lockout portion of the lift involves a good bit of triceps so these three exercises I am about to discuss will also improve your triceps strength and size. These three exercises are very similar with some slight differences that make each unique but effective at helping you improve the lockout portion of your bench and thus a bigger bench overall.

Pin Press

The pin press is a great exercise for training to maintain tightness in the upper back, especially at the bottom of the lift, something that most lifters struggle with. It also trains explosiveness out of the “hole” or bottom portion of the lift because you are pressing from a dead-stop. However, as stated in the intro, the greatest advantage that I find with the pin press is the benefits of improving the lockout portion of the bench press. By shortening the range of motion of the lift, the pin press allows you to handle heavier weight and overload your shoulders and triceps. This will improve both your shoulder and triceps size and strength which will in turn strengthen your lockout. What separates the pin press from the floor press is that your entire body is still included in the pin press, legs included, something that the floor press does not include in the lift.


Can’t play video? Click here: Pin Press

In the video you will notice that the pins are placed right above my chest. I like placing the pins directly above my chest, not too high above, so that I can also practice staying tight at the bottom of the lift.

Floor Press

The floor press is unique because it takes away the bench. You set the pins at the very bottom of the rack and lay flat on the floor. Usually it puts you in a tough spot to un-rack the weight yourself so you may need a liftoff. Your legs are also lying flat on the floor, this will completely take your legs out of the equation. By taking your legs out of the lift even more emphasis is placed on your triceps. This is the reason this lift is effective at increasing triceps strength and size.


Can’t play video? Click here: Floor Press

In the video I am pausing at the bottom of every rep. The length of the pause can very but I highly recommend pausing to train explosiveness out of the bottom of the lift.

Board Press

The board press is a great exercise for training every possible sticking point of the bench press. You can use a one board press, a two board, three board, and a four board press for training different sticking points throughout the bench press. For the purpose of training the lockout phase of the bench press a three-board press is usually the go-to exercise. This obliviously shortens the range of motion so that you can handle heavier weight. The tough part of this lift is that you usually need two buddies to help you out. One holding the board on your chest and the other to give you a spot. You want to make sure that you keep a normal bar path when executing a board press. Do not change anything you normally do in your conventional bench press.


Can’t play video? Click here: Board Press

There are two ways you can use the board press. One way is like how I did it in the above video, bring the bar into the boards and think about squeezing the bar down into the boards, like you are trying to crack the board. This is a great way to train to squeeze your back, maintaining tightness throughout the lift. The other way is to barely touch the board before pressing it back up. This is effective at training to maintain control throughout the lift.

 

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How to Bench Press

Yes, It Is Awesome

Ahh the bench press. The holy grail of exercises. “How much can you bench?” is asked thousands of times a day (an educated guess) in gyms across the world. To most novice lifters, it’s the standard by which their peers judge how strong they are. Side note, experienced and mature lifters know that this is simply just one exercise and the judgment of strength is relative to what strength means to an individual or group of individuals but I digress. No matter how much emphasis you put on the bench press it’s hard to argue the exhilarating feeling of pressing some big numbers. It looks like a simple lift with not much technique, if any at all, and compared to the squat and deadlift it is a much simpler lift; however, there is technique involved that can be easily overlooked.

4 Points of Contact

There are four points of contact when bench pressing. This means that there are four places your body has to be in contact with at all times throughout the lift, not counting your hands gripping the bar, and they are:

  1. Both feet must remain in contact with the ground.
  2. Your butt must stay in contact with the bench.
  3. Your upper back and shoulders must stay in contact with the bench.
  4. Your head must stay in contact with the bench.

Tips:

  • If you are on the shorter side and it’s difficult for your feet to completely reach the ground when lying on the bench you can put plates under your feet so that they can act as the ground.
  • Bend your knees so that your feet are back towards your butt and push your knees out. This will help keep your lower body tight which is commonly overlooked.
  • Your butt and upper back must stay in contact with the bench but it is completely fine to have the arch of the lower back.

Hand Position

We are talking about the conventional bench press here and not a close-grip or some other variation so our hand placement will reflect that.

