I’ve been doing push-ups for as long as I can remember. They were a staple of my upper body training when I was an athlete, and I did hundreds (if not thousands) of push-ups during my time in the Royal Marines. And despite being on the wrong side of 50, I still do plenty of push-ups each week. In fact, they’re my main chest exercise.
Why not just do bench presses, I hear you ask?
I find bench presses hurt my shoulders, while push-ups do not. Also, studies reveal that push-ups and bench presses use the same muscles, so I don’t feel I’m missing out by doing push-ups instead of bench presses (1).
During my 30+ years working as a personal trainer, I’ve noticed that many people always use the same hand placement for push-ups. Typically, they put their hands about shoulder-width apart.
While there is nothing wrong with conventional shoulder-width push-ups, you can have too much of a good thing. Doing the same exercise variations over and over can become boring and can even lead to overuse injuries and training plateaus.
In this article, I discuss the wide push-ups, a great variation that’ll help you avoid getting stuck in a push-up progress rut.
Wide Push-Ups Correct Form
Push-ups are a very common, seemingly straightforward exercise. And yet, many people do them incorrectly, hindering their progress and harming their results.
Get more from this exercise while minimizing your risk of injury by following these step-by-step instructions:
- Kneel down and place your palms flat on the floor with your fingers pointing forward. Your hands should be about 1 ½ shoulder-widths apart.
- Brace your core, pull your shoulders down and back, and walk your feet out so your legs and body form a straight line. Tense your quads and glutes.
- Inhale, bend your elbows and lower your chest to within an inch of the floor. Your upper arms should be angled out and away from your upper body.
- Exhale, drive your hands into the floor, and push yourself back up until your arms are straight but not locked.
- Reset your core and repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
- Don’t go too wide too soon. Instead, increase hand width gradually over a few workouts.
- Bend your legs and rest on your knees to make wide push-ups more manageable.
- Put your feet on a step or bench to increase the weight on your hands and make this exercise more challenging.
- Bend your arms and descend slowly, pause for 1-2 seconds, and then explode up to make wide push-ups as effective as possible.
- Turn your fingers slightly outward to point your elbows in and take stress off your shoulder joints.
Wide Push-Ups: Muscles Worked
Wide push-ups are a compound upper body exercise. That means they involve multiple muscles and joints working together. The main muscles trained during wide push-ups are:
Pectoralis major – known as your pecs for short, this is your primary chest muscle. Wide push-ups take your pecs through a broad range of motion, making them an effective chest builder.
Deltoids – the deltoids are your most prominent shoulder muscles. There are three groups of deltoid fibers, called heads: anterior (front), medial (middle/side), and posterior (rear). All three heads are active during wide push-ups, but the anterior head is working the most.
Triceps brachii – located on the back of your upper arms, the triceps are responsible for extending your elbows. As such, wide push-ups are a useful arm exercise.
Serratus anterior – the serratus anterior is so-called because it looks like a saw or serrated knife blade. Located on the side of your upper ribs, the serratus anterior helps stabilize your scapulae or shoulder blades. Studies suggest that wide push-ups engage this muscle than standard or narrow push-ups (2).
Core – this is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. Your core is very active during wide push-ups, as it helps stabilize your lumber spine.
Wide Push-Up Benefits
Not sure if wide push-ups deserve a place in your workouts? Consider these benefits and then decide.
Lack of time and facilities are two of the most common barriers to consistent exercise (3). Wide push-ups require no equipment, so you can do them anywhere and anytime. As such, they are the perfect excuse-free workout for your chest, shoulders, and arms.
There are lots of different types of push-ups, but most people limit themselves to the same few variations. This can lead to workout boredom and training plateaus. Adding wide push-ups to your exercise library means you can mix up your workouts and avoid ruts and stalled progress.
More Serratus Anterior Engagement
The serratus anterior is a critical muscle. By stabilizing your scapulae, it helps eliminate unwanted shoulder girdle movement, reducing wear and tear on your joints. Also, when you’re lean enough to see it, a well-developed serratus anterior is a good-looking muscle!
Wide push-ups put your arms in a weaker position than conventional push-ups. As such, they tend to feel harder, and most people cannot do as many reps. This makes them a good progression if you have mastered regular push-ups and no longer find them sufficiently challenging.
Reduced Risk of Overtraining
Do the same exercise too often, and it won’t just lose its effectiveness; it may also cause overuse injuries. Alternating between regular and wide push-ups ensures you work your muscles and joints at different angles and over different ranges of movement. These variations can help prevent overuse injuries and overtraining.
Wide Push-Up Programming
Wide push-ups are a bodyweight exercise, so you don’t have much control over how difficult they are. Consequently, the best way to determine how many reps to do is to train to failure or close to it.
