3 Ways to Develop the Chest with PUSH UPS

September 23, 2017 by VAHVA Fitness

3 Push up variations to target many parts of the chest (outer, inner, middle and upper). A push up done right is a high level exercise!

Push ups are often undervalued because they are thought as a basic exercise for beginners. This could be further from the truth. 

The reality is that there is no real progression from beginner to advanced. Just because you can do an advanced exercise doesn't mean "the beginner exercise" is no longer effective.

Moreover, working on the basics will often produce much better results than the harder exercises no matter how advanced you are. Strength development and skill development aren't necessarily the same thing.

How can this be possible? In the basics there are always areas to improve, muscles to target and forms to improve. A little change in the form can turn the basic exercise into a killer exercise.

Even in martial arts the best martial artist is not the guy who can do 100 flashy kicks. The best martial artist is the one who has mastered the basic kicks and punches and taken them to the highest level.

The same is true for push ups or any other basic exercise. It's not about the repetitions, weight or the difficulty, but about the quality and focus of your training.

For this reason, although our Movement 20XX program has plenty of skills to master, the strength & mobility workouts are all about mastering the basics.

In this article we have taken basic push ups and turned them into superb chest exercises. Typically a push up will develop the chest, shoulders and triceps, but here we are solely focusing on the chest.

The common mistakes in the push up form include:

  • Using the spine (arching) to help you push yourself up 
  • Bad shoulder alignment and scapula stability
  • Lack of control and focus

In these exercises the most important thing is to pull your shoulder blades slightly behind (scapula retraction) and keep the scapula stable and down (depression). 

In order to target the chest muscles, the scapula retraction and stability are needed because otherwise it's easy to utilize the scapula movement and anterior deltoids to generate force.

In the beginning, just focus on incline push ups against a bench or a chair. You will very likely notice that you aren't as strong as you thought you were.

How much? You can have these push ups as a part of your upper body workout. Do 3 sets per exercise and forget about the repetitions: do as many high quality repetitions as you can. Once the form starts to break, it's time to rest.

Regular Push Up (middle & inner chest)

standard push up for inner chest

In the regular push up you place your arms shoulder width apart and do normal push ups. Your shoulder blades are down & slightly behind and they provide stability. 

Regular push up will target the middle and inner chest muscles. Inner chest muscles are worked because you can squeeze the chest near the top thanks to the close hand placement.

Keep your arms tucked (inside) by utilizing your lats to further allow you to engage the chest muscles. 

Wide Push Up (outer chest)

wide push ups for outer chest

In the wide push up you place your hands very wide, keep your scapula slightly behind (retracted) and focus on squeezing with your chest muscles.

Wide push up will stretch the chest and mainly target the outer chest. This is because the range of motion isn't that great and you can't bring your arms together.

Flaring the elbows is safe for the shoulders as long as your execution is on point: keep the shoulder girdle stable and focus on control. 

Control, mind-muscle connection and keeping the shoulder blades stable will allow you to hit the chest the hardest possible way.

Underhand Push Up (upper chest)

underhand push up for upper pectoralis

In the underhand push up your fingers are pointing backwards and you have a little wider than shoulder width hand placement.

Underhand push up will target the upper chest when you do them right. If your shoulders are rolled forward (protracted), you will be targeting more the anterior deltoids (think of pseudo planche push ups) than the chest.

Your anterior deltoids are still worked a bit, because the upper chest mostly aids in shoulder flexion. Focus on control and mind-muscle connection to really feel the upper chest contract.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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