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Push Day Workout At Home – Pushing for Progress

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As a certified weighlifting coach and PT for over 2 decades, I’ve got a bit of a problem with push day workouts.

As a rule, I think they’re horribly unbalanced and over a long enough timeline, create more problems than they solve.

  • Shoulder injuries
  • Muscle imbalances
  • And the like

But you don’t need to worry about that, because I’m going to push (pun intended) you in the right direction when it comes to all things push day workout.

I’m going to explain how to structure your workout, and how to make sure it achieves its goals.

I’m going to show you how as a personal trainer, I structure push day workouts to maximize results and minimize risk.

These tips will help you understand what you need to consider, and why you should be considering it.

It’ll also teach you some of the principles of exercise programming. 

If you follow this push day workout, you’ll be following a structured and well-balanced push program that you can adapt to achieve your physique and fitness goals.


Pushing for Progress: Benefits of an effective push day workout

How to perform push day workouts without destroying your shoulders

There are many benefits to performing push day workouts well. If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal, here’s a few of the benefits…

Push day workout benefits

Benefit 1: You’ll a build strong, healthy upper body

Upper body strength is a health advantage.

The problem is that most push day programs just repeat the same handful of movement patterns, without considering the impact that certain repetitive movements have on their health and injury risk. 

In a 2018 study titled ‘Narrative review of injuries in powerlifting with special reference to their association to the squat, bench press and deadlift’ researchers Bengtsson et al assessed the research around the injury frequencies of the three powerlifting movements. 

Most would assume the deadlift would be the exercise with the highest injury frequency, because of the lower back engagement.

However, the bench press appears to be the most common cause of injury. 

The researchers reported that:

Most studies reported bench press injuries, with pectoralis major ruptures being the most frequently reported specific injury.

This shows that we need to establish good balance to push movements, because of their inherent risk.

Get the balance of the movements right and you’ll help prevent injuries in future by building a strong, healthy and stable upper body.

Benefit 2: You’ll tick plenty of vanity boxes!

Let’s be honest, unless you’re an athlete doing this with a purely performance mindset, you want to look good.

A broad chest and shoulders, big arms and a narrow waist all contribute to the classic ‘V’ shape lots of us want. 

With a well-programmed push day workout you’ll build these physique elements.

The traditional approach to building muscle involved medium weight with a higher volume approach. That’s still effective (physiology hasn’t changed much!), but is it optimum?

In their 2022 research study ‘Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum’, Brad Schoenfeld et al tested the theory that muscular adaptations only occur in specific load zones (strength = heavy load, hypertrophy = medium loads, endurance = light loads).

What they found was surprising…

‘Based on the emerging evidence, we propose a new paradigm whereby muscular adaptations can be obtained, and in some cases optimized, across a wide spectrum of loading zones.’

The practical applications of this are interesting.

They give us a wider scope to create physical adaptations in the tissues, plus it helps to increase the range of exercises available to us, and importantly, reduce the injury risks associated with push day workouts.

Benefit 3: You’ll be a better athlete

There’s a reason why the bench press is tested in the NFL combine. There’s a reason why when you see Rugby players in the weights room, they’re benching.

There’s a reason why shot putters spend time building their bench press…

Because pushing strength is a vital athletic ability in many sports.

I know when it comes to ‘functional’ fitness that bench pressing isn’t especially useful, because we don’t really press that often in day to day life.

In sports, however, a strong push is a big advantage. 

If you throw, punch, press, play American Football, Rugby, do Judo etc, you’ll want to make sure your push day is effective.

By building great push strength, you’ll ensure that you improve your athleticism and give yourself a real advantage in any sport that includes powerful forward movement.

Steve working out with a heavy pair of dumbbells

5 Steps to use the “Pushing for Progress Method” to build a bigger and stronger chest, arms, and shoulders…

Here’s a few additional tips to give you the best course for success by following this program…

Push day workout general infographic

Step 1: Mix up pressing types and movements

We’re all guilty of staying within our comfort zone. In training terms, this means we stick to the exercises we like, the exercises we perform well, the exercises we know and the exercises that are easy to set up.

But what if we’re leaving gains on the table? 

