You’ve been ‘pushing’ since you have been born. Pushing yourself off the floor, pushing your brother or sister around or pushing the door shut. Pushing is a movement that’s hotwired into your brain. It’s a movement which comes naturally to you. But when you’re starting an exercise program from scratch, it’s best not to start with the barbell bench press.

Nothing against the barbell bench press. It’s a great exercise to build upper body size and strength but it’s not a great exercise to start your journey with. You need to build pushing strength, shoulder stability and iron out some strength imbalances between sides.

These five pushing exercises will do just that.

Single Arm Cable/Band Chest Press

The single arm chest press is performed with either band or cable machine. With a narrow base of support while lifting one side at a time, this trains your core strength, balance, and irons out any strength imbalances you may have between your left and right sides. It’s easier on the shoulders and it is easy to pick up and do.  But be careful because it’s easy to lose your balance. 

Benefits of the Single Arm Chest Press

Strengthens imbalances between sides and it’s easier on the shoulder joint

Because of the offset nature, this trains the core without crunches.

Is performed from different angles to strengthen and build your chest.  

How to Do the Single Arm Chest Press

Set up the band or cable at below shoulder height and grip it so it’s underneath your arm like in the video. With your feet hip width apart press until your elbow is extended and then reach forward. Slowly return until your elbow is level with your torso and repeat.

Incline Push-ups

Incline push-ups take gravity out of the equation and help make push-ups easier when you’re starting out. This allows you to build upper body and core strength while perfecting your push-up form. This exercise is easier or harder by increasing or decreasing the incline. When doing this, use an incline that allows you to do 8-15 reps per set.

Benefits of the Incline Push-up

It’s adjustable to your strength levels. Higher incline is easier, lower incline is more difficult.

Builds confidence to do standard push-ups.

Allows you to do more reps to further build strength and endurance.

How to Do the Incline Push-up

Set up on an incline that allows you to do eight reps. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width, set up in plank position, squeeze your glutes and get on your toes. Slowly lower your chest (by bending your elbows) towards the incline surface until you almost touch it. Then push yourself back to the starting position and reset and repeat.

Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is easier on the shoulders as the floor stops the shoulder joint from going into excessive external rotation (elbow going past your torso) where pain can happen. The floor provides stability and feedback, helping you find your form safely. And because the dumbbells are harder to stabilize, it slows the lift down, giving you more time under tension which leads to more strength gains.    

Plus, using dumbbells allows you to change the angle of the shoulder and wrist, which is great for the beginning lifter trying to find their groove.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press

The reduced ROM reduces aches and pains from larger ROM movements, and it helps build up the strength and control for more difficult lifts like the bench press.

With the floor press you can handle heavier loads in the top half of the movement so you can strengthen the triceps, chest, and shoulders.

The floor makes this a safer lift to build pressing strength and improve form.  

How to Do the Dumbbell Unilateral Floor Press

Lie side on the floor and grip the dumbbell with both hands and roll on to your back. Make sure the head, upper and lower back are on the floor. Release one hand and make sure there is a little distance between the upper arm and torso. Gripping the dumbbell tight, press up and reach towards the sky. Slowly lower until the upper arm touches the ground. Reset and repeat.

Standing Single Arm Landmine Press

Not everybody can press overhead pain-free, and this is when landmine training (sticking a barbell into a corner and lifting) is a godsend.  The unilateral, the arc of the press with gripping the fat end of the barbell all strengthens your shoulder and chest safely. Plus, it strengthens pressing imbalances between sides and is a great work around if you don’t have the shoulder mobility to go overhead.

Plus, due to the arc and angle, you can load up faster which means strength, fat loss and muscle gains will come thick and fast.

Benefits Of The Standing Single Arm Landmine Press

Trains the overhead pattern safely for those unable to press overhead pain-free.

Unilateral pressing of the bar provides anti-rotational (twisting) core benefits and strengthens pressing imbalances between sides

Holding the fat end of the barbell has grip strengthening benefits.

How To Do The Standing Single Arm Landmine Press

Stand with your feet hip width apart and pick up the barbell with it just in front of your shoulder. Then press to lockout by extending the elbow and reaching forward at the end of the movement. Slowly lower back down and repeat.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell and barbell bench press are similar movements with a few crucial differences. Pressing with dumbbells allows you to adjust your pressing angle by changing your hand position, giving you more freedom of movement. Barbells lock you into a certain range of motion which is hard on shoulders, but it builds more strength.  This freedom means more instability which engages your rotator cuffs and slows the move down so you can concentrate on good pressing form. Both these factors make it easier on your shoulder joints.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Bench Press

The freedom of movement of the dumbbells makes the press easier on your shoulders.

This builds strength for push-ups and bench presses.

The dumbbell’s instability slows the movement down for more time under tension. This helps build muscle and strength.

How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press

Sit on the bench with the dumbbells resting on your thighs and lie back while pushing the dumbbells into lockout position above your chest. Gripping the dumbbells tight lower down until your elbows are at torso level. Then push your feet back and press the dumbbells to the lockout position. Reset and repeat.

Wrapping Up

These five pushing exercises will strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps safely while building your confidence to get stronger. Do between six to twelve reps for each exercise and don’t struggle. When you’re ready to put on weight, go up. Better to build good form, confidence, and strength before progressing to heavier and more difficult exercises.

But the most important thing of all, they build flex appeal. Come on, you know you want to.  

Still confused on where to start. Click here for my strength program for those new to strength training.

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