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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
July 19, 2021
If you want a well-balanced fitness plan, push ups should be one of the staples in your upper body workouts. This classic, highly effective compound exercise focuses on your chest, shoulders and triceps, but it also recruits nearly every muscle in your upper body. At some point, though, push ups might start to feel easy. So, to scale up the movement, you can perform push ups with resistance bands for additional resistance.
In this article, we are going to show you how to do resistance band push ups correctly and all of the different variations of banded push ups that you can do as well as which muscles they emphasize (with some science backed proof).
Banded push ups are just regular push ups done with a band for added resistance. All you do is hold onto the loops of the band with each hand and place it over your back (as seen in the pic above), then perform a push up as you normally would.
The standard push up targets your pectorals, deltoids, triceps, and serratus anterior.
While the aforementioned muscles are the primary target, your abdominals, spinal erectors, glutes and legs will be working isometrically to help you maintain a perfect plank position (a push up is a moving plank). Moreover, your biceps, lats, traps and rhomboids will be activated to help stabilize your pushing muscles.
As you can see, the push up is a total body exercise. And while a lot of people love bench press (also a great exercise), push ups should never be overlooked, even by the most advanced athletes.
Note: There are many variations of push ups that will target your muscles in different ways. For example, a decline push up will hit your upper chest more, a close grip push up will work your triceps to a greater extent, and just doing a regular push up with full protraction of the shoulder blades will activate the serratus anterior better.
In regards to resistance band push ups, they work the same muscles as regular bodyweight-only push ups, you just get added resistance with the band and thus more tension and stimulation of the targeted muscles.
Absolutely. Resistance band push ups are simply a harder version of regular push ups as the bands increase the resistance. Because of that, they are more effective for building muscle and strength than push ups without bands. This is also why you'll see many brands selling push-up boards with resistance bands incorporated into the equipment these days.
Moreover, you can still do all the same variations of push ups when using bands, as you are going to see below.
A standard push up without a resistance band is a great, classic exercise for building up muscle in your chest, shoulders and triceps. However, bodyweight exercises do have some limitations in muscular development due to the inability to increase the load. That’s not to say that you can't continue to build muscle with push ups, as you can do other forms of progressive overload like increase reps, increase volume, decrease rest, increase intensity (i.e. clapping push ups or slowing down tempo). But, at some point, it gets difficult to increase size. Essentially, the ceiling for muscle growth is lower with bodyweight exercises like push ups.
With bands, you have all the same methods of progressive overload (which is an essential aspect of hypertrophy and strength), but you also have the ability to increase the load, which gives you a greater advantage for building muscle. Of course, it’s not as straight forward as it is with free weights, as you can’t determine exactly how much you are lifting and increase the load in specific increments. Nevertheless, banded push ups are still very effective and they will certainly accelerate your potential for increasing muscle mass.
Furthermore, resistance bands are a safer option than free weights and weighted vests, as bands are far less taxing on the joints.
All in all, if you are currently on a bodyweight workout plan, resistance bands are really a must-have training tool as they can help supplement your hypertrophy and strength training in so many ways. And even if you use free weights, we still highly recommend resistance band push ups as push ups build relative strength and allow you to press with your shoulders blades free of support (no bench) which trains your muscles in a different way and builds up shoulder/scapula resilience and stability. So, just because you do bench press doesn’t mean you don’t need to do push ups. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, it’s good to switch things up. If you are a weight lifter, throw in some resistance band push ups at the end of your workout to really bring your pushing muscles to full exhaustion.
Push ups with resistance bands are great because they allow you to increase the difficulty through added ascending resistance, which is important if you want to build muscle.
What’s really interesting about resistance band push ups is how the tension is created. When doing a push up, the hardest part of the movement is at the bottom, when you are pressing up from the lowest point. As you reach the top of the push up, the movement gets easier, which causes less muscle activation. When using free weights for bench press, the same as true, as you are still fighting gravity. However, with bands, resistance increases the more they are stretched.
So, when the push up is easiest (towards the top), the band will provide you with more tension and when the push up is in the hardest position (toward the bottom), the band provides less tension. This will improve your strength through the top range of motion, exactly where it needs it. What’s more, it will allow you to get a far better contraction.
On top of all that, resistance bands promote slow eccentric movements, as you need more control for stability as you lower down. This is great as the eccentric phase, which is stretching tension, provides the greatest strength gains.
Overall, when using bands, you get a higher degree of stretching tension and contraction tension.
It’s important that you are performing push ups with correct form as to maximize results and avoid any potential injury. So, let’s go over correct form for a standard push up with a resistance band (which is the same as without a band).
While you can use a heavier band, one of the simplest ways to increase resistance with the same band is to position it on your body differently.