In a 2022 study titled ‘Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training’, Coratella et al compared the muscle activation of different techniques and equipment used for overhead pressing.

They concluded…

Performing back overhead press enhances the excitation of medial and posterior and partly anterior deltoid, while front overhead favors pectoralis major. Overhead press performed using barbell excites muscles more than using a machine to stabilize the trajectory of the external load.

What we can draw from this is that tweaking the technique slightly can change the effectiveness and the impact of an exercise.

In this workout program, I’m going to encourage you to try new variations of an exercise, with these new gains in mind.

You also protect yourself from injury by mixing movement patterns. You’ll prevent overuse and repetitive strain injuries. 

Step 2: Use different equipment

Following on from the first point, there is good quality research showing that the same exercise, performed with different equipment will yield different results.

This is huge. 

If (like most people) you’re guilty of performing exercises the same way all of the time, you can quickly improve your training results and performance by adjusting the equipment you use to perform an exercise. 

This isn’t always possible in a home gym, but if you can mix things up, do so.

In a 2022 study titled ‘The Effect of the Weight and Type of Equipment on Shoulder and Back Muscle Activity in Surface Electromyography during the Overhead Press’, Blazkiewicz and Hadamus compared the activity of shoulder and back muscles during the overhead press with a kettlebell and a dumbbell.

Here’s what they concluded…

‘…muscle activity of all muscles except the upper trapezius was always higher for kettlebell pressing. Different center of gravity locations in the kettlebell versus the dumbbell can increase shoulder muscle activity during the overhead press.’

Lesson to learn?

Mix things up. Even at equivalent weight, differences in weight distribution, technique, movements and body positions can have a large impact on how effective an exercise is.

Step 3: Be willing to experiment with weight

Different equipment might feel different, even when the weight is equivalent. So 50 lbs in two dumbbells will feel much heavier than a 100 lb barbell.

You have to get to grips with this early on, because if you stubbornly remove an exercise from the list because you can’t hit your ego numbers, you’ll suffer!

In the program, you’ve got ample opportunity to lift with barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells.

This means you’ll develop strength, power and a range of movement across all of the different items of equipment. 

The important first step though is to leave your ego at the door and be willing to drop the weights if needed.

You’ll benefit mostly in this workout if you lift an appropriate weight through a full range of movement.

This will increase time under tension, maximize joint range of movement (improving connective tissue health) and ultimately, improve results. 

Step 4: Do what works for you

This may sound counterintuitive for many of you, but I’m going to give you some freedom here… and encourage you to tweak the program to best suit you. 

I’ll explain why.

As I’ve gotten older and more experienced as a personal trainer, I’ve come to appreciate that some movements have to be tweaked to suit the individual.

That’s likely to be the case with many of the people who are reading this push day workout article.

If an exercise calls for you to use a barbell, but you prefer the dumbbell or kettlebell version, I think you should go for it.

My goal here isn’t to get you to blindly follow a series of exercises, it’s for you to use this workout as a template and enjoy the benefits of following a program like this. 

There’s only a couple of exceptions I’ll include…

  1. Don’t switch equipment purely so you can lift more weight – I’d rather you lift lighter weights more effectively.
  2. Don’t switch from dumbbells and kettlebells to barbells – they reduce your range of movement.

If you want to switch equipment to avoid pain, improve range of movement or because you feel like you’ll get more from the exercise that way, you’ve got my complete blessing! I’ll always encourage you to do what works for you.

Step 5: Warm up properly – especially the shoulders

My beef with push day workouts is the increased risk of injury because of the overuse of the shoulders.

You can help to negate these issues by making sure the overall workout structure is balanced, but also by performing a thorough warm up.

The shoulders (for reasons discussed in our article on shoulder exercises) are the most vulnerable joint in the body when it comes to weight training.

They have a huge range of movement, they control all upper body training, they’re easy to destabilize etc. 

So you have to ensure you have FULLY warmed up ahead of a push day workout.

Your anterior deltoids are going to be doing a LOT of work, so we need to ensure they’re fit, firing and ready to go. 

