The bodyweight push-up has long been the standard by which calisthenics fitness is measured. However, the one major downside is that once you can do so many, their potency wears off, and you’ll need something more to stimulate gains. Sure you could modify your body position, switch to one-arm push-ups, or slow down your tempo, but let’s be real, how many of us would be brave enough to do handstand push-ups? And one-arm push-ups aren’t exactly appealing to most exercisers due to their unstable, unilateral nature.
That’s where band push-ups and similar weighted variations are so appealing. Add more weight to a basic push-up, without having to throw your legs up in the air to make the basic version more challenging.
In this guide, you’ll learn the anatomy of muscles worked during band push-ups, how to do it correctly, common mistakes, and the best variations.
How To Do Band Push-Ups
Before you attempt band push-ups, you should ideally be able to perform at least 20 proper push-ups with good form, a full range of motion, and actively feel your chest muscles contract. Jump into this more advanced variation too quickly, and you could be doing a disservice to your progress and your joints.
Now to learn the band push-up, use the following step-by-step checklist, and refer to the video demonstration provided below.
Step 1 – Band setup and placement
It’s easier to kneel down on the floor first, and then grip the ends of the band in your hands. Then, place the center of the band on your upper back across the middle of your shoulder blades, like shown in the video below.
Step 2 – Proper push-up position
Now you’re ready to get into a push-up position.
To do it:
Place your hands roughly shoulder width apart on the floor, fingers pointed slightly outward, and arms fully extended. Then prop up onto your toes with an inch or two space in between your feet. The bands should be wrapped around your thumbs.
Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe, and look straight down at the floor. Your arms should be vertical and palms aligned with your lower chest.
Step 3 – The descent
The descent is as important as the push-up.
- Tense your core, then bend your arms and lower your chest until it touches the floor or is an inch or two above it. As you descend, shift your body slightly forward. This mimics proper bench pressing form, which should be similar for push-ups.
Step 4 – Push-Up
Now squeeze your chest and use your arms to push your body back up to the starting position. As you push up, shift your body back to the starting position.
Watch the video provided below to see how it’s done!
- Again, a flat looped band is better than the tube shaped bands for this variation.
- Weighted vests, a backpack evenly loaded with resistance, and having someone place a weight plate on your back are also great options to make push-ups more challenging, and hence, more effective.
- Start with a light resistance band and focus on form first. When 15 reps becomes challenging, throw on a stronger band.
- Make sure to keep your abs tight for efficient energy transfer, and to prevent any leaks in strength.
- Use two bands, or purchase a few bands of varied resistance if you plan to progress and take band push-ups seriously.
- Target Muscle Group: Chest
- Secondary Muscles: Deltoids and triceps
- Type: Hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Looped resistance band
- Difficulty: Intermediate
Muscles Worked During Band Push-Ups
The truth is push-ups involve almost every muscle in your body. But three muscles, your chest, triceps, and deltoids, are the star players in every pressing variation including band pushdowns.
Pectoralis major sternal head
Your chest is split into different sections, with the sternal or lower chest muscles being one of them. Every press works all heads of the pecs, however, the lower chest is best activated when the arms move downward toward the floor. Band push-ups may favor the lower pec head because of the arm position.
Pectoralis major clavicular head
On the upper part of the chest is clavicular head, best stimulated when the arms lift up toward the head. Band push-ups are a great total chest movement that hammer all chest fibers.
Every pressing exercise involves your shoulder muscles as it does the chest and triceps (when you invite one, you’re inviting the others too). Although, to what degree depends on the angle of the exercise.
When you do a push-up, the anterior or front shoulder muscles help to flex the arm forward into a full press.
Below the deltoids are the triceps brachii, a tri-head muscle on the back part of the upper arm with a lateral, medial, and long head. Your triceps help to get your elbows from a bent to straight position during push-ups and all presses.
But it’s important to note that the long head crosses the shoulder joint, and therefore plays a minor role in shoulder extension (lifting the arms behind the body).
Benefits of Band Push-Ups
Push-ups are the king of bodyweight chest exercises when it comes to activating the pecs as a whole. Any way that you can progress them will mean more gains! Here’s why band push-ups are worth it and more!
Practical way to make push-ups more effective
While we mentioned using a weighted vest or loaded backpack as an alternative, having a band is the most practical way to load your basic push-up. They’re very lightweight, can fit in any bag, and are the ultimate travel training assistance when you can’t get to the gym, or prefer to train in your home.
Not to mention, if a beginner wants to progress their basic push-up into something more challenging, using a band is a viable option.
Challenge your lockout
One unique benefit of band push-ups is that, well, you’re using a band. Unlike weights, cables, and machines, bands create resistance by stretching, which means the exercise is easier at the start and harder as the band lengthens.
Typical bodyweight push-ups get easier as the arms reach full extension. During band push-ups, the rubber begins to stretch as you push yourself up, and creates the most tension as you reach full arm extension, or the lockout phase of the rep.
This is a great way to improve your pressing power in the top third of a push-up, which could also help with your bench press, and other variations.
Drawbacks of Band Push-Ups
Band push-ups can come with its drawbacks, especially if attempting them for the first time, without any prior knowledge of proper band choice and set up.
You need the right type of resistance band
While it’s not a drawback in and of itself, you do need to have access to a good loop style band to make this work. And we’re talking about the thick, quality ones, and not those looped bands that are thin and flimsy, like a rubber glove.
You also don’t want to use the very common type of band that is literally a rubber tube with handles at the ends, as these roll up and down your back, and hurt your hands when holding them down with your hands. However, they can work if that’s all you have.
