The Best Barbell Exercises – Push Edition

Welcome! This article will be discussing the very best push exercises that can be done with a barbell. Push exercises are a must to anyone, as it is the antagonist to pulling movements. Muscles that are involved in push movements include the chest, the shoulders and the triceps.

Yes, some push movements are performed by the lower body! I will be discussing all of those movements in a future article, so don’t worry about all that.

First of all, we are going to discuss the functions and movements of these muscles, in order to understand how to target and develop them.


The Chicken Breast

Contrary to common belief, the chest consists of multiple muscles. The primary ones are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, or ‘pecs’ for short. The chest is often the focus of people that go to the gym.

Having a big chests makes you look stronger, right?

The movement of the pectoral muscles is to bring the elbows to each other.

Try it out! Extend your arms and try to push your elbows together while putting the focus on contracting the pecs. This is the movement you will want to focus on while doing chest exercises.

So, the next time you’re pushing out bench press like no tomorrow, try to really focus on contracting the chest muscles.

To do so, you might as well pick a weight that’s lighter than you’re used to.

Why? Well, picking a heavier weight will include the shoulders and triceps more than you’d actually want to.

Well, what about the pectoralis minor? The answer: doing the exact same on an incline.

Just remember that it’s a minor portion of the chest, so naturally it’s not as strong as the major part of the chest.

The best tip I can give for chest press exercises that involve a barbell is the following.

Focus on keeping the elbows almost against the sides of your body while you’re pushing. This will make SUCH a huge difference compared to letting your elbows loose to the outside!


Boulder Shoulders

Next, let us talk about the shoulders. Remember when I said that a lot of people focus way too much on developing and growing the chest? That’s because I believe that the shoulders are equally, if not more important to a healthy fitness of the body.

Why? The shoulders do not only give you the capability to move your arms in any direction you want, but they also provide stability and a good posture.

The deltoideus, or delts for short, consist of three small muscle fibers: anterior, lateral and posterior. Each has its own function and it’s important that balance between the three is maintained.

The anterior part is activated when you extend your arms straight in front of you. Try it and touch your front delt. As you can feel, it’s a small muscle.

This means that you should NOT be forcing it to lift enormous amounts of weights, because it can quickly lead to injury. The same goes for the lateral and posterior delts.

The lateral deltiod is activated when you extend your arms to the side. It is this part of the shoulder that can make it look wide and round on the side.

The posterior deltoid is activated when you raise your arms to the side with your palms facing forward, and then pushing them backwards. A rowing exercise is great for targeting them.


Want Big Arms? Don’t Forget the Triceps!

The triceps make up the majority of the upper arm. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it is the triceps that make arms look BIG, as they take up to 60% of the upper arm mass.

The triceps consists of three heads and is activated by stretching the arm.

If you want to have big arms, this muscle should definitely not be neglected. Even if that’s not your focus, you should be working your triceps because they allow for bigger lifts when it comes to push exercises.

In conclusion, triceps should never be forgotten as they are key to your results!



Now, there are a lot of push exercises, and I’m sure that I will not be mentioning every single one of them. However, I believe that this selection pretty much covers every muscle that’s involved in pushing movements.


Bench Press

First of all, let’s talk about the bench press. This exercise does not need any introduction as almost anyone knows what it is.

“How much do you lift bruh?”

Trust me, it’s not about that. It’s about the time you can keep your muscles under tension and how you do it.

Keep your elbows to the side of your body and try to focus on squeezing the chest only. Don’t extend your arms all the way to lock. By doing so, you’re putting more focus on the triceps and in turn the delts in order to stabilize yourself.

You want to target the chest, right? So target the chest. Focus on putting tension on those muscles as much as possible.

The bench press is fantastic to experiment with. An incline will focus more on the pectoralis minor and the anterior deltiod, whereas a decline will focus more on the lower part of the pectoralis major.

A flat bench press will target the bulk of the pecs.

Grab the barbell at about shoulder width, tuck your shoulder blades in and push your chest forwards by making your back hollow.

Now lower the barbell all the way to your chest while maintaining said position. Now push the weight up while keeping your elbows in place.

The wider your grip, the smaller the range of motion and the less you will be able to contract the pecs.

Narrowing your grip will cause the triceps to do more work. Knowing this, the bench press can also be used as a triceps developing exercise.


Skull Crushers

Since we’re talking about the triceps, why not throw in another exercise targeting said muscles? The skull crusher sounds ominous, and that’s because it can go very wrong if you lift with your ego.

This exercise can be carried out seated or while standing up. For safety reasons though, I prefer doing them lying on a flat bench. Should my muscles tire, I can easily drop the weight on the floor without possibly hurting myself.

For the sake of your safety, I will be discussing the exercise in the way I perform it.

Lie down on a flat bench and grab the barbell at shoulder width. Keep your elbows pointing forwards at all times during the exercise. Now push the weight up while solely focusing on contracting the triceps.

That’s it! Now just make sure not to drop the weight at the wrong place, or else, well. You know…

All jokes aside, skull crushers are a great exercise to strengthen the triceps and build some mass. Doing this exercise will definitely help you out with other push exercises!