  1. Take the end of your thumb on each hand and place it right where the knurling (rough part on the bar) begins. See picture below.
  2. Straighten your thumb fully on both hands and the spot where the rest of your hand is gripping the bar is where you are going to grip it. See picture below.

Tips:

  • The end goal for the conventional bench press is for our forearms to be directly over our elbows when benching. This ensure that’s our wrist, forearm, and elbow are all aligned.
  • Start with your grip as we just discussed and then look at your wrist, forearm, and elbow to ensure that all three are aligned and if they aren’t then adjust accordingly by moving your hands either in or out.

Eye Position

Your eye position is something that is extremely underrated when discussing the techniques of bench pressing. During the bench press we want our eyes to be on a constant spot throughout the entire set. Pick a spot on the ceiling and look at the same spot during every rep. Our eyes being on the same spot throughout the set is important because it helps us ensure that the bar is traveling a consistent path from rep to rep. An inconsistent bar path is something that can destroy a person’s set even if they are physically strong enough to get one or two more reps. If you have bench pressed you have certainly had reps where you know you hit either too high or too low on your chest and ruined the momentum of the set. This was most likely caused by your eyes moving around causing the bar to move away from its correct path.

Pinching the Pencil

Pinching the pencil is something almost every weekend warrior or novice lifter doesn’t realize needs to occur. Pinching the pencil refers to the pinching of the shoulder blades as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them. By doing this you will create a base or platform to press from. This base will allow you to stay tighter and have more control of the weight throughout the set. It will also protect your shoulders by restricting the range of motion as the bar will not travel as far with your shoulders pinched compared to having your shoulder blades relaxed. See video below.

Tips:

  • If you do this correctly it will at first feel like you are not completing the rep because the bar isn’t traveling as far.
  • This takes time to perfect so make sure you practice this with light weight and make doing this consistently a priority.

Videos Here: Not Pinching the Pencil (Wrong)    Pinching the Pencil Correctly

Breathing

Breathing correctly can make or break a rep or set. The tighter you are the stronger you are. The better you breathe the tighter you can be and thus the stronger you can be. We stay tight by filling our bellies with air. This can go for any barbell lift. Think of your spine like a telephone pole. If we breathe improperly and don’t fill our bellies with air our telephone pole (our spine) can waver back and forth when under stress. However, if we fill our bellies up with air this air acts as cement poured around our telephone pole (our spine) and it is much sturdier and less likely to waver when stress is placed upon it. How we accomplish this:

  1. Breathe in, focusing on the air going to your stomach instead of your chest, at the beginning (top) of the rep.
  2. Hold this breath until you return to the starting position (top).
  3. Breathe out at the top and then breathe in again.
  4. Repeat this process for the remainder of the set.

Tips:

  • We want to try and hold our breath for the entirety of the rep but if you are nearing the end of the set and are struggling to complete a rep you can breathe out on the way up at your sticking point.
  • By breathing out while trying to force a rep this release of air will act as a kind of “turbo” to help us finish.

Enjoy!

So there they are. All the tips and hidden gems to help you take full advantage of what is most likely your most enjoyable barbell lift. My hope is that you take these tips, no matter how insignificant they may seem, seriously because they will help increase your bench. If one or more of these tips are brand new to you my advice is to practice them with lighter weight and work your way back up as anything new added to your technique will take a little time to perfect.

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3 Exercises to Build the Upper Chest

Seeing improvement in the upper chest can be one of the most frustrating tasks facing a bodybuilder. It is usually the area of the chest that develops last and takes extra attention to build. However, when you develop the upper chest it gives your entire chest the “square” look that is aesthetically appealing. If you are a bit shorter and/or have shorter collarbones, this may not be as daunting a task. Yes, I said short collarbones, some of you may have never payed attention to things like that but if you want to be a bodybuilder or at least improve your physique those seemingly minor details are critical. The reason shorter people, or people with narrower shoulders have an easier time filling out their upper chest is simply because they have less area to fill. For taller, broader shouldered people it can take a good bit of time to see improvement in this area. I fall into the second category and made things harder on myself by not realizing these points sooner. Starting out I didn’t focus as much on my upper chest, but it has been a focus of mine in the last year or so. Before I proceed to give you three of my favorite exercises to target the upper chest, I want to emphasize that all exercises that focus on the chest work the entire chest with some just being a little more effective at developing certain areas. These are just a few exercises that have helped me see improvement in my upper chest development.

