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July 29, 2021 9 min read

Want to work out like top bodybuilders and athletes? If so, start practicing push-pull training!

Push and pull training is a workout method that splits your gym days into "push days" or "pull days" in which you do either pushing or pulling exercises.  This way of training helps you achieve maximum hypertrophy.

To help you get started, we are sharing our top push day exercises for a powerful upper body! Incorporating these exercises into your workout routine and adopting the push-pull method will put you in the leagues of the bodybuilding pros!

Here is everything you need to know about the push-pull method and our top upper body push exercises that you should start today!

Why Do Push-Pull Workouts?

As we mentioned above, push and pull training divides your upper body workout days into either push or pull days.

Muscular man training his shoulders with dumbbells

For example, here is a typical weekly workout schedule for someone following the push-pull method:

  • Day 1: Push day
  • Day 2: Pull day
  • Day 3: Leg day
  • Day 4: Rest day
  • Day 5: Push day
  • Day 6: Pull day
  • Day 7: Cardio or rest

Also, push and pull day exercises work different body parts. Push day exercises work the  chest, shoulders, and triceps. On the other hand, pull day exercises work the  back, biceps, and forearms.

There are several benefits to following this method of training. First off, push and pull exercises work different muscle groups throughout the days of the week. Splitting up the muscle groups in this way allows you to work them twice per week for maximum hypertrophy.

Second, the push-and-pull method doesn't neglect leg day. Following the push-pull method, you can take one or even two days per week to work exclusively on the lower body, including the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Incorporating leg exercises such as the leg curl, deadlift, and leg raise make the push-pull method a textbook full-body workout method.

Third, the push-pull method allows your muscles to recover properly from exercise. For example, if you do push exercises the first day of the week, you won't work your push muscles again for another four days.

That gives those muscles plenty of time to recover and go through post-exercise protein synthesis before working again. Without further ado, here are the top push day exercises for a powerful upper body!

1. Push-ups

Push-ups are a classic, bodyweight strength training exercise. They're also one of the best pushing exercises. There are a couple of different ways you can do push-ups.

Two of the most popular are tricep push-ups and wide-arm push-ups. Tricep push-ups obviously put more work on the triceps, whereas wide-arm push-ups put more work on the shoulder and back muscles.

Whether you choose to do tricep or wide-arm push-ups, you will get a great workout regardless. However, keep in mind these form differences between the two:

  • For tricep push-ups, keep your elbows locked in by the sides of your body and hands directly underneath your shoulders
  • For wide-arm push-ups, your elbows should point outward as you drop down and hands wider than shoulder-width apart

Here is how to do tricep push-ups with proper form:

  1. Get in a plank position on your hands and toes. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders and your back in a neutral position.  Try to keep your back straight from the crown of your head to your heels.
  1. When you're ready, exhale and bend your elbows along the sides of your body so that your upper body lowers to the floor. Bend until your upper body hovers right above the floor or for as long as you can maintain good form.
  1. Squeeze your triceps, back, and chest muscles, then press back up to the starting plank position.
  1. Repeat! Do two to three sets of ten to twelve push-ups.

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2. Overhead Shoulder Press

Also known as the military press, the overhead shoulder press is one of the best exercises for hypertrophy. If your goal is to build muscle mass, you have to have this one in your workout routine.

The overhead shoulder press is a very technical lift. Before trying it, consider reading more about it in our guide to the top shoulder exercises.

Or, get a personal trainer to give you a hand!

Before getting started, you need to set up your barbell on a power rack. Place your barbell on j hooks positioned near the top of your chest. Stand right up against the bar with your knees slightly bent to make sure that it falls directly on your chest.

Once you have your bar set up, you are ready to get started.

Here is how to do the overhead shoulder press with proper form:

  1. Stand right underneath your barbell with slightly bent knees, so your upper chest touches it. Grip the bar overhand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your elbows should be directly underneath your hands and create a vertical line with your hands.
  1. When you're ready, press the heels of your palms into the bar and straighten your knees so that the barbell lifts off the j hooks. Take two steps backward away from the rack.
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed outwards about 15-degrees, and elbows pointed slightly outward from the shoulders. The barbell should still be resting on your chest and palms directly above the wrist joint.
  1. Externally rotate your shoulders, flex your glutes, and then exhale and press the barbell directly upward. Squeeze your shoulders to get the bar directly overhead. At the top of the lift, there should be a straight line running through the barbell, shoulders, hips, and middle of the feet.
  1. Inhale and slowly lower the bar back to chest height, then repeat!

Again, the overhead press is a challenging technical lift that's hard even for the most experienced bodybuilders. We suggest starting with a small weight to get the form down first, then moving up to a heavier weight.

3. Chest Press

Next up, put your chest muscles to work with the chest press. Not to be confused with the bench press, the chest press is done in an inclined seated position with dumbbells, whereas you do the bench press lying down with a barbell.

With the chest press, you work your pecs, as well as the deltoids, biceps, and triceps. Not only does having a chiseled chest make you look good, but it also improves your upper body posture. With built pecs, the shoulders don't tend to slouch forward as much.

That helps the upper body stay nice and lifted, which in turn makes you look more confident and prevents back injuries. Here is how to do the chest press with proper form:

  1. From an upright position, set your incline bench backward between 15 and 30-degrees.
  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, then sit on the incline bench with a straight back. Allow your arms to hang straight down.
  1. Lift the dumbbells by your shoulders and face your palms forward. Your elbows should be at about a 45-degree angle.
  1. When you're ready, exhale and push the dumbbells straight upward over the pecs. Do not completely lock out your arms to avoid hyperextending them.
  1. Squeeze your chest at the top of the lift, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position.

