If you’re here then I think it’s safe to say you know the push-up. And you know how simple it can seem…
However, there’s a difference between performing a push up that’s simple and poorly done, and one that’s correct and effective at helping you get stronger and build a better upper body.
And from working with countless guys, I can safely say that most flat out get it wrong…
I remember doing a push-up challenge (100 push ups) for a free Margherita pizza.
Sure it was difficult, but I did it and demolished that pizza straight away - and I didn’t even want that flavour.
I felt like a god and I’m pretty sure I subtly bragged about it to anyone I could (super douchey I know)
I was young (early twenties) and was pretty strong at the bench press at this point…
But these days, I’d struggle - I’d be out of breath, feeling them way more than I ever did before.
So what gives?
Unlike then, I now know how to do them properly (as we’ll soon cover)
Talk to most guys and they’ll seem pretty confident that they can perform push-ups pretty well.
But the reality is:
If you’re here then I think it’s safe to say you know the push-up. And you know how simple it can seem…
And I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re one of them.
That’s why we’re going to look at how to do a great push up (not the ones you’re probably doing right now) and the variations of them to get you stronger going forward.
The push-up, although a basic movement, has a lot going on.
You have to stabilise your body, control your breathing and have the upper body strength to push a large part of your weight up and down from the ground in a controlled manner.
There are typically 2 mistakes I see guys making with a push up:
Not to mention it also has a bunch of benefits for you such as strength and muscle increase in the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Improves scapular (shoulder) and core (stomach) stability. Not to mention they can be done anywhere - the hotel, gym, airport, you name it.
The Starting Point - Start in a plank position with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Put your body into a plank position by tensing your core, and tucking your chin.
The Lower - Lower yourself down as far as you can go, flaring your elbows no more than 45 degrees. Lower yourself enough to have your nose almost touch the ground (be careful)
The lift - Push the floor away, and keep pushing until your chest is fully contracted and your back is fully expanded
Once you can do 30 push-ups in a row, it’s time to progress onto the more difficult ones outlined in the rest of this article...
Why are push up variations important?
After all, if you want to build a bigger chest isn’t the generic push up good enough?
Well, it depends on your goal and where you are in the muscle growth (journey) spectrum.
The reason I like different push-ups is for when the following happens:
If this sounds interesting to you, then let’s dive into the variations...
You most likely think of the chest when you do a push-up.
But depending on the style of push up you do, depends on the focus of the muscle working.
Although the following push-ups don’t just target the chest (that’s impossible) they have more of a focus on this area than other push-ups.
I’ve also done the job of placing these in an order of easiest to most difficult.
When doing push-ups as shown before, you’ll notice that they’re difficult to do, if they’re too difficult to do right now, then this push up is a perfect transition to them.
The eccentric push up is very similar to the negative pull up in as it focuses on eccentric training to get you stronger.
This is one you might have not seen before, but it’s a fantastic push up to have in your arsenal for when you feel you need a bit more strictness to your routine.
I originally came across this through strength coach Christian Thibaudeau but apparently, it originates from a popularity in CrossFit.
Have each push-up start with the body resting on the floor
“How do you judge push-up depth when dozens of reps are supposed to be done in 30 seconds? The answer was simple: have each push-up start with the body (chest, abdomen, and quads) resting on the floor, and the hands completely off it. This solved the range of motion issue.”
However this isn’t just what the hand release push up is, some tweaks it becomes an even better, stricter movement that will lead to more muscle growth.
With a regular Push Up you lift about 70% off your own bodyweight.
When you place your feet on the floor in the incline push up you actually push up much less of your own weight, which makes it a much easier movement.
And as you probably guessed, the higher your hands are, the easier it is to perform the Incline Push Up.
For example, placing your hands against a wall and pushing yourself away is the easiest variation and the lower you get, the harder the movement will be to perform.
This is the one I like doing the most.
Not only does it look badass and like some Jean Claude van Damme shit…
But they help target the "fast twitch" muscle fibers leading to a greater growth in the pec muscles.