We do that by using the following approach…

  • 5 Minutes of upper body cardio such as rowers, ski erg, air bike, shadow boxing. 
  • 3 rounds of 10 Banded YTW
  • 2 sets of 10 bodyweight push ups

NEVER rely on something that is lower body only, such as cycling. I also think running isn’t as effective for upper body workouts.

Sure, it moves the upper body, but not as much as I’d like it to. 

Once you’ve run through this list, you’re good to go on the workouts…

A man lifting a barbell in standing position

Equipment needed for these workouts

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.


The Pushing for Progress workouts

Rather than go with a single push day workout, I’ve gone with two. This is because the two workouts have slightly different emphasis.

Both workouts employ a mixture of exercises using dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and bodyweight resistance.

The direction of push varies, so we target the pecs, deltoids, triceps and traps. 

We’re also working on strength and stability across the two workouts, so you’ve got a new focus on each workout. They’ll complement one another though. 


Push Day Workout 1

In this session, we’re focussing on higher volume work. It’s more of a classic push day workout, utilizing different directions and ranges of movement.

As always, work through a full range and lift an appropriate weight.

ExerciseSetsReps
Flat Barbell Bench Press410
Weighted Push Ups412
Kettlebell Push Press48
Dips48
Behind the Neck Press415
Close Grip Bench Press312
Tricep Pushdowns312

Push day workout 1 infographic part 1

1. Flat barbell bench press

The barbell bench press hits your chest, shoulders and triceps. It also allows you to push serious weight. We’re opening with this to get some big numbers up whilst you’re still fresh.

You should be hitting real fatigue when you get to the last few reps of the sets here. 

Equipment needed for barbell bench press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates
  • Bench

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

Strong Home Gym barbell bench press form tips:

  • Hands slightly wider than shoulders.
  • Lift the bar over your chest
  • Lower barbell to the chest
  • Drive bar up from chest powerfully

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not lowering the bar fully
  • Placing your hands too wide

2. Weighted push ups

Weighted push ups are an excellent way to make the exercise much harder without changing the position.

They’re also a great way to encourage scapular control, which is an important element of shoulder health on push days.

Equipment needed for weighted push ups:

  • A weight plate

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

Strong Home Gym weighted push ups form tips:

  • Position a plate on your upper back
  • Start with arms fully extended
  • Lower yourself until chest reaches the floor 
  • Slowly press yourself back up to a straight arm position.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Using too heavy a weight
  • Not going low enough

3. Kettlebell push press

The kettlebell push press is picked ahead of the barbell version for the reason listed above – the different distribution of the weight helps to change the effectiveness of the exercise.

It’s also truly unilateral, using both sides at the same time. 

Equipment needed for a kettlebell push press:

  • 2 x Kettlebells

Strong Home Gym kettlebell push press form tips:

  • Kettlebell in each hand
  • Hold kettlebells in rack position
  • Maintain core rigidity throughout
  • Dip your knees, drive arms up
  • When the kettlebells are overhead, ‘drop’ bells back into position
  • Absorb the impact by bending your legs 

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lack of core rigidity
  • Pressing arms before legs are straight

4. Dips

Dips hit the chest muscles from a lower position, plus they require a lot of input from the triceps and shoulders.

They’re a safe exercise, stretch the chest and shoulders effectively and allow you to strengthen stabilizing muscles as well. 

Equipment needed for dips:

  • Parallel bars or Power tower or power rack with dip attachments

Strong Home Gym dips form tips:

  • Leaning forward, dip by pushing elbows back
  • Continue elbows reach a 90 degrees 
  • Feel a full pectoral muscle stretch
  • Pause and push back to full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not going full depth
  • Not adding weight when it’s too easy

Push day workout 1 infographic part 2

5. Behind the neck press

I like a light weight, high rep version of the behind-the-neck press. I think it helps to open up the chest and places different demands on the shoulders and upper back.

Just make sure you’re warmed up and have good thoracic mobility first. 

Equipment needed for behind the neck press:

  • Barbell 
  • Weight plates

Strong Home Gym neck press form tips:

  • Resting on your upper back
  • Place your hands slightly-wider than shoulder-width 
  • Squeeze your glutes to ‘lock’ lower back
  • Keep your chest up
  • Press the barbell overhead to full extension
  • Lower the barbell back to starting position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not warming up
  • Lifting too heavy
  • Pressing from neck, not the back

6. Close grip bench press

The close grip bench press is a variation of the standard press that focuses some of the effort onto the triceps.

