Weighted Push Up – How To Add [MAXIMUM WEIGHT] For INSANE Gains
Weighted push ups are a long forgotten exercise in the calisthenics community.
The fault isn’t with the exercise itself, as the weighted push up has the potential to build impressive upper body strength and aesthetics
The fault lies with the way the exercise is performed.
Weighted push ups are cumbersome to load the traditional way.
Taking a weight and placing it on your back before performing the exercise can be quite a task. No one should have to struggle to merely setup and exercise before performing it.
If weighted push ups are such an excellent upper body exercise, is there an easier way to perform them?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES and in this article I’m going to show you:
- The No.1 mistake you’re making when adding weight to your push ups.
- The BEST (and ONLY) way to add weight your push ups.
- Benefits of adding weight to your push ups.
- Weighted Push Ups Vs. Dips: Which one is better?
- Weighted Push Ups Vs. Bench Press: Will Weighted Push Ups Carryover To Your Bench Press?
The No.1 Mistake You’re Making When Adding Weight To Your Push Ups
The traditional way to do weighted push ups is by placing a weight on your back.
The traditional method sucks!
This is the worst way to do weighted push ups and is the biggest mistake everyone makes when doing this exercise.
Here’s why you shouldn’t be adding weight to your back when doing weighted push ups:
1. Restricted Scapula Movement – Restricted Gains
The biggest benefit when it comes to performing push ups is ability for the scapula to move freely.
Allowing free movement of the scapula, not only strengthens the muscles of the shoulder girdle, but also works the serratus anterior a muscle that is highly associated with aesthetics of the mid section.
Unfortunately, when you load the push up with weight on your back, you hinder free movement of the scapula.
This is especially true when using a backpack to add weight to your push ups.
Backpacks or other weighted objects places on the back make push ups awkward to perform. You end up restricting your scapula movement in order to balance the weight on the back.
Balance should never be a limiting factor when performing exercises for hypertrophy or strength.
Don’t restrict your scapula movement, don’t load your weighted push ups on the back.
2. Balancing Weight On The Back – Acrobatics Or Strength Training?
Placing a weight on the back during push ups tends to make the exercise more of a balancing act.
Remember, we are trying to build muscle and strength with this movement, not join the circus.
A weight falling off your back mid set is not good, especially when trying to build muscle and strength.
Lopsided weights can also cause muscle imbalances and trouble the joints. Too many things can go wrong with balancing weights on the back, it is highly uncomfortable and not worth your time.
3. Spotter Required – Can Somebody Help Please!
Eventually you will be able to rep out more weight than you can place on your back.
At this point you will need a spotter, because placing multiple weights on your back is a balancing act.
In fact, this is another reason why the weighted push up isn’t performed any longer.
Depending on someone else to place weight on your back in a way that you are comfortable with and used to is annoying.
Waiting for the weights to be balanced and in the right position, will tire you out before you begin your set.
Don’t waste your time and your spotters time; don’t do weighted push ups with weight on your back.
4. Limited Space – Straw On The Camel’s Back?
As you would have noticed when it comes to adding weight to your back – there isn’t a whole lot of space.
This means you are limited in the amount of weight you can load up with, which in turn limits your gains.
With all these problems that come with weighted push ups, it is no wonder that the exercise is long forgotten.
Then why do the weighted push up in the first place?
Read on to find out about the benefits of this exercise and why it is one of my go-to exercises for weighted calisthenics.
Benefits Of Weighted Push Ups
Pain and simple; adding weight to your push ups has a multitude of benefits, they are:
- Build Incredible Core Strength
The “core” comprises of the muscles of the trunk. Weighted push ups place a tremendous amount of stress on the entire “core”.
When doing push ups, you are literally holding a plank while moving the entire body through space.
Holding a weighted moving plank requires proper bracing of the “core” to hold the body in position. Bracing this way builds the muscles of the trunk; as they hold the body plus added weight in position through isometric contraction.
Building the muscles of your trunk this way will have excellent carryover to your squats and deadlifts.
- Carryover To Other Pressing Movements
Weighted push ups will improve your weighted dip and your bench press as well.
This is because the weighted push up is a movement that bridges the gap between the bench press and the dip.
Like the dip, push ups move the entire body through space. But like the bench press; the push up is more of a horizontal pushing movement than the weighted dip.
This places the weighted dip bang in the middle of these two exercises.
Going heavy on weighted push ups has the potential to improve your weighted dip and bench press.
In fact, the bracing techniques used in the weighted push up will also carry over to your overhead press.
- Functional Upper Body Aesthetics
Push ups build a massive chest, boulder shoulders, horseshoe triceps, rock hard abs and a shredded serratus anterior.
All these muscles are not only functional, but are also highly regarded when it comes to aesthetics as well.
The problem with bodyweight push ups is that they do not load these muscles enough in order to build efficiently over time.
Weighted push ups allows you to hit all these muscles with one movement. Talk about bang for your buck in terms of building an aesthetically pleasing and functional upper body.
