The Best Push Day Workout for You: 15 Exercises

The push/pull split is a common way to break up your days in the gym, effectively build strength and size in your muscles, and lose weight. But how do you actually execute a good push workout? And can you do a push workout at home or only in the gym?

A good push day workout focuses your energy on exercises that require you to push, as the name suggests. A push day workout includes upper body pushing exercises like the bench press, overhead press, and variations of each to train your muscles for strength and/or size, depending on your emphasis. 

With so many push day exercises, some won’t work as well for your goals. You’ll also want to avoid common mistakes that can limit your growth.

What are the best push day workouts for you? Let’s dive into the specifics of what push day entails and how to do it well. 

What Is Push Day?

A push day is a single workout in your week dedicated to upper body muscles that function to push a load away from your body. It’s different than a full-body workout, which trains both lower and upper body muscle groups in a single session.

Imagine exercises like the bench press, where you push the barbell away from your chest. Or imagine flipping upside down and doing a push-up, using the same muscles you use in the bench press to push your body away from the floor. Imagine an overhead press, where you push the weight over your head away from your body. 

Some exercises are less obvious but include the same muscles. Things like a tricep pushdown using a cable machine require your triceps to push the cable attachment away from your body. 

Muscles Used in Push Day Workouts

Breaking your workouts up into functions like pushing and pulling is a simple way to organize your workouts. You’re really just using different terms to explain what muscles you’re training that day. So which muscles are push day muscles?

Pecs

Your pecs, or chest muscles, are your primary pushers. They work the hardest in exercises like bench presses and push-ups

Triceps

The triceps extend your arm at the elbow (the opposite of your biceps) to completely push a load away from your body once your pecs have done their job to get it away from your torso. 

They are heavily involved in exercises like the bench press, overhead press, push-ups, and isolated tricep extension exercises like cable pushdowns and French curls.

Shoulders

Your shoulders are key pressing muscles used in the bench press, overhead press, push-ups, and isolated shoulder exercises.

Although some shoulder exercises like the upright row and lateral raises may look like pulling movements, the shoulders are still considered pushing muscles. 

4 Benefits of Including a Push Day Workout in Your Routine

I can think of 4 great benefits to incorporating a push day in your workout split:

  • It’s easy to understand and remember
  • It covers important muscle groups
  • It’s applicable to a variety of goals
  • It splits up your training over the week

1. It’s Easy to Understand and Remember

You don’t have to be able to name muscles or exercises to look at an exercise and understand whether the lifter is pushing or pulling the weight. Even a new lifter can walk into a gym, pick 4 exercises that are push exercises, do 3-4 sets of them for 6-15 reps per set, and have a great workout without thinking too hard. 

I love how simple this split is for lifters of any experience level to build their own push day! 

2. It Covers Important Muscle Groups

I love that the best push day workouts enable you to focus on one thing – pushing weight – and leave with 3 key muscles trained at the end! 

A push day workout is not one of those pieces of advice or tips you get in lifting that only helps you a tiny bit. It’s a split that trains major muscles in your pecs, shoulders, and triceps when you do it right. 

Focus on a good push day, and you’ll check the list of training key muscles that day.

3. It’s Applicable to a Variety of Goals

This is a very flexible split because you can use it to build muscle, strengthen muscle, lose weight, or just be healthier overall. 

If you’re focused on losing weight, a push workout for hypertrophy can greatly increase your metabolism and burn calories during and after the workout!

If you’re training for muscle size, you can incorporate a push workout for mass in conjunction with a caloric surplus and build muscle in your pecs, shoulders, and triceps. 

If you’re training for strength, a push workout routine enables you to push the limits on your bench press or overhead press to get ready for your next PR attempt. 

You can apply the push day to any goal in your lifting career!

4. It Splits Up Your Training Over the Week

One of the great things about a push day is that it usually goes along with a pull day and a lower body day, giving you a full body breakdown over the week!

A push/pull/lower split (or PPL) is a simple, effective way to focus on just one segment of your body for a single workout. You can then let it rest and recover on the other days while you train the other segments in their own workouts. 