“The clap push-up is a unique exercise, challenging muscle fibers by requiring rapid, explosive contractions while fatigue builds during longer-rep sets. Pursuing this test will bust you through a training plateau, build power, and add muscle to your chest, triceps, and shoulders.”- Eric Bach
Plus they help build functional explosiveness in the upper body - leading to greater power and overall speed improvement in everyday life and obviously other movements in the gym
You’ll typically find this at the start of a workout program to activate the pecs.
Note: It’s common to feel a bit more soreness on the joints when you first start doing this movement. Don’t worry, most healthy individuals don’t have anything to worry about here.
Decline Push Up works the upper chest (to a degree) more than the regular or incline push up variation.
And it’s done in the exact opposite way to the incline push up with your body close to the ground, feet up on a platform.
This means you actually push up even more of your own weight making this movement the hardest of the 3 typical push-ups (regular, incline and decline)
This is a simple one.
Add a weight to your back and go on to thank me for the mass you’ll add to your chest.
You can add resistance to this via bands or via a plate.
When guys get stronger they stop doing push-ups in their workout programs. This is a great way to bring them back in, with the added benefits
This section is different than you’d expect.
I don’t think push-ups should be used a shoulder building exercise. In fact, quite the opposite.
Certain push-ups can put stress on the shoulder negativity but fear not, I have a few push up variations up my sleeve that although not designed to build shoulder mass, are here to help with your shoulder mobility and overall health and posture with the upper body.
However, there are two exceptions...
The Pike Pushup is a great way to progress towards the handstand push up.
It’s a great movement to target the core and shoulders. It’s also much a variation above the decline push up, making it even more challenging.
Without a doubt one of the best exercises you can do for the shoulders (and best of all, can be done at home)
However, with that comes to them being one of the most intimidating and difficult movements to get right at the get-go.
Here’s a progression I recommend to getting to them:
Decline push-ups - Pike push up
Handstand push-ups against - Negative Handstand
Full handstand push-ups - Laugh, as you’re now like Thor
Here’s a great article on how to get better at these
You most likely have shoulder issues.
It’s a ‘modern’ problem that most people who lift or sit in awkward ways often experience…
The scapula push up is designed to help reduce this and correct certain issues
“Strengthening with serratus anterior exercises will keep your shoulders mobile and strong, helping you avoid injury and live your active life”- Eric Wong
The serratus anterior plays a huge role in how you move your shoulder and arm, so improving it is imperative to how well your upper body functions.
There’s a bunch of ways to do the scapula push up…
Also known as the reverse push up, this is a great movement for the back, and because of that, overall posture.
If you’re pushing (as you are in push-ups and most chest movements) you’ll want to almost always balance things out with a pull (back movement) of some kind.
The benefit to this vs rows is that it can be done anywhere.
If you want bigger arms (well triceps) then here are some movements you’ll want to have in your toolbox.
I’d recommend always doing these towards the later side of your program...
Diamond push-ups are a quite a leap from the regular push up (in difficulty) so don’t be surprised if you fail after doing half as many diamond push-ups as you normally would.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite tricep burner movements that will pump up your triceps in the no time.
The main thing to bear in mind with this is making sure you get your hands as close to your body as possible
If you’re after a great movement to have during your dynamic warm-up then this is a great place to start.
Since you are only supporting yourself on three points of contact when you move your leg forward you’re working your abdominals (and other core muscles) to work harder to maintain stability.
Moving your legs forward and back also helps to work your lower abs since it mimics the movement used in many abdominal exercises.
To make this even harder on the triceps opt for a closer grip.
Want to know my favourite push-ups and how I’d use them in a program?
I’ve given you a lot of push-ups to choose from
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I get it.
I hope this article helps you get away from being bored and stuck with regular push-ups, but let’s be honest, it’s not going to be the thing that makes or breaks your muscle growth...
If you’re someone that’s been struggling to build muscle for a while and consider yourself a skinny guy, then I’ve got a free assessment that will show you exactly what you’re #1 reason for not building muscle is…
You can find that below!
Dips are one of those movements that are underrated...
Whilst most guys are focusing on curls, tricep pushdowns and skull crushers to make their arms bigger, the people who build serious mass on their arms are guys that can dip - and dip pretty damn heavy too!
Free Workout Program: you can download the free workout program we give away during this workout as a PDF. Click here to get it.
