We keep posting our series of advanced info-posts about our basic exercises. After pull-ups and squats now it is time to look at push-ups.
It might seem that we have already covered the topic quite well in BASIC block, but nonetheless, push-ups are one of the key exercises in building the upper body and, particularly, chest, triceps and deltiods. Some people might say that parallel bar dips are better, but they produce a bit different stress on muscles so we will get back to them later.
To understand this post better first let's take a tour through chest muscles.
There are three muscle bundles constituting chest: lower chest, middle chest and upper chest. Different push-up stances can stress different bundles. Only using different stances you can develop good balances chest muscles like the ones Nick Auger has:
To reach such kind of physique development you need to use different kinds of push-ups all the time (I am not talking about our programme, since we do not use variations for now). If one of the bundles is lagging behind you will need to stress this bundle more and focus on its development.
Depending on the relative position of legs to chest muscles you can train different bundles moving working load vertically. When the chest is lower than the legs, then you stress the lower chest more, and the opposite is correct too - the higher the legs, the more you train the upper chest.
Paraller bar dips may be viewed as the extreme position where legs are right below the chest that is the dips ultimately work the lower chest. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that dips are the only way if you want to shape up the lower chest.
Also I would like to bust another popular internet myth on chest muscles. Quite often you can read on 'inner chest muscles' and 'outer chest muscles' depending on how close is the muscle to the centre of the body. You have already seen it on the picture above there is no such distinction, so there are no exercises to work either inner or outer parts of the chest because the muscle strains equally along itself.
Ok, then why you feel muscles in the centre or on the sides of chest muscles during the exercise? This happens because you feel the points where muscles are attached to bones and these places are put under strain too and these places are painful, not the muscle itself.
So there is no difference on the width of the hand stance for all chest bundles (we do not talk about chest/triceps % of participation in exercise), but there is a difference how hard chest muscles are stressed.
You can possibly remember from the first post about push-ups that one the major functions of the chest is shoulder adduction. If you put your hands narrower than the shoulder width then your shoulder is already adducted and most of work happends at the elbow. Narrow hand stance push-ups are practically done by flexing at elbow by elbow extensors like triceps, not with chest muscles. That is the wider your hands are the more you stress chest. It is hard to explain without pictures and I hope you grasped the gist.
One more thing. Another variable in push-ups is the relative position of hands to the body. By default you put your hands on shoulder level. However, the closer the hands to the stomach the more stress is moved from chest muscles on shoulder muscles, posterior deltoids particularly. Moving hands closer and above the head works anterior deltoids more. This is another useful piece of knowledge to make push-ups even more functional and effective than you used to think.
I want to underline it again that training is always based on biomechanics and physics. That is all you need to know is to learn how th body works and to handle it.
As I have already mentioned before, if your goal is muscle mass you need to feel muscles at work otherwise you are just wasting time and effort. It is more important while doing push-ups variations because it is the only criterium for assessing how correct your form is. Do not be afraid to experiment with different positions of hands and legs to find new effective stances when your (sic!) muscles will work at their maximum.
Another thing worth mentioning. Do not let yourself copy famous athletes word for word. They do what works for them. Use videos and programs on the Internet as a source but not a bible, always apply thought to it and look for what works for you.