Most PPL splits will have you hit each twice (two push, two pull, two lower workouts). So you’re training six days a week but still allowing 5 days of the week for those segments to rest while you train the others or take a day off. 

14 Most Effective Push Day Exercises

Now that you understand what a push day is and are excited to go kill one, here are the 14 best push day exercises you can include in your workouts.

Fourteen exercises are way too many for a single workout, so these can keep you going for a long time! Choose 3-4 to focus on for a few weeks before swapping them out with other movements.

1. Bench Press

Can’t beat the classic bench press when it comes to ultimate pushing exercises! With your body stably placed against the bench, this exercise will allow you to move more weight than any other pressing exercise when you train it consistently! 

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a bench press with your feet firmly on the ground.
  1. Grip the barbell with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  1. Unrack the barbell and pull it in front, so it sits directly over your shoulder joint when your arms are extended.
  1. Lower the bar to your chest by pulling it to your rib cage, about to the bottom of your pecs.
  1. Press the bar upward to the resting point over your shoulder joint.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While the bench press is a pushing movement, it has a pulling element in lowering the bar to your chest. The biggest mistake I see in new lifters (and even lifters who’ve been benching or a while without paying attention to their form) is that they don’t pull the bar down – they let the bar lower itself. 

Don’t let gravity lower the bar to your chest. PULL IT! You are in control of the barbell and where it goes, so don’t let gravity dictate how it moves. Be confident and pull the bar to the point on your chest where you want it to touch

This will set you up for a much better press with each rep. Your muscles will be tight and engaged, and you’ll be confident and in a much better position to firmly and successfully return the barbell to the top of your range of motion. 

Wondering if it’s possible to do chest and leg exercises on the same day? Check out Can You Train Chest and Legs on the Same Day?

2. Close-Grip Bench Press

You can make the bench press even more focused on your triceps by performing a close-grip bench press. It requires you to change your grip to a narrower position, somewhere closer than shoulder-width apart. 

This will increase the range of motion and put more demand on your triceps, forcing you to push them even further and harder than in a normal grip. 

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a bench press with your feet firmly on the ground.
  1. Grip the barbell overhead with your hands narrower than shoulder-width apart, at least by a couple of inches. They do not need to be extremely close together. 
  1. Unrack the barbell and pull it in front, so it sits directly over your shoulder joint when your arms are extended.
  1. Lower the bar to your chest by pulling it to your rib cage, about to the bottom of your pecs.
  1. Press the bar upward to the resting point over your shoulder joint.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

I mentioned that your grip needs to be narrower than shoulder width but not extremely close together. I won’t go so far as to say you can never put your hands together, because it’s not true. I also won’t tell you it’s dangerous or ill-advised, because that’s not true either. 

However, there is a point of diminishing returns. Narrowing your grip slightly (by a couple of inches usually) will do a ton to emphasize your triceps. The narrower you go from there, the less drive you have into the bar, so you won’t be able to use as much weight to work them. 

Find the right close-grip variation for you, and you’ll be able to move good, heavy weight with each rep while still emphasizing your triceps more than a standard bench press. 

3. Paused Bench Press

While you can emphasize your triceps with the close-grip variation, you can milk more out of your bench press for pec emphasis by simply pausing the barbell on your chest with each rep!

Your pecs are most engaged at the bottom of the rep and as you lower the bar (more on that below). By pausing with the barbell on your chest, you add additional time under tension on those pecs with each rep! This is effective for both strength training and building bigger pecs. 

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a bench press with your feet firmly on the ground.
  1. Grip the barbell overhead with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  1. Unrack the barbell and pull it in front, so it sits directly over your shoulder joint when your arms are extended.
  1. Lower the bar to your chest by pulling it to your rib cage, about to the bottom of your pecs.
  1. With all your muscles tense and fully engaged (not relaxed), hold the bar on your touchpoint on your chest for 1-5 seconds.
  1. Press the bar upward to the resting point over your shoulder joint.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The paused bench press is not a rested bench press. We are not resting the bar on our chest during the pause. 