In this article I’m going to show you how to do dips correctly, the best way to use them to grow bigger arms and how they fit into your workout programs.
Plus I’ll also hand you a sample workout to go with them.
You might have heard of dips before, but what you might not know is why they're so damn effective and how with some simple tweaks you can add muscle to not only your arms (triceps), but to your chest too.
The triceps (triceps brachii) is a three-headed muscle on the back of your arm and it makes up 75% of the arm.
The triceps attaches to the upper arm and shoulder joint in three places, so it has three heads - hence ‘tri’
The triceps’ job is to extend the elbow (move the forearm away from the bicep), to help stabilize the shoulder and scapula during most upper body exercises.
So as you can imagine, if you want a stronger upper body, building your tricep strength will help dramatically.
Here’s how the tricep is split up:
The Lateral head is best worked with arms at the sides of the body and overhead grips (press-downs, bench dips)
The Long Head is best worked with arms overhead (overhead extensions, skullcrushers)
The medial head is best worked with arms at the sides and underhand grip (e.g. reverse grip pressdown)
The long head is the largest of the three and is the one that creates the biggest overall look of your triceps
[You might have also heard some rumours going round about how dips can be a bad movement for the body, causing nasty injuries without any results to show for it, but that's not true, when you do them correctly]
Dips are as basic as it gets!
And that’s a big reason why I love dips - not only are they great at allowing you to lift a large amount of weight (aka your bodyweight) but they're as minimal as it comes with variations of it being able to do anywhere with very little equipment.
All you need is two parallel bars and a body!
If your gym doesn't have a parallel bars or a tricep dip station, then you can use an assisted chin up and tricep dip machine (placing a weight on it to hold it down - more on this in the video below) or a power tower
However if you have never done them before, you might be wondering…
I've put together a video that walks you through step-by-step how to do them effectively to build both tricep and chest mass...
As I mentioned earlier, there’s typically 2 types of dips. Although both target the upper body and work the same areas, by changing our position slightly we can change the emphasis on different parts of the body, switching between targeting more of the back of your arm (tricep) and targeting your chest.
Now let's check them both out…
The classic dip is what is commonly referred to as a "tricep dip" this is often done on parallel bars (a dipping station) and sometimes also replaced with bench dips
The main difference in this movement, vs others is the placement of the arms and elbows and emphasis on the arms.
This is pretty underrated as far as chest growth goes.
But, as you’ll learn, it’s a super effective as far as causing muscle damage to the chest.
Muscle damage largely happens when a muscle is stretched and long.
So things like flyes, cable flyes, dips, pec-dec seem to cause this pretty well. Other ways you can damage the muscle is by doing slow lowering (eccentrics) moves.
Mix both of these together and you’ve got yourself the chest dip (and one badass way to grow a bigger chest)
Although dips are a body weight exercise, and great for muscle growth. I’m not the biggest fan of bodyweight only workouts…
If conditioning is something you’re trying to work on, or if you’re trying to drop them extra pounds then they’re effective (after-all extra movement will always benefit you) but when it comes to muscle growth (especially for skinny guys) they damn right suck.
Can some people grow with body weight workouts? If you’ve got great genetics then sure.
Will the growth be as fast as you’d like? Heck no
Here at The Superhuman Lab we work with skinny dudes that want to pack on slabs of muscle in the fastest time possible, if that’s you, then I’d recommend using dips as part of your workouts, but like all bodyweight movements, surround it with heavy weight lifting exercises too.
We’ll get to how to do that in just a second!
Still wanna know how you can do them at home?
Okay, I’ve gotcha covered…
If you want to practise doing dips at home, then the best way would be to do it would be with two chairs placed either side of you or with a parallel dip station.
Although some people recommend things like your kitchen table tops, I don’t simply because it doesn’t put the body in an optimal position.
If your gym doesn’t have parallel dips, then simply place two barbells inside of a rack either side of you.
By this point you should know all about the main 2 types of dips that I recommend and you’ll be able to do them like a master.
Now let’s see how you’d fit them into a decent workout program...
The workout I’m giving you here isn’t purely a “dips” workout, just like a push up or pull up workout, that would be pretty ineffective at building a stronger, better looking body.