Rather than have it go under your arms, wrap the band around your back so that it goes over your arms, running down between your delt and tricep.
Take a close look at the pic above to see what we mean.
By positioning the band like this, you are increasing tension on the band from the starting position. The more the band is stretched, the more resistance it has.
Now let’s look at some different variations of resistance band push ups and how they target your muscles differently.
The standard grip push up is like the all around push up. It is going to effectively target your chest (emphasis on the middle of your chest, which is the upper part of the pec major's lower head) as well as your shoulders and triceps.
Note: from this standard position, you can also do a push up plus full protraction of the shoulder blades. This is technically full range of motion and it is going to give you greater activation in your serratus anterior, which is a muscle that works to move the scapula into protraction and for scapula stability. It’s also going to give you a stronger contraction of the pecs.
As the name suggest, a close grip push up involves performing a push up with your hands closer together. By doing so, your arms (and elbow) will remain closer to your sides as you lower down. Most people think close grip push ups are better for the triceps and inner chest, which is true, as studies show 15% greater activation of the triceps with this hand position, but studies also show there is roughly 10% better activation of the pec major as a whole as well.
That said, many will say close grip is more for the triceps, whereas wide grip is for the pecs.
Wide grip push ups will put your hands in a position that’s about half a foot wider than shoulder width. With this position, your elbows will flare out to the sides a bit and you will have less range of motion.
Most people do wide grip push ups because it hones in on the chest more, and while this may be true, there is less activation of the pec major than standard and close grip push ups.
Essentially, the wide grip push up requires less from the triceps, which means you will be focusing more on the pecs. So, even if there is less activation of the pec major, your triceps will be less involved, so you can keep stressing your pecs without overusing the triceps. This makes wide grip push ups a good option towards the end of a workout session as you can continue hammering down on your chest even if your triceps are close to full exhaustion.
Note: Wide grip push ups also bring the biceps into play more (roughly 20% more bicep activation with wide grip push ups than standard push ups).
External Rotation of the Hands
You can also try to externally rotate your hands for even more isolation of the chest. By rotating your hands outward, you will be taking stress off your deltoids.
Resistance band high push ups are done with your hands at about shoulder width apart, like a standard push up, but the position of your hands is aligned at head level, rather than the shoulders. So, your hands are out in front of your shoulders.
The same study from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that we've been mentioning showed that high push ups actually produce 11% and 8% greater activation of the triceps and pec major, respectively, than the standard push up.
Resistance band low push ups are done with the hands lower than shoulder level, about a full hand length lower than your shoulders. So, shoulders out in front of your hands.
By doing this, you’ll get greater activation on your pecs (about 25%) and less activation on your triceps (about 15%).
The low push up is similar to shifting forward in a standard push up position, which we mentioned previously.
The banded decline push up alters your body positioning. To do this, you’ll need to put your feet up on a platform. From there, you perform a push up as you regularly would.
Decline push ups are going to put greater emphasis on the upper head of your pec major (or in other words, your upper chest), just like an incline bench press does.
It also works your front delt to a greater degree.
With decline push ups, you can also alter your hand positioning, so you have even more variables to play with. The same goes for incline push ups.
The banded incline push up is the opposite of the decline push up, so you put your hands up on a platform and keep your feet to the floor.
Like a decline bench press, the incline push up works the lower head of your pec major.
It also hits your back muscles more.
However, unlike a decline bench press, the incline push up is significantly easier to perform than a flat or decline push up. It’s a good variation to do towards the end of your workout or if you have joint issues.
The incline push up is also good for beginners. You can start with a high platform and slowly lower the height until you are able to do flat, standard push ups.
The banded clapping push up (aka plyo push up) is the hardest of all variations here. It is a ballistic/plyometric exercise that is going to help you build explosive power and strength. The explosive contractions are also a great way to stress your muscles differently, which will help you pack on more muscle.
It’s always good to mix in different variations of push ups. Changing angles, body positioning, and hand positioning are important training variables. This will allow you to stress your muscles differently and develop them fully.
This video gives you a tutorial on all of the above...
If you can’t do proper push ups, then you obviously won’t be doing the resistance band push ups above. However, there is a way to use resistance bands to assist you in your push ups.
For this, you’ll need a pull up bar or something to anchor the band to above you. What you do is, you loop the band on the bar and then put your arms through it so the band is wrapped around your core. Then you get into push up position.
With that, the band will be providing you assistance as the tension is pulling you up, not down.
You can also do this for assisted clapping push ups.
As you gain strength, you can use a lighter band and then eventually no band.
Check out our resistance band training e-guide (it has over 250 exercises!)
Want more band resources?
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