We don’t want to disengage our muscles when the barbell hits our chest. That’s counterproductive because we’d have to re-engage our muscles again to push it up, and many liters will fail the lift when this happens. 

Deliberately pause the bench press by holding it firmly on your chest with your pecs, shoulders, triceps, back, and core engaged fully!

4. Negative Bench Press

Your pecs are most engaged at the bottom of a bench press and on the way down. Like pausing the bench press to get more pec engagement during your push workouts, you can also exaggerate the time it takes to lower the bar to your chest.

This will give you more pec engagement and time under tension to build strength and size in your biggest push muscles. 

This is called the negative bench press because it emphasizes the negative, or downward portion, of the movement. It’s also called the eccentric portion of the lift. 

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a bench press with your feet firmly on the ground.
  1. Grip the barbell overhead with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  1. Unrack the barbell and pull it in front, so it sits directly over your shoulder joint when your arms are extended.
  1. Lower the bar to your chest over a set period of time – usually 3-8 seconds – by pulling it to your rib cage, about to the bottom of your pecs.
  1. Strictly follow that time, so you don’t hit your chest before or after your 3-8 second time target.
  1. Press the bar upward to the resting point over your shoulder joint.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t rush it! These negative variations can really suck to get through, but it’s the good kind of suck that is doing awesome work on our bodies to get great results! 

Whatever tempo you set for yourself, have a spotter or friend use a stopwatch and count it out loud. Reduce the weight on the bar to a weight you can control for each rep for the full tempo. 

There’s no glory in doing it poorly just to get through it. Hold yourself accountable, and you’ll get way more out of your push day workout.

5. Dumbbell Bench Press

Hey, your equipment selection doesn’t always matter, and you can get all the benefits of benching with a pair of dumbbells, too! 

You might even prefer the dumbbell bench press variation, as each arm moves independently of the other, allowing for a more flexible range of motion!

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a bench with your feet firmly on the ground. It can be a moveable bench, not necessarily a bench press rack.
  1. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and hold the dumbbells with your arms extended so they rest directly over your shoulder joint.
  1. Lower the dumbbells to your chest by pulling them to your rib cage, about to the bottom of your pecs. Imagine bringing them to the same touchpoint as if you had a barbell in your hands.
  1. Press the dumbbells upward to the resting point over your shoulder joint.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Because your arms move independently, it’s easy for each arm to get off track. 

Think of each hand having the same bar path as when you hold a barbell, and do your best to repeat that when you’re holding dumbbells. This will help you avoid flailing your arms or letting the weight pull them out of line. 

The better you follow that path, the better this exercise will hit your pushing muscles and the more weight you can use.

The dumbbell bench press is also a good exercise to include on chest day if you follow a bro split and train individual muscle groups on separate days.

6. Overhead Press

While the bench press allows you to be completely stable with the bench supporting your back as you press, the overhead press is the ultimate pressing movement without the assistance of a bench stabilizing you. 

Strongmen and other strength athletes argue that the overhead press is more impressive for this reason. However you feel about it, it’s necessary to a great push workout for strength. 

How To Do It

  1. Set up a barbell on a high rack so you can hold it under your chin, resting at about shoulder level.
  1. Take the barbell in your hands and unrack it, stepping back from the rack.
  1. Press the barbell over your head so it ends directly above your shoulder joints.
  1. Ensure you are not leaning back at the end. Stand upright and stay balanced.
  1. Return the bar to your chest/shoulder height.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t turn the overhead press into a standing bench press by leaning back at the end! 

Many lifters are unfamiliar with how it feels to hold a barbell overhead and tend to lean back as they lock out the overhead press. This puts you off balance and doesn’t target your shoulders the way the lift is intended. It can also lead to back pain when overhead pressing.

You can avoid this by imagining the bar path moving from in front of your shoulders to directly over the top of them and slightly back. The barbell should be centered over your shoulder joint with your torso upright, not leaning back. 

