A push day workout is an effective way to improve strength and muscle size in many of the major muscles in your upper body.
As the name states, it focuses primarily on the pushing muscles of your upper body: chest, shoulders, and triceps.
In this article, we’ll take a look at a push workout that is equally effective for increasing your strength and adding muscle mass. We’ll cover the exercises, sets and reps, and other important factors for your gains.
What is a Push Day Workout?
As the name states, a push day is a workout where you focus on push exercises and the muscles involved in them. This typically means compound pressing exercises like the bench press, overhead press, and push-ups, but also isolation exercises for your push muscles, like tricep extensions and lateral raises.
In contrast, a pull workout involves pulling exercises for your back and biceps, and a leg workout involves exercises for your major leg muscles.
Sometimes, a push, pull, and leg workout is strung together in the same workout routine, like in our bodybuilding push pull legs split.
Muscles Worked in a Push Workout
Your main push muscles and the major muscle groups worked on a push day are:
These are the muscles used when you push or press an object away from your body or, alternatively, your body away from an object, like in a push-up.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these muscle groups and how to train them.
Your chest muscles are made up almost entirely of one large muscle on each side: pectoralis major. Or simply, the pecs.
The pectoralis major has a wide, fan-shaped origin and is generally divided into a sternocostal part and a clavicular part.
- The sternocostal part is the larger, lower portion, which originates mainly from your sternum, upper abdominal sheath, and ribs.
- The clavicular part is the smaller, upper portion, which originates from the first half of your clavicle.
Muscle fibers from this whole range come together into one single tendon that inserts on the front of your upper arm (humerus).
The primary function of your pectoralis major is to bring your arm forward (called shoulder flexion in anatomical terms), such as when you are bench pressing, throwing a ball, or a punch.
As you can tell by its name, the triceps is a three-headed muscle. The three heads have different origins, but they all join together in one tendon that inserts on your elbow, on the top of your ulna.
The three parts of the triceps are:
- The long head. It originates from your shoulder blade. This head sits closest to your side and rubs against your lats. This head makes up about 50% of the triceps muscle volume and is the only head that crosses two joints: the shoulder and the elbow.
- The lateral head. It originates from your humerus (the bone in your upper arm). This is the head that, among other things, creates the “lump” on the outside of your arm, at least when the muscle is well developed. This head makes up about 38% of the triceps muscle volume.
- The medial head. It also originates from your humerus but lies closest to the bone, beneath the two other heads. This is the smallest head and makes up only about 12% of the triceps muscle volume.
Different heads of the triceps are activated in different exercises, depending on the position of your upper arm and how the load is applied. In this push workout, we’ll make sure to hit all three heads.
Your shoulder muscles, or deltoids, consist of three distinct sets of muscle fibers: front delts, lateral delts, and rear delts.
- Your front delts originate from the outer third of your clavicles, next to the clavicular part of your pectoralis major. It inserts on the front of your humerus (your upper arm bone). The main function of your front delts is to flex your shoulder (=bring your arm forward), such as in pushing movements or front raises.
- Your lateral delts originate from your acromion – the bony process of your shoulder blade that forms the “roof” of your shoulder joint. The fibers then pass over your shoulder joint and insert into the outside of your humerus. The main function of your lateral deltoid is to abduct your shoulder. That is, to lift your arm out to your side, like in a lateral raise. It can also transversally abduct your arm (like in a reverse dumbbell fly) if your arm is externally rotated. Lastly, your lateral deltoid keeps your arm in place when you are carrying or lifting things.
- Your rear delts originate from the spine of your shoulder blade, partially covering your infraspinatus and teres minor, two muscles of your rotator cuff. It inserts on the outside of your humerus, and it can both extend your shoulder (=bring your arm back, like in a row) and externally rotate it. It is a synergist to your lats in shoulder extension, and a synergist to infraspinatus and teres minor in external shoulder rotation. The upper parts of your rear delts also abduct your arm.
In a push day workout, typically only the front delts and lateral delts are included; the rear delts are worked in a pull workout.
Now, time to get into the actual workout.
The Push Day Workout Routine
Here is the outline of the push day routine.
Push Day Workout
- Bench Press: 3 sets x 6 reps
- Overhead Press: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets x 12 reps
- Dumbbell Chest Flyes: 2 sets x 12 reps
- Barbell Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets x 15 reps
This workout is available for free in our workout log app, where you can see demonstrations of and track your reps and weights for each exercise.
Let’s go over each exercise and what muscles they work, and also alternatives for every exercise if you can’t or don’t want to do exactly the ones we’ve selected for you.
1. Bench Press
The bench press is a classic barbell exercise that works your chest, front delts, and triceps.
It is highly effective for developing the chest muscles, which can increase 10–20% in muscle thickness over 2–3 months of bench press training in untrained persons.1 2 3
It secondarily works the triceps, which grows in thickness at about half the rate of the chest muscles from bench press training.4 Notably, it is primarily the lateral head of the triceps that grows from bench pressing.s.1
If you were only to choose a single pushing exercise to develop your upper body, the bench press would be a great choice, which is why we’re kicking off the push day with this exercise.