- Easier On The Shoulder Joint Than Weighted Dips
Dips have a reputation for being a risky exercise.
This is because you are balancing your entire body up in the air with just your hands. Dips place a lot of stress on the shoulder joint; mostly due to shrugged shoulders (bad form) during the dip.
Failing heavy weighted dips can also be risky for the chest muscles and the shoulder joint.
Dips also have the reputation of being painful on the sternum for some athletes. This is why a lot of athletes are unable to perform dips.
In these cases, weighted push ups can easily replace the weighted dips.
As a matter of fact, weighted push ups provide all the benefits of the weighted dip, minus the increased risk for injury.
- Easy And Safe To Fail With
Failing a dip or a bench press can have dire consequences, but all of this is easily avoided with the weighted push up.
Failing the loaded push ups is as easy as placing your foot down in front of you in order to take the load off the hands.
Now, while I don’t recommend that you fail your reps, there can be times when you need to bail out of a set and having safety measures help.
Safety measures allow you to push a little harder than you would’ve otherwise pushed yourself had there been none.
- Doesn’t Require A Spotter
Exercises that don’t require a spotter give you more independence in your training.
As mentioned above; doing weighted push ups using the technique described below, allows you to work out without a spotter.
- Easy To Track Progressive Overload
Another major (but obvious) benefit of the weighted push up is the ability to progressively overload the exercise.
Adding weight to a movement is a better for of progressive overload than changing leverages, using excessively high volume training or unilateral training as is the case with bodyweight calisthenics.
This is because:
- Changing leverages usually changes the movement itself.
- Unilateral training and high volume training takes forever to complete
Adding weight as a form of progressive overload has the following benefits:
- Objective and Accurate
- Easy to implement and track
Progressive overload is the only way to get bigger and stronger. The simpler the method of progressive overload, the easier it is to make gains.
The BEST (And ONLY) Way To Add Weight To Your Push Ups
Now that we’ve talked about why you should be doing weighted push ups and the problems associated with the traditional setup, let’s talk about how you should be doing weighted push ups.
Weighted Push Up Setup And Form:
This setup uses the bare minimum equipment required for weighted calisthenics:
- A dipping belt
- Gymnastics rings and
- Weights (kettlebells, plates or even dumbbells will suffice).
This is the recommended setup.
- Gymnastics rings bring a whole lot of versatility to the push up like:
- Improved range of motion
- Additional core stabilization
- Height adjustment and angle changes to emphasize different heads of the chest
It is also possible to do other chest, shoulder and triceps dominant movements on gymnastics rings, like ring chest flys, pike push ups with additional ROM, and bodyweight skull crushers.
In fact owning a pair of gymnastics rings allows you to do a whole lot more in terms calisthenics training.
Of course, the rings aren’t absolutely necessary, you can do your weighted push ups on any elevated surface.
The surface you place your hands on must be elevated so that the weight hanging from the dipping belt does not touch the ground.
Setting up the gymnastics rings is the same; they must be a couple of feet above the ground so that the plates don’t touch the ground at the bottom of the movement.
Of course this means that you will be performing incline weighted push ups and that is absolutely fine.
This does mean that the incline weighted push up is easier than the flat weighted push up, but the regular weights push up with the same setup has its own set of problems.
To perform regular weighted push ups you will need to elevate your feet till they are in line with your wrists.
Doing so makes it very hard to lift heavy weights; as placing your feet on the elevated surface can be quite a task.
That is why I prefer doing them on an incline. Just make sure to add enough weight to make it challenging and you’re good to go.
Doing incline weighted push ups with a setup like this is challenging enough.
Gymnastics rings add a stabilization element to the movement, thus making it hard to perform.
As mentioned above; rings also proide additional range of motion which allows you to build more size and strength.
This included with the additional bracing required to keep the hips from sagging, make the incline weighted push up extremely challenging to perform.
Once you’ve setup the gymnastics rings to an appropriate height, place the dipping belt around your waist and attach the weights to the dipping belt.
Place your hands on the gymnastics rings and set yourself up into high plank position. This is the start of your weighted push up.
From here, lower your body till your chest passes or reaches the position of your hands on the rings.
Make sure to perform the valsalva maneuver (holding a belly full of air against a closed glottis), thereby keeping the muscles of the trunk braced.
Make sure to pause for a second at the bottom of the push up. From here, push yourself back up to the top, making sure not to lose tightness throughout the body.
Dipping belt placement:
There are 2 positions that the dipping belt can be placed. They both positions have their pros and cons.
The 2 dipping belt positions are:
- High dipping belt position
- Regular dipping belt position
High dipping belt position
Keeping the dipping belt higher (somewhere between the nipples and belly button) makes the most sense.
This is because the pulling force of the weights on the hips won’t be excessive.
This high position also places the weights closer to the hands, thereby making it harder than with the belt being lower down by the waist.