As you push the barbell up and it clears your head, push your head through the hole created by your arms and the barbell. This will help you avoid leaning back longer than necessary and locking out in the right position. 

Once the barbell is locked out, you should feel like you could hold the weight there, perfectly balanced, for several seconds or even minutes. You should not feel wobbly or off balance if you do it right. 

7. Seated Overhead Press

You can blend the bench press and overhead press by adding stability to the overhead press with a seated variation.

With a seated overhead press, you’ll target more of your shoulders than you would in a dumbbell bench press. You’ll also feel more stable and need less balance and leg assistance by sitting down. 

How To Do It

  1. Sit on an upright bench or an incline bench with a nearly 90-degree incline so your back is supported. 
  1. Holding a barbell under your chin, press it upward until it’s overhead, resting directly above your shoulder joint.
  1. Lower the bar back to your chest.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The same advice goes for the seated overhead press as the standing variation – don’t turn this into an incline bench press by leaning back too much!

Use a 90-degree bench with back support or, at minimum, something very close to 90 degrees so you can push the bar truly overhead. 

Even with a 90-degree bench, you may still want to lean back a little and alter the exercise. Hold yourself accountable for staying upright and pushing the barbell straight up and back, so it’s over your shoulder joints at the lockout. 

8. Dumbbell Overhead Press

There’s nothing sacred about the barbell overhead press variation. You can get the same value out of your push day workout with dumbbells!

How To Do It

  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand.
  1. Bring the dumbbells to where they rest at about shoulder height or by each ear.
  1. Press the dumbbells up and over your head.
  1. Stop when your elbows are just shy of being completely locked out.
  1. Lower the dumbbells back to your ears/shoulder height.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

These tend to look really good with your elbows jutting completely out to your sides – your biceps are showing, your elbows are bending at 90 degrees, it’s all picturesque. 

But many lifters find they get better results and more comfort by bringing their elbows in and keeping them somewhere around 45-60 degrees instead of extending them to the side. 

There are variations where your elbows will stick forward at the other extreme, but we usually want to find the happy medium. 

Bring your elbows in just a bit, so they stay in your line of sight, and you’ll have greater pressing capabilities with less shoulder discomfort. 

9. Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press

Like the barbell overhead press variation, the seated dumbbell overhead press offers added stability. I recommend using a 90-degree incline bench for these as well.  

How To Do It

  1. Sit on a 90-degree bench with back support with a dumbbell in each hand.
  1. Bring the dumbbells to where they rest at about shoulder height or by each ear.
  1. Press the dumbbells up and over your head with the same path as a barbell.
  1. Stop when your elbows are just shy of being completely locked out.
  1. Lower the dumbbells back to your ears/shoulder height.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Apply my same advice from the seated barbell overhead press and the dumbbell overhead press here. Make sure you don’t lean back and turn these into an incline dumbbell bench press. Also, let your elbows forward for an optimal pressing angle. 

10. Dumbbell Raise (Lateral and Front)

I used to think of dumbbell front raises and lateral raises as pulling exercises. It always felt like I was pulling a dumbbell upward as I’d do these. 

But the truth is, it’s a shoulder exercise, and the shoulders are pushing muscles! So don’t let the confusion of the movement keep them out of your push day program. 

How To Do It

  1. You can do these seated or standing.
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  1. Using only your shoulders and with your elbows straight, raise the dumbbells out to your side for a lateral raise or in front of you for a front raise.
  1. Lower the dumbbells back down to your waist.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Heaving.

I can’t stress it enough. Don’t heave and throw your upper body to get momentum with these, especially for the last few reps. 

You should do these with controlled reps, or you’re missing the point. The shoulder should push as hard as it can by itself to move the weights in front or out to the side. Any extra help you get from throwing your torso around or utilizing other muscles is just taking away from this exercise’s benefits. 

11. Push-Up

You don’t need ANY equipment to get a good push day in, even if you do a push day workout routine at home!