Guillotine Press

The guillotine press is an incline bench variation. The difference is instead of bringing the bar down to the top of your chest as in a normal incline bench the guillotine press has you bring the bar to your neck. I warn anyone with shoulder problems to be extremely careful when attempting this exercise and you may want to avoid it altogether. The bar path forces your elbows to flare out much wider than a conventional press putting your shoulders in a vulnerable position. The irony is that this shoulder positon is the very thing that makes this an effective exercise to target the upper chest. This is not a strength building exercise so the weight is not the most important thing.

  1. Your grip may have to be wider than your conventional incline bench in order to flare your elbows effectively.
  2. Lower the bar to your neck. I aim for about an inch higher than my collarbone.
  3. Control the bar on the way down, feeling a stretching sensation across the bottom your collarbone, upper chest region.
  4. Press the bar back up in a straight path being careful not to bring it forward over your chest.

Tips:

Again, this is not a strength exercise so the weight will not be the main priority although you do want to have enough weight to induce a “pump.” I stress to start with very low weight and work your way up from there. You will be nowhere near the weight you use for your conventional incline bench.

Video Here: Guillotine Press

Unilateral Incline Press Machine

Every gym should have a variation of an incline press machine. This exercise should work on most if not all variations. The word unilateral refers to the use of only side of the body. In this case we will be pressing one arm a time. The trick is to sit sideways on the machine. Yes, sometimes the best use of a machine is in no way how it was intended to be used. Finding more effective ways to use equipment is actually fairly common in bodybuilding. This exercise has been my favorite exercise for building my upper chest for the last year or so now and just like the guillotine press is strictly a bodybuilding exercise so focus on the pump instead of maxing out the weight.

  1. Position the seat so that the handles are at a height even with the top of your armpit.
  2. Sit sideways on the seat.
  3. Have the shoulder that is against the seat pressed into seat and don’t allow it to come off.
  4. Press up and across your body, without your shoulder leaving the seat.
  5. Return to the starting position without pausing being sure to keep the tension on the chest the entire time.

Tips:

I like to take my opposite hand and place it on my upper chest to help me feel what I should be contracting. It may take a few sets and seat changes for you to position your body so that you feel the full effects of this exercise. Take the time to experiment with different seat heights etc.

Video Here: Incline Press

Incline Fly’s

Out of the three exercises this is the one that most of you have done. I didn’t specify to use dumbbells or cables, because you should try it all. The important thing is to do the fly’s on an incline bench. Whether you use dumbbells or cables there are similarities:

  1. At the starting position the weight is going to be over your forehead.
  2. Lower the weight in the conventional way (Elbows slightly bent)
  3. Control the weight the entire way down. Don’t let it drop quickly.
  4. Bring the weight back up on the same path as on way down.
  5. At the top be sure to get a good contraction for a second or two before lowering the weight back down.

Tips:

While performing the set tuck your chin into the top of your chest. I have found that this helps me feel the contraction in this specific area instead of my chest as a whole.

Also, be sure not to let your wrist “break” meaning keep them strict and in a straight line with the rest of your arm. I see people all the time let their wrist go limp not realizing that it takes some tension off your chest.

Video Here: flys

Slow it Down

These exercises have helped me improve a weak point in my physique. The mistake most people make when trying to bring up a weak point in bodybuilding is that they go too heavy. Going heavy is great but you have to realize why you are doing what you are doing. Going heavy and getting stronger doesn’t necessarily mean you will induce that certain area to gain mass or shape. Going heavy and rushing the reps usually causes more dominant muscle groups to take over. This was the mistake I made early on. I would go too heavy on the bodybuilding type exercises for my chest and my more dominant muscle groups, biceps and shoulders, would take over. Pretty soon my chest was lagging behind those other two muscle groups. So slow it down and maybe drop some weight and focus on feeling the contraction in your upper chest instead of just going through the motions.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to comment and share any exercises that have helped you develop your chest and be sure to subscribe to the site.