push up benefits

Push-ups and push-up stands: Benefits and muscle building potential

Are there any benefits to push-ups, and how does the exercise fare as far as muscle building goes?

Almost all of us know how to do a push-up. Some of us encountered it as small children fighting for bragging rights. Some of us encountered a complete lunatic physical education trainer who clearly loved push-ups more than, to him, lesser stuff like.. Life. His wife. Children. Etc.

Whatever good or bad your relationship with push-ups might be, we’re gonna do a little explorin’ on the muscle building capabilities and other potential benefits of the push-up!

Straightforward benefits of doing push-ups

Let’s get some basic stuff out of the way. One primary benefit of the push-up is the ability to do the movement just about anywhere, and anytime.

Unless you’re hungover. In that case, sodium, fat and Netflix binging might be better.

Another benefit, of course, is the calories burned from doing push-ups. It’s hard to say how many, but if you’ve ever tried doing 100 or 200 push-ups in the least amount of time possible, you’ll likely find your heart-rate through the roof.

And while push-ups might not be comparable to high-intensity cardio nor heavy strength training, the accessibility of the movement makes it an obvious choice for super-setting with other bodyweight exercises.

In fact, push-ups supersetted with bodyweight lunges was a key element in the routine I describe in my post on staying in shape while on vacation without gym access.

Are push-ups good for building muscle?


Do push-ups build muscle? Yeah, but your mileage may wary!

Yeah yeah, I know you want to know; Are push-ups any good at building muscle? Well – good is relative. 

Is it a superior movement to the bench press on an equated amount of work done? No. 

Is it a movement that can build muscle on its own by triggering muscle protein synthesis? Yes! Although the better trained you are, the more difficulty you will have in adding noticeable muscle mass just from doing push-ups.

If you are relatively untrained or perhaps even a complete beginner, push-ups are truly awesome, and one of the things that led me to buy my first gym membership back in early 2011, was the noticeable results I had seen from a home bodyweight routine, including tons of push-ups.

And despite having worked out ever since, more or less reaching my dream physique, and having benched 5 x 330 lbs in the barbell variant and 13 x 115 lbs with dumbbells – I still find myself cranking out lots of push-ups whenever I encounter a week or more where I can’t go to a gym! (like vacation).

The value of push-ups are further enhanced by lots of recent science on load intensity, most noticeably this meta analysis, which stipulates that you can build muscle with low-resistance movements just fine, as long as you take the sets to failure.

My favorite push-up variation

I always do push-ups with a narrow base hand placement, as this study suggests that muscle activation in the triceps and chest is higher in this version, compared to the traditional wide hand placement.

When I really want to burn out my chest and triceps with push-ups, I’ll combine the narrow base hand placement with a decline setup, such as having my feet on a bed, couch or bench, as shown below;


Badass woman doing decline push-ups. Yeah, self-explanatory.

And the final touch; I’ll make the eccentric portion of the lift, where you lower your body to the floor, last at least 3 full seconds before doing the concentric portion (raising my body).

I do this because a clear issue with push-ups is that unless I add this adjustment to the tempo, thus increasing my time-under-tension for each rep – then I feel I have to do way too many reps to blast my chest and triceps and reach failure!

Now, as you probably know, there are a ton of different push-up variations. But I like sticking to the basics, and nothing is yet to beat the way I have done them for years.

To summarize;

  • Use a narrow hand placement.
  • Use a decline setup, placing your feet on an item that is higher than the floor.
  • Employ a push-up cadence with controlled 3-second eccentric phases (lowering the body).

If I don’t apply these tweaks, I’ll usually reach in excess of 55-60+ reps before failure. With all tweaks applied, I will sometimes barely manage 15 reps!

You might want to seriously consider push-up stands

One thing to add to your inventory is a set of push-up stands.

The major reason to get push-up stands is to save your wrists from an early death. Seriously, doing a ton of push-ups on a daily basis can put some real strain on your wrist area.

And while one beauty of the push-up is that it’s equipment free, a set of push-up stands can very easily fit in your traveling bags for the next vacation.

Or you could embrace your inner meathead and keep a set in the trunk of your car. Hell, If you’re US-based, you could tell yourself to do a set of push-ups with the stands each time you catch a driver crawling in the left overtake lane.

You’ll be 500 lbs of chest and triceps mass by the end of the month…

Push-up stand benefits

In the regular flat hand push-up, a large percentage of your total body weight rests on your wrists while they are subject to an extended position.

The joint is therefore very prone to irritation – even more so if you do decline variations like me, where an even greater percentage of weight is loaded onto your wrists.

The main benefit derived from push-up stands is that they allow for your hands and wrists to be in a more neutral position while conducting the movement. 

This effectively creates a safer and more pleasant set up for doing frequent push-ups.

Now I won’t claim there’s anything magical to push-up stands as far as results go – but there’s one aspect to push-up stands where you could argue the case for more muscle growth – increased range of motion, or “ROM”.

Depending on how much the grips on a particular set of push-up stands extend from the ground, you’re able to increase your ROM by lowering your body beyond your palms.

This will increase the stretch on your chest, and plenty of research suggests that greater ROM produces more muscle gains compared to smaller ROM. Greater strength gains as well.

How big this effect is with a movement such as the push-up is hard to gauge, but when added to the ergonomic wrist-saving benefits, it makes the case clear for push-up stands vs regular push-ups!

Best push-up stands

Of course, the issue becomes, what push-up stands do I get?

While there are differences in materials used, most of the push-up stands are fairly similar in quality, so I narrowed it down to 3 very highly rated options that provide different benefits;

SmarterLife Push-up Bars



For ergonomic purposes, these rotating push-up stands allow for natural movement of your wrist. If you are very prone to wrist irritation, they are your best bet – they are however a little plasticky as far as build quality go. You can get them from Amazon here!

Jfit Pro Push-up Bar


For trying to maximize the increased ROM benefits, these 9 inches tall push-up stands are really your best choice. By having your hands raised 9 inches, you can get a really strong stretch across your chest, vastly improving the range of motion! The build quality is also superior. You can get them from Amazon here!

JBM Push-up Bar


Now, if 9 inches is a bit too much for you, then these 5.3-inch tall push-up stands are highly recommended, with an angled design for added comfort. You can get them from Amazon here!

Concluding on my recipe for the perfect push-up!

Now, let’s summarize a bit on our talk about push-ups, push-up stands and the potential benefits of both! 

Here’s my ideal recipe for the perfect push-up – good for ergonomics (neutral wrist) as well as muscle building (greatly increased range of motion)!

  • Step 1 – Place a set of highly elevated push-up stands (highest being the Jfit) on the floor with a few inches more than shoulder-width apart.

  • Step 2 – Grab the stands with your hands (duh), and place your feet on an elevated piece of furniture or similar. The more advanced you are, the taller the item!

  • Step 3 – Lower yourself with a 3 full second eccentric phase, then raise yourself with a quick but not unnatural pace. Try to maintain this cadence.

  • Step 4 – Scream internally the next time someone with a year of lifting experience claims “push-ups are worthless”.

Yeah… So tell me more about your expansive one-year-into-lifting wisdom.


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