4. Tricep Dips

Triceps sometimes get overshadowed by some of the larger upper body muscles. However, even though they are smaller muscles, you need them for a powerful upper body.

Also, if you're working your biceps hard but not your triceps, your arms will look totally imbalanced. It's like being that person who hits upper body day but never leg day.

To perform tricep dips, you need a flat and stable surface such as a flat bench, chair, or couch. Or, of course, you can use a tricep dip machine.nHere is how to do tricep dips (on a stable surface) with proper form:

  1. Sit up straight on your flat surface with both feet planted on the floor. Grip the edge of the surface with both of your hands.
  1. While still sitting on the bench, extend your legs directly out in front of you. Your toes should point straight in the air and heels planted firmly on the floor.
  1. Slide your glutes forward off the edge of your chair while still gripping the edge of the surface. Your arms should have only a slight bend in the elbows. And, you should be hovering right in front of your chair.
  1. When you're ready, exhale and bend your elbows between 45 and 90-degrees so that your glutes lower straight to the floor.  Do not let your glutes touch the floor, but hover them right above it.
  1. Squeeze your triceps as you hover above the floor, then inhale and push yourself back up to hovering in front of your chair.

Because the triceps are a small muscle, form is of the utmost importance. Without perfect form, it's easy to miss the triceps altogether and overcompensate with other muscles.

For example, if you don't keep your elbows backward during the dip, your shoulders and chest will end up doing most of the work. With that said, keep these tricep dip form tips in mind:

  • Keep your elbows locked behind you; do not let your elbows flare out to the sides
  • Release tension in your shoulders to avoid your shoulders coming up by your ears
  • Avoid leaning forward to prevent the exercise from turning into a chest exercise

5. Chest Flys

Chest flys might be the best push day exercise because they work all three big push muscles: the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Before getting started, you will need a flat bench! Here is how to do chest flys with proper form:

  1. Sit up straight on a flat incline bench. Place one foot on each side of the bench.
  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand, then lay back flat on the flat bench. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with the elbows pointed down. Your palms should face each other.
  1. Exhale and push the dumbbells straight over your chest. Keep your wrists straight, and do not completely lock out your elbows at the top.
  1. Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height. 

6. Dumbbell Lateral Raises

The dumbbell lateral raise is perfect for building broad shoulder muscles.  If you're going for that v-shaped upper body look, then you have to do lateral raises.

fit muscular caucasian man of model appearance workout training in the gym

Not only do they make your body look good, but lateral raises also help improve posture. Because they target the rear delts and upper back, those muscles grow stronger. With stronger shoulders and upper back, you naturally stand up straighter and hold your shoulders higher.

Having good posture improves the health of your spine and makes you look more confident. And, looking more confident makes you look even better!

Here is how to do dumbbell lateral raises:

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each of your hands and stand up straight with a neutral back. There should be a slight bend in both of your elbows and knees.
  1. When you're ready, engage your core muscles and laterally lift the dumbbells out to the sides until they reach shoulder height. As you lift the weights, make sure that your shoulders do not shrug!
  1. Squeeze your shoulders and upper back, then slowly release and lower your arms back to starting.

Make sure that your core engages for the entire exercise. A tight midsection helps you laterally lift the weights in a completely straight line. If it is loose, it becomes easier to arch your lower back and take some of the work off of your shoulder muscles.

7. Tricep Pushdowns

Last but not least, tricep pushdowns are a classic cable machine exercise. If you don't have a cable at your disposal, you can also try it with a resistance band.

Tricep pushdowns work all three heads of the triceps, including the long, lateral, and medial. Also, they work the back, core, and shoulder muscles. Moreover, they are another exercise that works all three of the major push muscle groups.

Here is how to do tricep pushdowns with proper form:

  1. Attach the rope attachment to the cable machine and set it to chest level. Or, if you're using a resistance band, loop the band around the top of the cable machine until the ends fall to chest level.
  1. Stand up straight right in front of the cable machine. Grab one end of the rope attachment (or resistance band) in each hand with an overhand grip. Your elbows should bend to about 90-degrees.
  1. When you're ready, exhale and push your forearms down until your elbows fully extend. As you push down, your elbows must stay locked in at the sides of your body.
  1. Squeeze your triceps, then inhale and slowly release the tension and return your elbows to 90-degrees.

The key to making this exercise work is to keep your triceps locked in at the sides of your body. If you don't, then other muscles will start to overcompensate for the triceps.

Balance Push Day With The Top Pulling Exercises

We can't wrap things up without acknowledging the best pull exercises to add to your pull day routine.

On the days that you aren't doing our top upper body push exercises, give these pull ones a try:

  1. Bent-over barbell rows 
  2. Bicep curls 
  3. Deadlift
  4. Pull-ups or chin-ups
  5. Lat pulldowns
  6. Rear delt raise

Other exercises that target the biceps, back, and forearms are most likely pull exercises!

Final Thoughts

Whether you want to try the push-pull method of training or you want some new upper body exercises, these push exercises are worth giving a try!

If you balance them out with pull exercises, your upper body will look better and be stronger than ever. Build your most powerful upper body with our top 7 push exercises!

Bonus tip:  Do not be that person who skips leg day! After doing our favorite upper body push exercises, try our ten favorite lower body exercises for powerful legs and glutes!

Note:  Get the most out of every workout with VEG-PRO protein powder, the best-tasting plant-based protein in the fitness world. Pick your flavor now!