It doesn’t avoid the chest completely – in fact, it still does most of the work, but there’s a lot of contribution from the arms too.

Equipment needed for close grip barbell bench press:

  • Barbell or EZ bar
  • Weight plates

Strong Home Gym close grip barbell bench press form tips:

  • Position the hands 6-8 inches apart
  • Lift the bar over your chest
  • Lower the barbell to your chest
  • Drive it back directly back upwards
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Hands too wide
  • Lifting too heavy – hard to control

7. Tricep pushdown with rope

Rope pushdowns allow for better control of the movement, and they’re more elbow friendly. I like the rope most for any form of pushdown for both of these reasons.

You can also use a neutral grip which tends to allow more weight to be used. 

Equipment needed for tricep pushdowns with a rope:

  • Cable station with rope attachment

Strong Home Gym tricep pushdowns with a rope form tips:

  • Set the rope to head height
  • Pull the rope down, keeping elbows tight to the body
  • Take the elbows from a full bend to straight down
  • Keep elbows tight to your sides throughout 
  • Once the arms are straight, pause 
  • Return back to the start position and repeat

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Don’t allow hands to flare out
  • Not going full range

Push Day Workout 2

In workout 2, our focus is on introducing an element of instability into the work.

You’ll notice here there are more unilateral exercises, this is to strengthen the shoulders and core as well as the chest and triceps. 

ExerciseSetsReps
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press48 (per side)
Single Arm Bench Press410 (per side)
Arnold Press312
Tricep Press Ups312
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press38
Thrusters312
Landmine Press312 (per side)

Push day workout 2 infographic part 1

8. Bottoms up kettlebell press

These are one of the most humbling exercises you can do. They’re so much tougher than you expect!

The single sided element engages the core more fully, and the unilateral element builds strength in both sides. Keep the movement slow and steady throughout. 

Equipment needed for bottoms up kettlebell press:

  • A single kettlebell

Strong Home Gym bottoms up kettlebell press form tips:

  • Stand upright, holding an upside down kettlebell
  • The kettlebell should be at head height
  • Slowly press the kettlebell overhead
  • At full extension, slowly lower the kettlebell
  • Pause when kettlebell is at head height
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement – stay slow
  • Not going full range
  • Going too heavy and losing form

9. Single arm bench press

Single sided bench presses require more torso engagement to ensure stability. This is because lifting a weight on one side only causes instability.

The correction of balance from the opposite side poses a great challenge for the body. 

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

Strong Home Gym single arm dumbbell bench press form tips:

  • Lie back with a dumbbell over your chest
  • Lower dumbbell to side of your chest
  • Bending your elbows until you reach full depth
  • Engage the core throughout
  • Work to prevent torso rotation 
  • At full depth, pause for stability
  • Push the dumbbell back to full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement – stay slow
  • Not going full range
  • Going too heavy and rotating
  • Not stabilizing torso with opposite site

10. Arnold press

Arnold presses aren’t great for heavy lifting, but they’re effective, they include pressing and rotation and they’ll blow your shoulders up.

The unilateral element of them, coupled with the stability and rotation elements are useful attributes here. 

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

  • Dumbbells
  • A bench

Strong Home Gym Arnold press form tips:

  • Sit upright holding dumbbells
  • Put dumbbells at chest height, palms facing you
  • Press dumbbells overhead, rotating through press
  • When your arms are overhead palms should be facing away 
  • Return the dumbbells to the starting position
  • Rotate dumbbells so your palms facing in
  • Repeat as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Rushing the movement – stay slow
  • Not rotating during the lift

11. Narrow grip tricep push ups

The narrow grip tricep push ups focus more of the work on the triceps and less on the shoulders and chest.

They require more concentration and control, but they’re worth it in the end. They’re great for elbow health too. 

Equipment needed for narrow grip tricep push ups:

  • None!

