pushing exercises

9 Best Pushing Exercises For A Seriously Chiseled Upper Body

January 28, 2021

An upper body exercise routine has a significant amount of push exercises. These pushing exercises train your upper body (chest, shoulders, and triceps). An entire day focused on these muscle groups allows you to directly focus on your legs, biceps, and back on another day. 

This article will explore some of the most effective push exercises you can include in your routine (whether that's at home or the gym). We will discuss proper form for these exercises and more. By the end of this article, you should have a good idea of what exercises you should include when you target your chest, tricep, or shoulder muscles, or when you do an all-around push workout. 

best pushing exercises

The Top 9 Pushing Exercises For Your Upper Body

We will dig into two different workout focuses: compound and focused exercises. 

  1. Standard (and Modified) Push-up
  2. Bench Press 
  3. Overhead Tricep Extension
  4. Cable Tricep Pushdown 
  5. Overhead Shoulder Press
  6. Dumbell Lateral Raise
  7. Bench Dip 
  8. Pec Deck 
  9. Dumbell Fly

#1: Standard (and Modified) Push-Ups (For Your Triceps, Shoulders, and Chest)

pushing exercises for upper body

Push-ups are some of the most effective workouts you can when done right. However, many people fail to have the right workout form. Improper workout form can lead to it being ineffective. In some cases, it can lead to a significant injury.  

If you want to do a push-up right, follow these steps:

  1. Have your chest and stomach against the floor with your legs straight behind you. 
  2. Be sure that your arms are at the same level as your chest, bent at a 45-degree angle.
  3. As you push up with your hands and keep your feet stable, exhale. 
  4. Keep your body in the plank position for a couple of seconds.
  5. Inhale as your body drops back to its initial position.

People commonly have their butt too high in their when performing this workout. They also don't drop their arms the full 45 degrees, thus decreasing the training's effectiveness. The key to a good push-up is a flat back.

If you want to stay comfortable, you can also do push-ups on a yoga mat. 

Related: 21 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises 

What if I Cannot Do A Standard Pushup?

If you find yourself struggling to maintain form after a single pushup, we all have to start somewhere. To address this problem, consider these beginner-friendly modifications:

Push-Up on Your Knees

pushing exercises list

Follow the same instructions mentioned above; only your knees will be on the ground. Keep your elbows bent at the 45-degree angle, pressing up just as you would with a standard pushup. Try and complete a set up ten to get started. 

Push-Up on an Incline

pushing exercises at home

If your knees hurt from an old injury, another level of push-up you should consider is on an incline. By finding a relatively short table or chair, your job is to plank your body against that surface. Be sure that the floor isn't slippery, and continue to keep your back straight and your arms at a 45-degree angle. 

You can also make your push ups more difficult. Below are some difficult push up variations that can make your at-home workouts even more effective as you progress.

Decline Push Ups

pushing exercises for home workouts

Weighted Push Ups (Backpack Works too!)

push exercises

Spiderman Push Ups

best push exercises

#2: Bench Press (For Your Triceps, Shoulders, and Chest)

Pushing Exercises Gym

A bench press is another method of working out your triceps and chest. While this workout has a good deal of bragging right behind it, your first goal is always to practice proper form. Improper form in a bench press can get you injured for quite a while, especially at higher weights. 

Check out this short guide to ensure you are following the proper form of bench pressing:

  1. Lay flat on the bench.
  2. Make sure you are eye-level with the bar.
  3. Various grip width options are marked on the bar.
  4. Be sure that your thumbs also wrap around the bar.
  5. Grab hold of the middle option, which should feel the most comfortable. 
  6. Straighten your arms until they lift the bar. Inhale at this point.
  7. Position the bar at chest-level. 
  8. Slowly drop the bar until your elbows are 75-degrees out.
  9. Push the bar back up until your arms are straight again. Exhale while pushing the bar back up.
  10. Position the bar so that it returns to its resting position. 
  11. Make sure that your butt remains on the bench and your arms remain vertical.

Many people go into the gym fixated upon getting the largest number on their bench press. While that's a great goal, you can also bench press for endurance. If you want to bench press for endurance, reduce the rate and increase the number of reps. 

Close Grip vs. Wide Grip Bench Press 

pressing exercises gym

You can modify the focus on your bench press workout by adjusting the location your hands wrap around. A close grip press focuses more on your triceps' strength, putting more pressure on that muscle group to work. A wide grip bench press focuses more on the pec muscles. Until you get used to the standard form, stick with the "middle grip" bench press. 

How Do Incline Bench Presses Compare To Flat Bench Presses?

horizontal pushing exercises

Incline bench presses are better for developing your upper pectoral muscles. You also use your shoulders more, given that the exercise is closer to a shoulder press. The only requirement is to lift your benching equipment to an angle. This position is also good for the incline dumbbell fly, which we will be getting into later. 

Decline Push ups for Lower Chest Chiseling

pushing exercises for chest

What If I Don't Have A Spotter For A Bench Press?