Instead what you’re getting is a day template you can use in any of your programs...
|Chest, Shoulders and Biceps|
|1a - Dips||4||8|
|1b - DB Curls||4||8|
|Posture, Hamstrings and Hamstrings|
|2a1 - Rom Deadlift 2a2 - Glute Bridge||3||10-12|
|2b - DB Row||3||10-12|
|Triceps, Abs and Core|
|3a - Tricep Pushdown||2||10-12|
|3b - Rope Crunches||2||10-12|
|3c - Pallof Press||2||5 breaths|
Note: this kind of workout (and dips) aren’t ideal for skinny dudes just starting out, but if you’re stuck for a workout and only have limited equipment then this will help
Do this workout and not only will you be enjoying dips, but you’ll have a bigger upper body too.
The Lab’s Quick Summary
1. Chin-ups and pull-ups are one of the best mass builders for the back and overall upper body strength.
2. Most beginners struggle with neuromuscular problems in the early stages (meaning they lack the strength, muscle mind connection and overall coordination), meaning they struggle to do enough chin-ups to progress with strength and the muscle gains they want.
3. The negative chin-up combats this and allows you to still target the muscle and gain strength (leading to progression week-to-week). After doing this, it's easier to then do the harder and fuller movements.
4. After you've performed the negative pull-ups and can comfortably perform 8 of them, we recommend moving on to the chin-up and pull variations shown later in this article.
Look at a muscular physique and you have no doubt that they'd be able to perform chin-ups without effort ...
Yet, why do very few actually do them correctly?
The truth is:
They're known to humble the strongest of guys, and if you're a skinny guy that's tried doing them before, then you most likely know how difficult they can be to perform (correctly) especially when starting out.
So why can they be so difficult?
Although most think the chin-up just needs back (and arm) strength to be done well, there's many areas of the body that work in order to get your chin-up to the bar.
That's why I recommend starting with the negative chin-up ...
Although some strength coaches like to categorise the chin-up and pull-up as being varied, the negative pull-up and chin-up are actually extremely similar.
The main difference between the two is whether your hands are facing towards or away from you:
Pull-ups are performed with both hands facing away from you in an overhand (pronated grip) with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Chin-ups are performed with both hands facing towards you (supinated grip) with your arms shoulder width or just inside of shoulder width apart from each other.
All movements typically have 3 areas of contractions – concentric, meaning the lifting portion of a movement, isometric, which is the holding part, and eccentric, which is the way down (the reverse of the concentric).
A typical chin/pull-up normally has all 3 of these ...
We've got the concentric part where you bring your body up to the bar, the isometric part where you hold your body at the top position and then the eccentric where you lower your body into a hanging position, and start the movement over again ...
The negative chin-up is similar to a typical chin-up in many ways, but with a major difference:
1. It's easier to perform, as it eliminates the concentric part of a movement (the bringing yourself up to the bar).
2. It focuses on the downward (eccentric) portion of the chin-up, which when done correctly, has a tonne of benefits...
"Strength gains after eccentric training appeared more specific in terms of velocity and mode of contraction. Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle mass measured as muscle girth."- Roig M, study
The lat pulldown is a fantastic back building exercise.
And if you can't do negative chin-ups at all, then it's a great replacement ...
"For lat-pull down exercise, BB and LD were greater than PM, TB, and ES during the concentric phase, whereas LD was greater than PM, TB, and BB during the eccentric phase (p < 0.05). Subsequently, chin-ups appears to be a more functional exercise."- Doma K, study
It's one of the primary movements used in my flagship program course for skinny dudes because it works so well and in the early stages, when your strength might be low, it can help bump it up.
Essentially, by doing the chin-up/pull-up, you'll be way better off when it comes to strength transferring into real life, and, of course, that's the same for the negative version too.
Let's take a look at how it's performed...
01: Stand on a bench/box so your body is in the top position of a pull-up.
02: To provide stability, before each rep, take a deep breath in through your stomach, brace your core, gently tuck your ribs towards the hips so your body is in a slight hollow body position, and squeeze your glutes and cross your legs.