How to Do the Barbell Bench Press
- Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
- Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
- Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
- Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.
2. Overhead Press
Speaking of both great and classic exercises, the overhead press is definitely worthy of mention – and inclusion in your push day.
The overhead press primarily works your front deltoids and secondarily your middle deltoids and triceps. Almost your entire body, however, is active in one way or another to stabilize you when pressing.
The standing barbell press is one of the best shoulder exercises you can do, and with these two exercises under your belt, you’re well on your way to an excellent push workout.
How to Do the Overhead Press
- First, place a barbell in a rack at about chest height.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and step close to it.
- Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
- Let the bar rest against your front delts while you step back from the rack.
- Press the bar up to straight arms while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
- Repeat for reps.
3. Incline Dumbbell Press
Let’s do some fine-tuning. The incline dumbbell press hits your chest and shoulders in between what the two previous exercises do.
In comparing the incline press vs flat bench press, the incline press leads to more upper pec activation and growth.5.2
Last but not least: a lot of people think that this exercise feels really nice on their shoulders and that they can get a really nice pump from it.
How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Press
- Adjust the incline of a bench to be around 30-45 degrees.
- Sit down and lift a pair of dumbbells to the starting position.
- Press the dumbbells up to straight arms while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Continuing with the fine-tuning, let’s do an exercise that hits your lateral delts spot on.
The dumbbell lateral raise is a staple in any dumbbell shoulder workout. It works all parts of your shoulder muscles to some degree (including your rotator cuff), but emphasizes your middle delts.
The key to this exercise is to use light weights and lift with full control, focusing on muscle contact.
How to Do the Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in almost straight arms hanging by your sides.
- With control, lift the dumbbells outwards to your sides until your upper arm is horizontal.
- Lower the dumbbells with control.
- Repeat for reps.
5. Dumbbell Chest Fly
Still got some muscle fibers untouched in your pecs? The dumbbell chest fly is a great, low-impact way to squeeze the last bit out of your chest muscles and create a great pump.
Once again, use really light weights and focus on a long range of motion with a deep stretch in the bottom. To maintain muscle tension throughout the exercise, you could reverse the movement slightly before you reach the top position, as your pecs are almost unloaded by then anyway.
How to Do the Dumbbell Chest Fly
- Lie on a bench, and lift a pair of dumbbells to the starting position.
- With almost completely straight arms, lower the dumbbells out to your sides.
- When you’ve lowered the dumbbells as deep as possible, reverse the motion and return the dumbbells to the starting position.
- Repeat for reps.
6. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension
There is one muscle left to work properly, and that is your triceps. By this point, you’ve done three pressing exercises. These mainly work the lateral head and, to some extent, the medial head.
With the barbell lying triceps extension, it is time to work the long head of the triceps (which makes up 50% of your triceps volume) and the medial head (which makes up another 12%).
The barbell lying triceps extension has proven to be very effective for growing the triceps muscle as a whole, and the two heads mentioned above in particular.5
The reason the long head of the triceps is worked so well from the barbell lying tricep extension is that the muscle head passes both your elbow joint and your shoulder joint. For the long head to be at a long muscle length (which is important for building muscle effectively), you must keep your upper arm elevated, eg. keep your upper arms beside your head.
This is accomplished in the lying triceps extension and also in exercises like the dumbbell overhead tricep extension and the cable overhead triceps extension.
In contrast, a triceps exercise like the tricep pushdown, where you mostly keep your upper arm next to your torso, primarily works the lateral head of the triceps.
How to Do the Barbell Lying Tricep Extension
- Lie down on a bench with your head close to the edge. Hold a barbell with a close grip, and lift it to straight arms over yourself.
- Lower the barbell down behind your head. Try to keep the same distance between your elbows throughout the movement.
- Reverse the motion and extend your arms again.
Sets, Reps, and Rest Periods
That was the exercise selection. Now let’s go over some of the finer details like sets, reps, and rest.
The Number of Reps
As outlined in the push day workout routine earlier, you’ll be doing between 6–15 reps per set in all exercises; a little on the lower end in the heavy compound exercises and on the higher end in the lighter isolation exercises.
This rep range is a sweet spot where you will both build muscle and increase your strength, where the low reps with heavy weights lean slightly more towards strength, and the higher reps with medium weights lean slightly more towards hypertrophy. The whole rep range will develop some of both, though.
Note that this is only a guideline; you are free to change up the rep numbers, and nothing bad happens if you do more or fewer than the prescribed rep numbers. Just work hard and try to do more reps or the same amount of reps but with a heavier weight over time in order to progress your training. More on this later!
The Number of Sets
You’ll be doing two to three sets per exercise for a total of eight primary work sets for your chest, eleven primary work sets for your front delts, and three primary plus nine secondary work sets for your triceps.
Research shows that how many sets you do per muscle group is strongly related to how much muscle and strength you gain.
