Q and A: Are Push Ups Enough For The Upper Body?

I got a question yesterday from a guy I went to high school with.  He basically wanted to know if push ups were OK to do every day or not.  And if not, what were some good options for upper body workouts at home.

As far as push ups go, they are a fantastic upper body exercise.  If I was forced to choose between push ups and any other chest exercise, I would choose push ups every time.  Not only are they a great movement for the chest and anterior shoulders, but they are also great for core stabilization strength and shoulder health.  The problem comes when they are the only thing done for the upper body.

Push ups are a horizontal pushing exercise, which, like I mentioned above, strengthens the chest and front of the shoulders. This can cause those muscles to shorten, which pulls the shoulders in and creates that not-so-good hunched over look.  You know those guys in the gym who only bench press?  This is the reason their shoulders are so rounded and they have horrible posture.  Due to the fact that we sit so much in our daily lives, and most of us sit in that hunched position, we need more horizontal pulling exercises (think rowing type movements) than we do horizontal pushing. This will not only help balance out the pushing we do, but it will also help combat crappy posture, by pulling the shoulders back and opening up the chest.

I always, program more horizontal pulling than horizontal pushing.  People’s chests just need to be opened up more, and increasing their strength through horizontal pulling movements is the best way to achieve this.

As far as what he could do at home, I sent him these three videos, from Bret Contreras and Nia Shanks, and myself respectively:

The rowing movement is the last one in this video, at 1:13.

The video from Nia wont load on to the page, so click here to see rows at a playground, at 0:55.

Or, he could even invest in a pair of dumbbells and do some good ol’ bent over rows:

The bottom line is that while push ups are a fantastic exercise, they need to balanced out by pulling, pulling, and more pulling.  And even if you’re stuck working out at home, there are some good options to keep you balanced and feeling good.


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