03: Extend your hands above your head, and grab on to the bar, setting your hands so they are approximately shoulder width apart, and your palms are facing you (for a chin-up) or away from you (for a pull-up).
04: Jump and pull your body up to the top position, and perform the eccentric, lowering part by slowly lowering yourself down in a controlled manner by using the muscles in your mid and upper back, and scapula stabilisers.
05. Repeat the movement, either jumping or using the box to get up and then continuing in the same fashion.
Some extra notes you might wanna be aware of:
Keep your back and shoulder blades engaged throughout the entire movement.
Maintain proper alignment the entire time. Your spine should remain in neutral alignment, your ribs should remain down and your pelvis and torso should not rotate.
You can either bend your knees, or keep your legs straight, but it is important that you squeeze your glutes and muscles in your legs as a rigid body will be easier to control.
Now although this movement seems pretty simple, it helps massively with strength and muscle growth in several areas ...
The pull-up's main target muscle is the lats (latissimus dorsi) followed by the biceps as the secondary muscle – this helps with giving you a much wider appearance (with some guns too).
The biggest difference between the chin-up and pull-up is the activation upon the bicep.
"Biceps brachii had significantly higher EMG activation during the chin-up than during the pull-up."Youdas JW, Study
However, both do an amazing job at placing a lot of weight and stress on the biceps.
This exercise also strengthens the shoulders, the anterior core and the forearms (through using your grip to hold on to the bar).
Damn good question, my friend.
As you're here, I think it's safe to say you're a skinny dude, which typically means you're going to struggle more than most when it comes to strength in the early stages (you'll soon be a back machine).
Through training guys inside The Skinny To Superhero Formula, we've noticed that most are able to hit 8 negative reps within the first 5 weeks and then progress into doing 5 chin-ups.
Once you've mastered the negative pull-ups and you're repping out a solid amount of regular pull-ups, you'll want to progress on to these variations ...
After doing negative chin-ups, you'll want to move on to a series of different pull-up bar exercises ...
Right now, I'm going to walk you through the pull-up (and chin-up) progressions that I recommend the most (that are within reach within 12 months of training).
The chin-up uses an underhand grip. Because of this, it allows your biceps to activate fully, which in turn allows you to lift heavier.
It also allows you to use a larger range of motion, activating even more muscle fibres (including the ones in your upper pecs). These two factors make the chin-up perhaps the best muscle-building exercise for your entire upper body.
This is great for people with shoulder injuries, or if there's a large gap between your performance in chin-ups and pull-ups (think of it as the middle sibling).
If you're great at chin-ups, but are struggling to do pull-ups, then it might be because your biceps are strong, giving your back muscles a lot of help on chin-ups.
"On pull-ups, your biceps are more or less neutralized, with the arm power coming from your brachialis (a thick, strong muscle that lies between your biceps and your humerus) and brachioradialis, the forearm muscle that crosses your elbow joint and assists the brachialis in elbow flexion.
What does this mean?
Well, with the neutral grip, you have help from your elbow flexors, which helps other muscles catch up, to help with progressing to the normal pull-up.
This is similar to the chin-up, with your palms facing away from you. It also limits the amount of muscles you can use to pull yourself up and allows
you to hit the lower traps a bit harder.
You'll typically see more bodybuilders using this to bring up a specific weak area of the back, and for skinny dudes, it's recommended secondarily to chin-ups.
This is the same as the pull-up, the main difference is the placement of your hands. You'll want to take a wider than shoulder width apart grip.
This movement limits the amounts of muscles lifting you. In fact, most people will see a large decrease in the amount they can perform these vs. regular chin-up/pull-ups.
A chin-up, neutral grip and pull-up are all made difficult by adding weight (using a weight belt – if you don't have one, hang a dumbbell between your feet, although it's no way near as nice).
At this stage, you should be able to pick which you prefer, and go for personal preference. Your strength differences between the chin-up, neutral chin-up and pull-up shouldn't be vastly different from one another.
So there you have it –that's all about the negative pull-up, and what you can do after you've mastered them to build a stronger and more muscular back.
Wondering where this would go in a programme?
I've put together a free example workout for skinny dudes, you can grab it here.
I'm excited to see how you use the negative chin-up in your own workout programs.