While the elasticity of bands makes them a great tool, you don’t get the same consistency as you would free weights, cables and machines. Or heck, even a weighted vest and backpack are better options. Again, the band provides less resistance at the beginning of each rep, and more near the end. So, unless a bench press, or cable fly, band push-ups may feel too easy in the first half.
But those other options also don’t offer the versatility and convenience of bands. So each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Setup can be annoying
Placing a band across your back in the right spot, and then securing it down with your hands may take a little practice, especially if you’re new to this variation. But, with enough repetition, it should be a quick and easy process.
Common Mistakes When Performing Band Push-Ups
Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, and other times, we just need to be more aware, and trust our experience to avoid wasting time and gains… Fix these things, and band push-ups will be a great addition to your chest workouts.
Using resistance tubing and not flat, looped bands
If you’ve ever tried push-ups with those tube style bands that have handles, it may have caused you to use a swear word or two. Nothing is more annoying than trying to go beast mode during your home chest session, and the band is rolling up and down your back.
Not that it cannot be done with tube bands, but using the loop style bands (basically like a large rubber band), is the way to go. They are flat, and should stay put right where you want them during your sets.
Holding the band on the wrong spot on your back
Band push-ups do require proper positioning on your back to be most effective. Don’t just wrap them around you without making sure their placement provides optimal resistance.
As shown in the above video example, the bands placed somewhere around the mid shoulder blade.
Variations and Alternatives of Band Push-Ups
Band push-ups are a convenient technique to make your push-ups more challenging.
If you’d rather not go through the trouble of using bands, (or you could also use bands for decline push-ups too) simply elevate your feet up onto an a several inch high object. This will shift more weight from your core and lower body onto your chest and pushing muscles. It’s one of the simplest methods to increase the weight load.
- Place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart, with arms fully extended, then elevate your feet up onto your chosen platform or object, at the height you find appropriate for your experience level. The higher your feet, the more resistance.
- Adjust your hands so that your palms are under your lower chest.
- With your body in a straight line and butt slightly lifted, tense your core to maintain a rigid torso.
- Lower yourself as far down as you can and then press yourself back up until arms are extended. Focus on contracting the chest muscles as you push up.
- Repeat for the desired reps.
One arm push-up
Similar to decline push-ups but arguably harder, you can balance on one arm and gain more size and strength with unilateral push-ups.
You’ll need to be somewhat of a push-up grandmaster before you can really benefit from one arm bodyweight chest presses. But, it can be a key weapon in your push-up artillery when your bodyweight is the only resistance available.
Start off using just your body weight, and then when you become more advanced, add in a band!
Check out our full single arm push-up guide for more detailed how-to instructions.
Basic push-ups only allow your chest to touch the floor. But deficit push-ups allow you to go further, and achieve a larger range of motion. If ever tried them, your chest gets a much better stretch, they’re more challenging, and you’ll most likely be sore the next morning.
You can do them using dumbbells, dip bars, gymnastics rings, a chair with arms, or any objects that allow you to do deficit push-ups. For an even more powerful pec workout, you can add bands, a weighted vest, or a loaded backpack.
- Place your hands roughly shoulder width apart on two raised objects, with your hands pointed slightly outward, and arms fully extended.
- Kick your feet back and prop up onto your toes, with a few inches of space in between your feet. Keep your body straight and look straight down at the floor.
- Now tense your core, bend your arms, and lower your body until you feel a deep stretch in your chest muscles.
- Then, press all the way through to full arm extension, and repeat.
Pro tip: Do these with your feet elevated for more gains!
Here is one video example of how to do deficit push-ups.
Any chest press exercise
Whether it’ a bench press, dumbbell, machine, or cable press, any one of those is a similar alternative to a band push-up, which is also a press variation. If you have access to a gym, these are the way to go. But band push-ups win when you have limited equipment, and train at home or on the go.
You can find answers to some commonly asked questions about band push-ups below.
What are the best sets and reps for band push-ups?
If you’ve advanced to band push-ups, then you’re most likely an intermediate to advanced exerciser.
We recommend using your best judgement, and program band push-ups around your current chest routine, and training level of experience.
Typically, you want to aim for a minimum of 3 sets x muscular failure (do as many reps as you can) for best results.
What's the best training tempo or rep speed for band push-ups?
It depends on your goals.
If you’re an athlete, or are training for strength performance, you may benefit more from faster, and more explosive reps. This will help translate to sports and similar activities.
If you’re goal is hypertrophy, or building muscle, perform slower reps, and focus on the mind-muscle connection, feeling the contraction and squeezing the pecs.
Here are examples of optimal tempos depending on your goals.
- Athlete/speed tempo: 2 seconds, down, 1 second up
- Muscle building tempo: 2 seconds down, 2 seconds up
How do I choose the correct band?
Look for a band that looks like a giant rubber band, and not the very flimsy and thin ones with a material similar to rubber gloves. These are best for band push-ups because they will stay put and not roll around on your back like the tubed shaped ones with the handles at the ends (not a good option for band push-ups).
Because band push-ups are an intermediate to advanced variation, we recommend choosing one that’s a medium or higher resistance.
If possible, visit a store, and handle some bands before deciding which will be adequate for your strength level. Otherwise, you can choose from the many reviewed options.
Adding a band to your push-ups is a badass way to jack up your pec gains, whether you workout at home, need a minimal travel-focused chest workout, or if you prefer calisthenics style training. Bands are also affordable, lightweight, and take up no space which makes them the ultimate versatile training tool.
Keep in mind, bands do have drawbacks too, but they are useful where other training tools are more of an inconvenience. The key is using a variety of training tools to achieve your dream physique, and band push-ups can help you get there.