Push-ups are the classic push movement anyone in any situation can apply. 

How To Do It

  1. Lie face down on the floor with your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor and palms down.
  1. Push your body up with your hands, keeping your hips and knees locked in a plank position.
  1. Lower yourself back to the floor until your chest touches it.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Lock those hips and knee joints! Fish-floppy pushups are ugly and don’t do you any good. 

Early on, try them from your knees or elevate your hands on a bench or high step if you need to build strength. Even then, focus on keeping your hips locked with each rep! 

If you’re good at pushups and have to do many, many reps to get a good workout, try applying negative tempos. Slow down your push-ups by counting to 5-10 seconds before your chest hits the ground. Or do them at the very end of a workout when your push muscles are all but spent after doing other push movements. 

There’s always a way to keep these effective, whether they’re new to you or an old staple of your program. 

12. Cable Tricep Pushdown (Any Attachment)

Tricep isolation exercises are a great inclusion to any push day workout. I personally love doing tricep pushdowns on the cable machine!

Choose any attachment – rope, single-hand rope, EZ bar, straight bar, single-hand attachment – and you can find a variation that will enhance your push day by hitting your triceps a little more!

How To Do It

  1. Attach a cable attachment of your choice to a high pulley on a cable machine.
  1. Select your weight and set the pin in the stack.
  1. Grip the attachment and bring your elbow down until it’s locked at your side. Don’t let your elbow travel from this point during the set.
  1. At this point, your forearm should be at an angle that’s just above 90 degrees.
  1. Using only your tricep, extend the cable attachment downward, whether single-handed or with both hands.
  1. Without letting your elbow move away from your side, return the cable attachment to the starting position.
  1. Repeat for reps. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

I emphasize it in the instructions but keep your elbows locked at your sides. This doesn’t mean you don’t bend your elbows at all – you have to for this movement. It means you don’t let them move away from your sides by letting your shoulders move. 

Keeping your elbows tucked at your sides helps isolate the tricep, so no other muscles help in this movement.

You’ll likely need to move your shoulders to reach up for the attachment, hold it, and get into the starting position. But once you start your reps, keep that upper arm/humerus locked, so your tricep does all the work extending your elbow. 

13. Low Pulley Overhead Cable Tricep Extension

Overhead tricep extensions also look like pulling motions to some eyes, but they are pushing exercises!

They’re a similar motion as the cable tricep pushdown, except you do them overhead with the cable in a low position.

How to do it

  1. Attach a bar or rope attachment to a low pulley on a cable machine.
  1. Select your weight and set the pin in the stack.
  1. Grip the attachment and turn away from the pulley. 
  1. Bring the attachment into the starting position by holding it behind your head with your humerus/upper arm pointed straight up at the ceiling and your elbows bent.
  1. Your arms should hold the attachment against your back.
  1. Using only your triceps, extend the cable attachment overhead, keeping your elbows pointed straight up.
  1. Without letting your elbows move away from this position, return the cable attachment to the starting position.
  1. Repeat for reps. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Same advice here as the high pulley pushdown variations – keep that upper arm set so your elbows point up! This applies to using an EZ bar attachment, a straight bar, or a rope.

Keep your shoulders out of this exercise and your humerus/upper arm set to get full tricep isolation. 

14. DB French Press/French Curl

Similar to the overhead cable extensions, you can target the triceps with a dumbbell by performing a French press, or French curl.

It’s a great variation if you don’t have access to a cable or just prefer this approach. 

How To Do It

  1. Hold a single dumbbell with both hands behind your head.
  1. Ensure your upper arm is pointing up, with your elbow pointed at the ceiling.
  1. Using only your triceps, extend the dumbbell upward until your elbows lock.
  1. Lower the dumbbell back to your starting position.
  1. Repeat for reps.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

You’ll want to hold this dumbbell differently than you would for any other exercise by holding the weight on one side flat in your hands. 

Instead of gripping the metal bar between the weight on the two ends, let the dumbbell sit vertically in your hands as you hold one head with both hands. 