Going on your workout routine with friends is great, but sometimes your friends aren't available. So with that in mind, is there a safe way to bench press without a spotter? 

The answer is yes, so keep the following in mind: 

  • Grip your bar with the thumbs around, so you have some control over the bar crashing into your chest.
  • If your gym has it, always be sure to bench with available safety arms. 
  • Collars prevent your weight from shifting as you lift it. By not having collars on, you can tilt your body to slide the weight off. By following good form, weights should never naturally slide off your bar. 

Related: Want to workout at home? Here are the 11 Best Chest Exercises with Resistance Bands

#3: Overhead Tricep Extension

vertical pushing exercises

The first two options are compound workouts. Now that we are through those, we can take a look at the more focused exercises. We'll start this out with the overhead tricep extension.

To perform this workout, follow the following instructions:

  1. You can do this workout by sitting on a bench rack or standing with your feet sitting shoulder-length apart. 
  2. Keep your core engaged while holding a dumbbell (or any weight) above your head. 
  3. Slowly drop the weight, ensuring that your biceps and the other parts of your body aren't assisting the movement. Inhale as you do this. 
  4. Lift the weight until your arms extend fully (but not hyperextended). Exhale as you do this. 

The goal of this exercise is to isolate your tricep as the only moving part of your body. Moving your bicep or other parts of your body eliminates the purpose of this workout. 

Going too hard or choosing too high of weight can cause hyperextension of the elbow. If it starts to hurt, do not continue the workout. By adequately listening to your body, this exercise can be a valuable part of your routine. 

Rather use a barbell?

pressing exercise list

or...Cables or Resistance Bands?

tricep exercises

#4: Cable Tricep Pushdown

push exercises upper body

A cable machine is a fixture of most gyms. You can do many of the workouts on this list with a cable machine. You can also do this with a resistance band. 

Before you begin, check out the machine to be sure that you can be in a comfortable position. Typically, you will be facing the machine and grabbing onto the cable, rope, or bar. You will want to be sure that the pin is at a comfortable weight. If you aren't sure of where the weight should be, start low. 

After you get a good weight, you will want to focus on the form: 

  1. Brace your core and spread your feet out to be shoulder-width. Position your elbows nearby your ribcage.
  2. Push down on the machine until your elbows extend. Keep your core engaged, back straight, and elbows in position as you push your triceps. Breathe in as you do this.
  3. Return to the original position while exhaling. Keep it a firm, controlled movement to work your triceps. 

If you want to do this workout at home, you might find it a bit tricky. However, if you own a resistance band and a pull-up bar, position yourself under the bar and connect the resistance band. The movement is very much the same. Just be sure that the resistance band is on tight.

#5: Overhead Shoulder Press

list of push exercises

The overhead shoulder press is our next stop on shoulder exercises. You use the same bar that you have from benching. Instead of lifting it above your chest, you will be raising it behind your head. This exercise will also work on your upper back. 

To help you with form, you can perform this workout on a Smith machine. These machines are controlled and have long bars connected to a chain that guides them up and down. They cannot be removed and are stuck straight, resulting in you needing to keep your form. 

Regardless of how you choose this process, follow these instructions to perform an overhead shoulder press:

  1. Lift the bar and place it on the front of your chest. Makes sure the bar is not directly beneath your chin, as you don't want to hit it! 
  2. Ensure that your wrists are in a comfortable position and your hands are at the shoulder-length grips. 
  3. Raise your arms in the air in a controlled movement, ensuring that your hands are balanced your core, hips, and back remain motionless. Inhale as you do this. 
  4. Slowly lower your bar in a controlled motion. Make sure that your chest stays up as you do this. Exhale as the bar slowly drops. 

The key to this workout is to maintain good posture, especially as it applies to your hips and your back. If you are new to this workout, you can actually start it through sitting dumbbell lifts. A dumbbell workout also ensures that both sides of your body, testing how effective your standard shoulder press is. 

Military Press vs. Overhead Press - What's The Difference? 

While often mixed up, the overhead press is less complicated than the military press. If you consider how soldiers stand at attention, this gives you a good idea of what to expect:

  • Your heels are closer together.
  • Your hips and quads are extended.
  • You can only move your shoulders and arms. 

A military press puts more emphasis on you keeping a stable core. There is a lot of build potential here, but it isn't for people who are just starting the overhead press. If you are looking for more of a challenge, a military press is an excellent place to start. 

Other variations...

Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

push pull exercises

Seated Overhead Barbell Press

What is a push day workout?

Related: No Equipment? Here are 9 Effective Bodyweight Exercises

#6: Dumbell Lateral Raise 

lateral pushing exercises

A dumbbell lateral raise is a great way to increase strength and mobility in your shoulders. The idea is not to use heavy weights in this workout. Instead, your focus should be to use lighter weights and focus on specific movements. 