So, for some people, this may mean eight reps, but for others, it could be 30 or more. Failure means you cannot do any more reps in good form.
Regarding volume, you should be able to fatigue your muscles in 3-5 sets. If you feel like you need to do more, you are either not pushing close enough to failure or resting too long between efforts.
One of my favorite ways to do wide push-ups is as part of a push-up triset. This involves doing three push-up variations back-to-back. My push-up triset is a very time-efficient way to work your chest and triceps and delivers a skin-splitting pump.
Do three laps of the following exercises, resting two minutes between rounds. Take each exercise to within 2-3 reps of failure. Reps quoted are for illustrative purposes only.
- Diamond push-ups x 12 (no rest)
- Regular push-ups x 12 (no rest)
- Wide push-ups x 12 (rest two minutes and repeat sequence)
Wide Push-Up Variations
There are several ways to perform wide push-ups. Use the variation that best matches your training goal and current fitness level.
1. Kneeling Wide Push-Up
Conventional wide push-ups load your arms with about 60% of your body weight. This may be too much for some people. Bend your legs and drop to your knees to take some weight off your arms and make this exercise easier. This is an excellent option for beginners.
Kneeling wide push-ups are also a good option if you want to extend your regular set beyond failure, which is called a mechanical advantage drop set. Rep out to failure as normal and then switch to the kneeling variation and pump out a few more reps.
2. Feet-Elevated Wide Push-Up
Have you mastered conventional wide push-ups? Good for you! Take your workout to the next level with fee-elevated wide push-ups. This variation puts more weight on your hands and also increases upper chest engagement. Consider this an advanced way to do wide push-ups.
3. Dead-Stop Wide Push-Up
This exercise, also known as hand-release push-ups, makes each rep you perform much harder as you start from a dead stop. It also increases upper back engagement, making this variation a more complete upper body workout. Finally, dead-stop wide push-ups keep you honest, as you must rest your chest on the floor between reps.
4. Archer Push-Up
Archer push-ups are a sort of cross between wide and one-arm push-ups. They let you put more weight on one side than the other, which is a great way to increase overload and muscle tension. Shifting your weight from one side to the other also increases core engagement while ensuring you work both arms evenly.
Wide Push-Up Alternatives
Wide push-ups are an effective chest exercise, but there are plenty of alternative movements that work the same muscles.
Here are three of the best wide push-up alternatives:
1. Wide-Grip Bench Press
The wide-grip bench press is a classic bodybuilding and powerlifting exercise. While it’s not for everyone, as it can be hard on your shoulders, it does allow you to load your muscles with plenty of extra weight. If wide push-ups are too easy, it’s probably time to graduate to the wide-grip bench press.
2. Neck Press
While Gironda hated conventional bench presses, he believed his neck press was one of the best exercises for building massive, aesthetic pecs. Neck presses feature a wider-than-shoulder width grip and, as such, is an excellent alternative to wide push-ups.
3. Wide Dips
Just like push-ups, you can do dips with various grips, from narrow to very wide. Close grip dips, like diamond push-ups, tend to emphasize your triceps. In contrast, wide dips are more chest-dominant. Not all gyms have wide parallel bars, but if you have access to some, this exercise is a valuable alternative to wide push-ups.
However, wide dips can be hard on your shoulders, so make sure you avoid descending too far and skip them entirely if they bother your joints.
Wide Push-Ups – Closing Thoughts
Push-ups are arguably the most widely performed exercise on the planet. From kids in Phys. Ed. classes to elite athletes to battle-hardened soldiers, almost everyone has done push-ups at one time or another.
While conventional shoulder-width push-ups are the best variation for most people, moving your hands closer together or further apart is a great way to add some variety to your body weight chest workouts.
You don’t have to do wide push-ups all the time. In fact, overusing this exercise could cause shoulder problems. However, this is a valuable exercise that deserves a place on your push-up schedule.
Best of all, you can do them anywhere and anytime, making them the ideal chest training solution for busy exercisers.
- Calatayud J, Borreani S, Colado JC, Martin F, Tella V, Andersen LL. Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):246-53. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000589. PMID: 24983847.
- Kim YS, Kim DY, Ha MS. Effect of the push-up exercise at different palmar width on muscle activities. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Jan;28(2):446-9. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.446. Epub 2016 Feb 29. PMID: 27064571; PMCID: PMC4792988.
- Pedersen MRL, Hansen AF, Elmose-Østerlund K. Motives and Barriers Related to Physical Activity and Sport across Social Backgrounds: Implications for Health Promotion. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 May 28;18(11):5810. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18115810. PMID: 34071630; PMCID: PMC8198157.
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January 20, 2024
Patrick Dale, PT, ex-Marine