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Fitness & Health

15th Oct 2018

Three ways press-ups can help you build more muscle

While traditionally seen as a beginner's exercise, the humble press-up builds more muscle than you'd think

Alex Roberts

Press-ups can help you build as much muscle as possible, but it’s how you perform them that makes the difference

The idea press-ups are merely a beginner’s exercise is thankfully a thing of the past. Volume, load and progression are some of the key factors responsible for muscle gain, and so you should maximise these when performing a press-up.

When all the benches are busy, it’s a pain in the backside – but that doesn’t mean you should go without training your chest.

Performing a press-up

Technique is everything when performing this exercise. Better form equals more stress on the chest, triceps and shoulders.

  • Start with arms shoulder-width apart and locked out
  • To take the stress off your shoulder joint, keep your elbows tucked in
  • Lower your torso to the floor while keeping your back straight
  • Pause at the bottom and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Press back up

Press-ups were put to the test in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Researchers pitted those following a standard bench press split against other gym goers performing more of a calisthenics-based bodyweight training plan. The latter had press-ups as the focal point.

Both groups experienced a similar increase in muscle thickness and bench press one rep max (1RM).

Pressed for more

You’re probably surprised how effective press-ups are, when put under the microscope. There’s reason behind this. Those tasked with press-ups were not leaving the gym with three sets of 10 bodyweight reps under their belt.

In order to build muscle, press-ups need to be progressive – with an ever-increasing rep range or heavy load.

Three ways of achieving this:

  • Adding weight plates to your back
  • Wearing a weighted vest
  • Asking someone else to get on your back [trust is important here]


Crossover to the bench press

While it’s fine to switch between press-ups and the bench, there’s no reason why both shouldn’t feature in your gym plan. When you’re performing your press-ups, find the hand placement most comfortable. Have a friend measure the distance apart. When bench pressing, your hands should be this far apart.

Read more: The Mountain’s brutal strength circuit