If you find that your body is getting abnormally sore from this exercise, try to reduce the weight. Otherwise, check with an expert to have them correct your form. You can start with the following instructions:

  1. Hold two lighter weights on either side of your body. Have the palms of your hand comfortably facing towards your core. 
  2. Lift your arms in a T-pose to around shoulder height. Be sure that your wrists are not lifted above your elbows, as that eliminates the effectiveness of this exercise. Inhale as you do this. 
  3. Slowly drop the weights back to either side of your body, making sure they don't touch your body.  Exhale as you lower the weights. 

This exercise also provides an excellent opportunity for your core if you engage it. Given that this is a focused exercise, you will need to combine it with other isolations to ensure your body is receiving the right care. 

Cable or Resistance Band Lateral Raises

press exercises

Resistance Bands are perfect for at home push workouts!

Buy Resistance Bands from us!

#7: Bench Dip

best press exercises

If your body can't handle regular dips, the bench dip is a great way to start. This workout provides a natural way for your triceps to take advantage of your body weight. You can easily do this exercise at home.

Check out these instructions for how to perform it:

  1. Face away from a bench and position yourself as though you are going to sit on it. Place both hands on the bench and straighten out your legs.
  2. Slide your butt off until your feet hit the floor, but your butt is in the air. 
  3. Lower your body until your arm is at a 90-degree angle. Lift yourself to the previous position using your triceps. 

Standard Dips (Harder)

pushing exercises for triceps and chest

A standard dip utilizes special machines you can only find at a gym. You can find something similar in some schoolyard environments, but many of these environmental items may not be good at lifting people. 

Related: Make your chest exercises harder with resistance bands

#8: Pec Deck

push workout at gym

The pec deck machine, or the seated lever fly,  is a great way to engage your chest when done correctly. As an isolating exercise, the most significant mistake people make is overdoing it on the weight. Instead, focus on being particular with your form and following these instructions:

  1. Start by adjusting the seat and machine's settings so that you are comfortable. Make sure that the arm pads are at chest level.  
  2. Adjust the weight (to something lower if you are starting).
  3. Place your arms in the pads and grip the handles. 
  4. Press your arms together, making sure they do not touch. Inhale as you do this.
  5. Wait for a few seconds and do a controlled return back to the old position. Exhale as you do this. 

There are also cable variants to this machine located at most gyms. Many systems are built with this that include resistance bands, but you will have to buy a specialized unit unless you can get creative with those bands. 

#9: Dumbbell Fly

What are the best push exercises?

A fly implies that you are supposed to be "flapping" your arms out like a bird. While the idea is right, the proper form behind a fly is challenging to master. Check out these instructions for performing a dumbbell fly:

  1. Lay flat on a bench and take two lighter dumbbell weights. 
  2. Position the two palms in so that they are both right next to each other. Be sure that they are not touching, as this will remind you of the need to control. 
  3. Spread your arms out in a controlled movement. Lower them until you feel a slight stretch on your chest. 
  4. Lower until your upper arms are parallel with your chest. Inhale as you do so.
  5. Keep your shoulder blades tight as you lift your arms back into the same potion. Be sure that the weights do not clang together, as that indicates you've lost control. 

When people make mistakes from the dumbbell fly, it typically has to do with overextending their arms or putting too much weight. The idea is to focus on the movement, particularly as your dumbbells reach the top of your motion.

Hit the chest with flys from a different angle...

Incline Dumbbell Fly

chest exercises

Push Workout at Gym

Using the exercises above, here is a great push workout that you can do at the gym.

Bench Press - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Flat Bench Flys - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Overhead Press - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Lateral Raise - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Dips - 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Push ups - 3 sets x max reps

It doesn't have to be complicated. The above pushing workout is all you need to get big and strong!

On the next push day, switch things up (if you are doing two push workouts per week, which is ideal for a Push-Pull Routine).

Smith Machine Overhead Press - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Cable Fly - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Incline Bench Press - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Cable Lateral Raise - 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Incline Push ups - 3 sets x max reps
Bench Dips - 3 sets x 15-20 reps

Push Workout At Home

Push Ups - 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Decline Push Ups - 3 sets x 15-20 reps
Pike Press - 3 sets x 10-15 reps
Chair Dips - 3 sets x 20 reps
Handstand on the wall - 3 sets x max holds

Related: How to Workout at Home Effectively

How Many Reps Should I Do for Pushing Exercises?

  • Power- 1-3 reps 90%+ 1RM
  • Strength 4-6 reps 85%-90% 1RM
  • Hypertrophy 8-12 reps 70%-80% 1RM
  • Endurance 15+ reps >70% 1RM

pushing exercises muscle

Final Thoughts on Push Exercises

Pushing Exercises are most useful when you focus on keeping good exercise form. The primary areas you should expect to work are the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Sometimes, you may end up working a bit of upper back in the process. With how handy compound exercises can be, trying to work as much as possible into a single movement can be useful. 

Pushing exercises also have just as much potential to isolate certain zones as well. If you are looking to make real gains, look at these different isolating. Push exercises are a critical part of your full-body workout routine. 

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