Strong Home Gym narrow grip tricep push up form tips:

  • Start with arms fully extended
  • Keep hands and  arms close together.
  • Lower yourself down through the movement
  • Driving the elbows backwards, rather than outwards.
  • Lower yourself until full depth. 
  • Chest should reach around 1 inch above ground
  • Press back to straight arm position.
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Hands too wide
  • Pushing elbows outwards

Push day workout 2 infographic part 2

12. Incline dumbbell bench press

An incline dumbbell bench press forces each side to work independently, and allows for a greater range of movement than with a barbell.

It’s also a good way to include some additional shoulder work into your chest exercise.  

Equipment needed for incline dumbbell bench press:

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench

Strong Home Gym incline dumbbell bench press form tips:

  • Set the bench to a slight incline
  • Position dumbbells over your chest
  • Use overhand or neutral grip
  • Lower dumbbells towards your chest 
  • At full depth, press dumbbells back
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not going full range
  • Rushing the descent
  • Going too heavy

13. Thrusters

Thrusters have moved from CrossFit to the mainstream because they’re an excellent exercise.

They’re an obvious stand out here because of their leg involvement, but they’re so effective I wanted to put them in. 

Equipment needed for thrusters:

  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym thrusters form tips:

  • Hold the bar on your chest
  • Keeping your chest up and back straight 
  • Perform a full front squat 
  • Stand up by driving hard through the feet
  • At the top of the squat, press the bar 
  • At full extension, bring the bar to the chest
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not squatting full depth
  • Going too heavy

14. Landmine press

The landmine press can be used as both a shoulder and a chest exercise. It also works the core and lower back too, because you have to prevent the rotation through the core.

Finally, it’s a unilateral exercise so it balances the body well. 

Equipment needed for landmine press:

  • Landmine attachment (or plate in the corner of the room)
  • Barbell
  • Plates

Strong Home Gym landmine press form tips:

  • Stand leaning slightly forwards.
  • Keep your core tight.
  • Take the loaded barbell in your hand.
  • Press the barbell away from you.
  • Return it to the starting position.
  • Resist rotating your torso on return.
  • Repeat as many times as required

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Going too heavy and rotating
  • Not stabilizing torso with opposite site
  • Overuse of the legs

How should I program these workouts?

You should prioritize health and progression over vanity, so keep these to one day per week each, with at least a day of rest in between.

You don’t want to go repeating these workouts day after day, in the hope you’ll blow up your chest and shoulders.

All that approach will do is bore you, overuse your shoulders and neglect the rest of your body.

The best way to balance these exercises is with the equivalent amount of pulling volume, so I suggest you pair it with the Hybrid Pull Day Workout.

This will give your upper body training balance and structure. It’ll also leave a day spare for a leg day.

Here’s what a week could look like with this approach…

Monday: Pushing for Progress Workout 1

Tuesday: Hybrid Pull Day Workout 1

Wednesday: A legs and abs workout

Thursday: Pushing for Progress Workout 2

Friday: Hybrid Pull Day Workout 2

Weekend: Light cardio/Rest

By following this split, you’ll benefit from full body training, great results and an interesting approach to exercise.

Some of the exercises in the push day workouts here will be new to you, giving you different challenges. 

Pushing for Progress Push Day Workouts: The bottom line

It’s time to re-think your push day. Split the movements into horizontal pushes, vertical pushes and unilateral pushes requiring stability.

This is second-level thinking, taking push workouts as a vanity measure, to something that builds strength and stability in the chest, shoulders and elbows.

We’ve taken you from boring, endless variations of bench presses and shoulder presses to workouts with unilateral exercises, stability exercises, bodyweight exercises etc.

Your physique, fitness and joint health will thank you. 

So re-read this article, make note of the workouts and exercises, and get busy.

For more inspiration when it comes to push exercises, why not take a look at our list of 27 push exercises. They’re tried, tested and home gym friendly.

Want to improve your home gym?

Use the hours of research, testing and experience inside the ultimate guide to build a home gym. Find out…

  • The 4 items of kit every gym needs
  • What you should avoid
  • Where to find bargains and discounts

Click here to learn more about how to build a home gym.

Photo of author
Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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