The cons of this method are that it can be difficult to place the belt up that high, especially with heavy weights.
And considering this is an exercise you want to load up to the max, the regular dipping belt position is far better.
Regular dipping belt position
Placing the dipping belt over the hips gives you the advantage of easy loading and deloading of the plates. But, it places a lot of load at the hip joint thereby placing more demand on the trunk and the glutes.
The lower belt placement also makes the load a little easier to push up as it is farther from the hands. But this doesn’t matter too much, as long as you are staying consistent with the positioning of the belt, continuously adding weight to the movement will make you stronger.
Now the placement of the feet matter a lot. Again, there are two ways to place the feet when performing weighted push ups.
Feet elevated weighted push ups – The feet elevated weighted push up is done with the feet at a slight elevation.
This reduces the level of incline when performing the exercise. In fact, the angle of incline can be completely removed thereby making this more like a regular weighted push up.
The disadvantage of doing your push ups this way is the actual placing of your feet on the elevated surface. This is terribly hard to do and will decrease the amount of weight you can use, by virtue of being unable to setup properly.
Safety can also be a concern as if you fail, it can be awkward to place the foot in front of you in time to catch the weight with your leg.
These are the reasons I highly recommend using the incline weighted push up setup.
Additional Tips For Perfect Weighted Push Up Form:
Since this setup uses gymnastics rings, make sure to keep the rings tucked close to your body. This will reduce ring wobble.
Also, make sure not to flare your elbows out, this will help prevent any shoulder injuries.
Do not allow the hips to sag. Doing so means that you aren’t bracing tight enough, or the weight is too heavy for your lower back and abs to handle.
Making sure to learn the proper bracing sequence will prevent any lower back injuries when performing the weighted push up.
Push Ups Vs Dips – Which Is Better When Done With Weights?
This is a classic exercise comparison – is the weighted push up better than the weighted dip and vice versa.
In my opinion, both exercises are invaluable when it comes to building size and strength. But one exercise wins out over the other.
The weighted dip literally moves the entire body through space using just the arms. This is an impressive feat of upper body strength.
This means that the weighted dip requires more body stabilization to perform, thus making it a harder movement.
But the weighted dip is a risky exercise to perform; it can be tough on the shoulder joint and sternum for some trainees. It also doesn’t build the chest very well as it is lower chest dominant.
The weighted push up clearly wins in terms of accessibility and safety.
Granted the incline weighted push up is also lower chest dominant, but it much resembles the flat bench than the weighted dip, thereby hitting the chest more evenly than the dip.
Therefore in terms of aesthetics, the incline weighted push up wins.
The weighted dip also works less muscle mass than the weighted push up. The weights that can be handles on the weighted push up are much more than can be handled on the weighted dip.
Therefore, in theory, the incline weighted push up might be able to build more upper body strength than the weighted dip.
The weighted push up will also build a much stronger core than the weighted dip.
Judging by all the benefits of the weighted push up, it seems clear that it is indeed a fat better movement than the weighted dip.
Weighted Push Ups Vs Bench Press – Will Weighted Push Ups Carry Over To your Bench Press?
Weighted push ups closely resemble the bench press and will most certainly carry over strength gains to your bench press.
But if your goal is to have a massive bench, then you should bench more. Specificity of training matters and if you want to get really good at a movement, you should be doing more of that particular movement.
Regardless, if you’re looking to get strong overall, the weighted incline push up is far superior to the bench press for the following reasons:
Works the muscles of the core and the glutes in isometric contraction:
The weighted push up works more muscle mass than the bench press hands down (pun intended).
There is simply no comparison here.
More athletic movement:
The weighted push up is a more athletic movement because it moves the entire body though space. The bench press on the other hand is done lying down.
Mimics a more natural pushing movement – Apart from moving the entire body through space, the weighted push up also mimics a more natural pushing movement. In fact, like in any sport or real life event; the weighted push up allows you to practice pushing heavy weights with your feet planted firmly on the ground. This carries over well to high contact sporting activities like mixed martial arts, jiu jitsu and wrestling.
Additional benefits of using gymnastics rings:
Using gymnastics rings when performing weighted push ups allows you to perform RTO (rings turned out) push ups. Using gymnastics rings when performing weighted push ups not only adds an extra stabilization element to the movement, but works key muscles of the shoulder girdle.
These small muscles are often underworked due to excessive pressing movement. Turning the rings out at the top of the push up works these muscles; thereby keeping your shoulders strong and healthy.
The weighted push up is unrivalled in terms of building upper body strength and aesthetics when performed correctly.
Using weights on your back or in a backpack limits the capabilities of the weighted push up.
Adding a pair of gymnastics rings, creating a slight incline and attaching weight to a dipping belt is the way to go.
Granted it can be equipment intensive, but the equipment doesn’t cost and arm and a leg. If you are serious about building real world upper body strength, then the weighted push up has several benefits that beat traditional weighted pushing exercises like dips and the bench press.