This will allow you to grip the dumbbell more comfortably and still have optimal range of motion and balance. 

Sample Push Day Workout Routines

When building a push day workout, I mentioned earlier that it’s pretty simple to identify exercises that use a pushing motion. But there’s more to building an effective push day workout than just incorporating any pushing exercises you want. 

To get the most out of your push day, you should include both compound pushing exercises that use several muscles and isolated pushing exercises that target a single muscle. 

Start with the compound exercises, so you are fresh for those. They will use the heaviest load and will be the most taxing. Then progress to more and more isolated work toward the end of the workout. 

Below are three sample push day routines – one for strength emphasis, one for growth/size emphasis, and one for at home with no equipment!

Push Day Workout for Strength

  • Bench press – 5×5 @ 80% of 1 rep max (1RM)
  • Paused bench press – 5×3, 2-second pause @ 75% of 1RM
  • Close-grip bench press – 4×6 @ 65% of 1RM
  • Cable rope pushdowns – 4×12
  • Push-ups – 3xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)

Push Day Workout for Muscle Size

  • Bench press – 4×10 @ 65% of 1RM 
  • Negative bench press – 5×4, 5-second tempo @ 60% of 1RM
  • Dumbbell overhead press – 3×10
  • Dumbbell lateral raise – 3×10
  • Cable rope pushdowns – 3×10
  • Overhead cable tricep extensions – 3×10

Home Push Day Workout

  • Handstand push-ups against a wall – 4×5
  • Backpack front raises – 4 x 12 (hold the strap of a backpack in both hands in front of you)
  • Milk jug lateral raises – 4×10 (hold a full gallon jug in each hand)
  • Push-ups – 4xAMRAP

Repeat this workout twice, if desired.

3 Tips for Maximizing Your Push Day Workout

tips for maximizing your push day workout

However, you want to do your push day workouts, whether at home, in the gym, for strength, size, or weight loss, three tips apply to every situation: 

  • Eat properly for your goals
  • Progress your program
  • Be consistent

1. Eat Properly for Your Goals

Know what you are training for! Decide if it’s for size, strength, weight loss, or general health, and then set your program accordingly!

More than anything, this means defining how your nutrition will play a role in this plan.

If you’re trying to build muscle, eat in a caloric surplus to support that plan! If you’re trying to lose weight, eat in a caloric deficit to see those results! If you’re trying to be strong, eat your carbs so you have the energy to literally push through your push day. 

2. Progress Your Program

If you do your push day at the gym often enough, it will get easier. That’s when it’s time to make it hard again.

Progress your program by constantly adding a few pounds to the bar. If it’s too hard to add weight this week, add an extra rep or two to each set. If you’re squeaking out those last reps, add one more set of the same number of reps after a couple of minutes of rest. 

There’s always a way to progress your program to keep it intense and challenging without starting over on a new program. Challenge yourself and progress your current program each week, and you’ll get the results you want. 

3. Be Consistent

Nothing will come from good push workouts if you only do them once or only do them sporadically. Stay consistent to really see the results. 

These changes take time, especially for lifters who’ve been at it for a while. Consistency is the only way to send your body the message that you want it to change and adapt to the stress you’re putting on it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Exercises Should You Do on Push Day?

Like any workout, the best push day workout should include 3-6 total exercises for 3-5 sets each. These will be focused on exercises that use your pecs, shoulders, and triceps and require you to push a load away from your body. 

Are Biceps Pull or Push?

Biceps are a pull muscle, so they would not be included in a push day. Rather, the triceps muscles on the back of the arm are push muscles. The triceps extend the elbow, whereas the biceps contract (bend) the elbow. 

How Do You Structure a Push Day?

Typically, the best push workout will include only pushing movements that rely on the pecs, shoulders, and triceps. Start with a warm-up, then perform your most difficult, heaviest exercises (like the bench press) first. Then, progress to simpler and lighter movements. Doing 3-6 exercises of 3-5 sets each is common.


About The Author

Adam Gardner

Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.