Push-ups are a classic and great exercise for building upper body strength, especially in the chest and triceps. While they are a great free-weight exercise that doesn’t require equipment, they are hardly the only exercise to target those muscles.
Using any of the push-up alternatives below can make a great exercise choice for adding variety, increasing resistance, or just for taking advantage of whatever equipment your gym has.
Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on the list. The barbell bench press is a staple of many upper-body lifting programs, and for good reason. There aren’t many better exercises for increasing the strength and size of your pectoral muscles.
The bench press is also great because you can easily vary the resistance weight, as well as the angle – incline, decline, or flat. This allows you to hit the muscles in a variety of ways. There’s also the ability to really improve your strength by building up to 100s of pounds of resistance. This is something that just can’t be done the same with push-ups.
Smith Machine inverted rows are a much less popular exercise than push-ups or the bench press, but they can still be useful. While most people focus on using push-ups for the chest muscles, they can hit many other muscle groups, especially depending on what technique you use.
Besides the chest, push-ups can also work the upper back muscles, as well as core stability. The inverted row can also take advantage of this. The exercise targets the upper back, triceps, and biceps better than most other exercises on this list. It will also work the core muscles by forcing you to stabilize your body through each repetition.
Dips are another great free weight alternative to traditional push-ups. In fact, they are a great “next step” if you prefer to do free weight work and have mastered the push-up. Dips can be more challenging because you are forced to lift your entire body weight, compared to the push-up where your feet are resting on the ground.
By having a slight forward lean during the exercise, you will target the pectoral muscles. A more upright position would hit the triceps harder.
You can also increase the resistance for dips by adding weight to a dip belt.
Seated machine chest presses allow you to vary the resistance much easier than if you were doing push-ups. This can be a great if you want to use a resistance level that is much lighter, or much heavier, than your body weight.
The machine chest press is also a great option if you want to completely isolate the chest muscles. Because you are seated, no energy is spent stabilizing the muscle. The pectorals are the only muscle group getting significant work.
While most chest exercises and push-up alternatives involved some kind of pressing or pushing, they don’t have to. Flys can also work the pec muscles through a wide range of motion. Typically known as a bodybuilding exercise, they target the muscles in a unique way that is different from the traditional pressing exercises.
Doing the incline bench press is a great alternative to push-ups because it really targets the muscles at a different angle. Sure, you could put your legs on a raised surface to mix up the angle for push-ups, but you can also just use an incline bench to accomplish the same task.
Like most machines, the Smith machine helps to isolate the muscle group you are working. The machine does most of the work in terms of stability, so you are just responsible for the “work” part – in this case, pressing.
You can also use the Smith Machine for flat bench press or do use a traditional incline bench press with a barbell.
As opposed to the traditional bench press, the switch to a “close” grip for the bench press will work your tricep muscles a little more and your pectoral muscles a little less.
A similar effect can be accomplished with using close grip push-ups. You can alter the difficulty of the exercise by switching how “close” your close grip is. The closer your grip, the less weight you can handle, in general.
Using dumbbells instead of a barbell is another way to mix up your bench press training.
The decline option actually targets your pectoral muscles in a different way than flat or incline bench press. It’s also an angle that would be difficult to hit with traditional push-ups.
In a similar way to the seated machine chest press, the seated pec deck machine will isolate the pec muscles and not really work much else. This can be a great way to target that specific muscle group and focus your gains.
Like flys and the pec deck machine, the standing cable crossover is a bodybuilding exercise that hits the muscles differently than pushing or pressing movements.
Cables are extra versatile, because you are able to alter to the start point of the cables from just above the floor to around 7 or 8 feet high. This lets you hit the muscles from a variety of different angles that you can do with most lifts.
The dumbbell floor press is kind of like the push-up, just, you know, with your body flipped over and holding dumbbells.
The floor press actually restricts your range of motion – your arms can only go as far back as the floor. This can help to strengthen the top end of your bench press or what would be the bottom part of your push-ups.
The push-up is a great exercise for athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all levels. But mixing up your training with the push-up alternative exercise above can help to improve your muscular size and strength and bring much-need variety to your training program.