Beginners and previously untrained persons generally see the best growth when they perform ten or more sets per muscle group per week.6
This means that doing this push workout routine once per week is not bad; you’ll probably gain nicely from that. But you could probably grow a little faster if you repeated this workout a little sooner.
You don’t have to stick to seven-day cycles. Instead, you could repeat it every four to five days or whenever you feel recovered enough.
As a rule of thumb, resting for two to three minutes between sets is a good balance between getting enough recovery and still being time-efficient with your training.
The idea is that you should rest long enough to be able to perform the next set with:
- proper form
- at the desired weight
- for the desired number of reps.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, research has shown that you gain more muscle and strength with longer rest periods (three minutes or longer) than short rest periods (one minute or less), at least if you stick to a predetermined number of sets, like in this workout.7 8
This is because longer rest periods allow us to perform more reps in the subsequent sets. More reps mean more training being done and more stimulus for the muscles to grow. To compensate for shorter rest periods, you’d need to increase the number of sets you do.
If you are in a hurry, or just restless, I recommend you to at least try to get two minutes of rest in between sets. That will allow you to recover around 95% of your power, and perform way better than if you only rested for one minute.9
Progressive Overload: The Secret Sauce
The first time you try this push workout, you should try to find weights that let you perform the prescribed number of sets and reps with good form in each exercise.
Then, in the next workout, you should try to lift more than the last time.
This is the key to growing bigger and stronger muscles.
Your muscles are very adaptive, and what was once a challenging workout soon becomes a walk in the park. And when your muscles aren’t sufficiently challenged, they will cease to adapt.
Meaning: no more growth.
To keep the gain train on track, you must progressively increase the stress and stimulus you expose your muscles to. This is known in strength training as progressive overload, and it is typically done in one of two ways:
- Do more reps with the same weight as last time.
- Do the same number of reps as last time, but with more weight.
Often, people alternate a bit between these two. They might strive to increase the number of reps for a few workouts before they increase the weight, and then focus on increasing the reps for few workouts again.
The beginner can usually do a bit bigger jumps, but when you’re past the beginner stage, I recommend you try to do one more rep or add 2.5 kg (5 lb) per set and exercise.
If you did three sets of six reps at 60 kg (~130 lb) in the bench press last workout, you could try to do three sets of six reps at 62.5 kg (~135 lb) in the next workout.
If you can only get three sets of five reps at 62.5 kg, you could stick with that weight for the next few training sessions and try to get all sets up to six reps before you increase the load again.
How to Track Your Push Workouts
A key to being systematic in your progression is to track your workouts.
This push workout is available 100% free in our workout log app. Just download it with the buttons below, go to the Programs & Workouts tab, and search for “Push Workout”.
Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:
How to Make the Most Out of Your Push Days
We’re almost done. Let’s just take a quick look at some things that can help boost your results even further.
Eat Properly for Muscle Growth
The training triggers growth, but your food provides the means. If you don’t eat enough, your body won’t have the building blocks to add muscle size.
If you’re unsure of what to eat, check out our guide on eating for muscle growth. It will cover all the most important things you need to know.
Protein is one of the key nutrients for muscle growth, and getting enough protein is a simple way to get better training results. Use our protein calculator to calculate your daily need.
If you are looking to lose fat but want to build or at least maintain your muscle mass while you’re at it, you should definitely check out our guide on how to lose fat and keep your muscle.
In addition to eating well, sleep is also highly important for your training results. Most adults require between seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night.
Doing one workout is good, but it is not enough.
Getting good training results is all about stringing workouts together, without letting too much time pass between them.
Hold yourself to a schedule, or a routine, in which you repeat this workout regularly. If you do it once per week, twice per week, or something in between is not the important thing.
The important thing is that you show up, and that you do so regularly. Everybody misses sometimes, just don’t miss two times in a row.
Track and Progress Your Workouts
Finally, I’ll repeat what I said about progressive overload. It is the missing key in most people’s workout routines, and without it, they spin their wheels for years without making any progress.
Dedicate yourself to writing down your weights and reps, and fight hard to increase them in your next workout.
Our app StrengthLog was built with this important concept in mind and is designed to help you succeed.
As mentioned, you can find this push workout available for free in the app. You just need to start the workout, add the weights you are using in your first workout, and then try to beat them the next time.
Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:
Thank you for reading, buddy, and good luck with your training!
- J Strength Cond Res. 2020 May;34(5):1254-1263. Varying the Order of Combinations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises Differentially Affects Resistance Training Adaptations.
- Int J Exerc Sci. 2020 Aug 1;13(6):859-872. Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men.
- J Exerc Sci Fit. 2017 Jun;15(1):37-42. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.
- Interv Med Appl Sci. 2012 Dec;4(4):217-20. Time course for arm and chest muscle thickness changes following bench press training.
- Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct 8;17(19):7339. Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.
- J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
- J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1805-12. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men.
- Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77. Rest interval between sets in strength training.
- Pflügers Archiv volume 367, pages137–142(1976). The time course of phosphorylcreatine resynthesis during recovery of the quadriceps muscle in man.