Are Push-Ups Enough? Push-Up Variations to Help You Bulk Up

Updated on October 28, 2016
Medicine ball push-up against a door.
Medicine ball push-up against a door. | Source

Push-ups are a simple body weight exercise that most people know how to do. Get into the starting position by putting your hands on the floor and move your legs back. Then alternate between pushing yourself up with your arms and lowering yourself back down. That is how you do regular push-ups but there are lots of push-up variations.

Since your legs are on the ground you only lift about 65% of your bodyweight when doing a regular push-up. A person that weighs 134 pounds will be lifting about 87 pounds with their arms when they push themselves up. Push-ups are usually considered to be an endurance exercise because doing two or three of them is too easy. If they are not too easy at first they will become too easy after you increase your strength a little.

The only way to make regular push-ups difficult enough to provide you with a good workout is to do a lot of them. I started doing 100 push-ups a day. It provided me with a good workout but it was an endurance workout. So it was not good for increasing my strength and bulking up. That is why I switched to doing push up variations that require more strength.

My New Push-Up Routine

For my new push-up workout routine I picked push up variations that I could barely do. They required a lot of strength. Doing just two reps was a struggle. I avoided ones that were easy and ones that were too difficult to do with good form. The exercises on my list were:

  1. Wall-assisted handstand push-ups,
  2. Wall push-ups,
  3. Medicine ball push-ups,
  4. Wide-grip push-ups,
  5. Finger push-ups, and
  6. Decline push ups.

Later I added exploding push-ups and tucked push-ups with my feet in the air to continue to challenge myself. Sometimes I mixed two variations together.

  • A medicine ball push up is when you place your hands or feet on a medicine ball. I put my hands on a medicine ball and did narrow grip push ups also known as diamond push ups. To do wide grip push ups you just place your hands wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Finger push ups are good for increasing the size of the forearms and they are easier on the wrists.
  • Decline push ups can be done by placing your feet higher than your head. To do them I placed my feet on chair or stability ball.
  • To do exploding push ups use a combination of strength and speed to propel your upper body into the air as high as you can.
  • To do the tucked push up get on your knees, put your hands beside them and lower your head close to the floor. Then push yourself off the floor.

Wall assisted handstand push-ups
Wall assisted handstand push-ups | Source
Wall push-ups.
Wall push-ups. | Source
Tucked push-ups with legs in the air.
Tucked push-ups with legs in the air. | Source


Focusing on difficult push-up variations gave me better results than doing a large number of regular push-ups. My strength and the size of my muscles increased. I noticed the most change in my shoulders and triceps. You can get big tricep, shoulder and chest muscles doing push-ups if you continue to challenge yourself by making the individual reps more difficult.

I am an ecotomorph. Meaning I am have a hard time bulking up. I am light, I did not change my diet and I only did the workout for a few months. There is still lots of room for improvement because I still have trouble doing push ups with my legs in the air. If you are not a skinny ecotomorph then your body would be better at putting on muscle mass and you would have the advantage of having more weight to lift.

Results of my Push-Up Routine

Before and after 100 push-ups a day and after doing difficult push-ups for 3 months.
Before and after 100 push-ups a day and after doing difficult push-ups for 3 months. | Source

Switching from Endurance to Strength

After doing 100 regular push-ups 6 days a week for a long time I became really good at doing them. The workout started to feel too easy. When I tried doing variations that had me lifting more of my body weight I struggled to do one. My endurance increased a lot while doing a large number of regular push-ups but my strength only increase a little.

To change push-ups from an endurance exercise to a strength exercise you need to make doing individual ones more challenging. You can change the type of push-up or add weight. Instead of doing a lot of easy push-ups, do a small number of really difficult ones. One-handed, decline, and wide-grip push ups are a lot harder. So are exploding push ups and ones with a weighted backpack. The most difficult type is when your legs are in the air.

If you struggle to a few, then push-ups are a strength exercise.

Train Like a Weightlifter

To build strength weightlifters increase the amount of weight they are lifting as they get stronger. They do a small number of reps for big gains. The workout is quick but it takes a long time for them to recover. Lifting light weights and doing a lot of reps does not help you bulk up. If you workout like a weightlifter that is trying to bulk up then you will have a better chance of building muscle while doing push-ups

You can increase your bodyweight. Build up your leg muscles by doing leg exercises. Do exercises like barbell curls and pull ups to build up your biceps. Don't neglect the muscles that are not worked enough by doing push ups. I gained 25 pounds doing leg exercises. Wearing a weight vest or weighted backpack is a quick and easy way to put on more pounds. Another way to increase the amount of weight on your arms is to reduce the amount of weight you are lifting with your legs. Raise your legs higher, place your feet against a wall or hold them up in the air.

Regular push-ups mainly work your triceps, chest, back, shoulders and abs. You can do a variation that work your triceps, chest, back, shoulders, abs or forearms more by putting less emphasis on the other muscles. Changing the positions of your arms and legs changes how the weight is distributed. Think of it as shifting the weight. When I do wide grip push-ups my chest muscles work a lot harder. When I do narrow grip push-ups my triceps work a lot harder. If I did superman push-ups with my arms out in front of me it would put more emphasis on my back muscles.

If you start doing a push-up routine with difficult variations, then you will not stay the same size. Your body will change a lot. You will look and feel different. If you want big arms don't forget to workout your biceps. Push-ups workout your triceps, the muscle on the opposite side of your biceps. Pull-ups are good for working out the biceps and other upper body muscles that are not worked enough with push ups. You should also do some cardio to reduce fat while strengthening your legs, heart and lungs.

People say you need to lift heavy weights to build muscle mass but you have your body weight, you can add weight, you can use explosive power and you can increase the load on specific muscles by decreasing the load on others. If doing a small number of reps is difficult than you can build muscle mass. Even if you have a bench press I recommend trying out some difficult push-ups variations like the tucked push ups with your legs in the air.

Push-ups are enough to get you ripped. You can bulk up doing difficult variations. To bulk up, continue to increase the difficulty of each push-up. You will work more muscles than by using the bench press, but not your whole upper body. By themselves they are only good for your triceps, shoulders, chest, abs and, to a lesser extent, your back.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Michael H


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