Pull Over

Now the pull over is a fantastic compound movement that targets the triceps and pectoralis minor. As a bonus, you’ll also be working the lats in the process!

I know what you’re thinking.

How is the PULL over a PUSH exercise? Well, the movement you’re performing with this exercise will simulate a pushing down movement.

I prefer doing this exercise on a flat bench, as it allows me to drop the weight quite deep. This stretches the targeted muscles, which in turn allow for a larger range of motion.

Lie down on a flat bench and grab a barbell at shoulder width. Lower the weight behind your head with your elbows slightly bent. When you feel a nice stretch in the pecs, contract them.

While bringing the weight up, make sure your elbows stay in position! Don’t stretch your arms in order to contract the triceps.

You should also never bring the weight up further than your head, i.e. to the chest. Why? Because then there’s no tension in the chest!


Landmine Press

This exercise is actually the opposite of the V-bar row I discussed earlier. Instead, you’re sitting in your knees and the goal of this exercise is to target the pectoralis minor, as well as the anterior deltoid.

Make sure you keep your elbows next to your body as you perform the push movement. The very narrow grip allows for a high tension on the chest.

When returning the weight to your chest, make sure you allow the elbows to go as far back as possible without it hurting.

Just make sure you feel a good stretch on the chest. From this point, push forward while keeping the elbows in place.

Another benefit of this exercise is that you need to engage your core muscles, i.e. the abs and lower back, in order to maintain a good form.


Overhead Press

This exercise used to be my nemesis. Like I said, the shoulders are relatively small muscles and you should treat them with care.

During this exercise, it’s important to push from the shoulders. Stretching your arms fully is a bonus for your triceps, but not necessarily to your delts.

This exercise is best carried out while standing upright if you want to involve the rest of your body for stability. Doing a seated overhead press will make your shoulders work harder, as well as your core.

The overhead press works all three heads of the delts, and thus it’s a fantastic exercise to build shoulder strength, as well as mass.

Please note that it’s okay to start out very light with this exercise. When I started implementing the overhead press in my workouts, I used to only use an empty barbell.

Do not let this discourage you. It’s better to begin light and work your way up, then to start with way too much weight!

Grab a barbell at shoulder width and make sure your elbows are facing down.

When you push the barbell from this position, you will hit your own chin, so make sure you move your head back while doing so.

When the barbell is above your head, make sure you push your head forward. This will cause your traps to contract, as well as the delts.

The overhead press is THE big shoulder exercise you will want to implement in your workout routine, and I highly recommend you all to start doing them.





In Conclusion

The possibilities for push exercises are countless. All the aforementioned exercises, except for skull crushers, are compound movements and thus actually useful in your everyday life. Give these exercises a try, or better yet, implement them all in your workout routine!

Focus on maintaining good form! Doing these exercise without doing so will not give you the results you want, and you might get injured. A good form comes first, adding weight comes last.

Let me know in the comments below whether this article was useful to you. Did I miss anything or do you have any questions? Don’t hesitate to let me know!


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10 thoughts on “The Best Barbell Exercises – Push Edition

  1. Kay Reply

    I love that you pointed out the insignificance in how much weight you can lift, but the overall consistency and ability to maintain what you are lifting. If you can bench 250 but can only complete 2 reps, that is not anywhere near as impressive as benching 190 but completing 3 sets of 10 reps. As always, as you mentioned, form is #1 priority.

    Thank you for your lively insights and sharing!

    • Kevin Post authorReply

      Absolutely, Kay! It’s better to learn something the right way immediately, then to change a movement that’s already ingrained in your system. Adding extra weight will come in time, as will results!

    • Kevin Post authorReply

      I personally like to mix it up at bit. I use barbells for the ‘big’ exercises and weights. Dumbbells allow for more stabilizer muscles to become active, as each arm has its own weight to worry about. I’d recommend both barbells and dumbbells as they’re both great tools!

  2. Jordan Reply

    Great article Kevin. I have a question about skull crushers. I do them with a curl bar instead of a straight barbell, just because that’s what I generally saw people using when I started lifting. After seeing your illustrations I’m realizing that the angled grip on the curl bar changes the angle of the arms slightly, and I’m curious if each bar puts more emphasis on a different head of the triceps as a result. Do you think that makes much difference and is it something where I should try to alternate which type of bar I use? Thanks in advance.

    • Kevin Post authorReply

      Hi Jordan! Using an EZ-bar (as they are called), changes little to nothing when it comes to the exercise. However, using one is a little easier on the elbows and wrists, because it allows the trip to be a tad more natural. In conclusion, you should use whatever feels best for you, as long as you maintain good form. You can use a straight barbell when your joints are healthy, but if that’s not the case or if you prefer a more natural grip, go for the EZ-bar.

      I hope this answers your question!

  3. Dan Reply

    Hey Kevin,

    Thanks for the great post! As a lifelong lifter and bodybuilder, I couldn’t stop reading. I’m also a big fan of the buff dudes YouTube so I must say nice choice on that LOL. Great tips on the triceps as well. Most people trying to build big arms don’t realize that the triceps muscle make up a large portion of the arm and just focus on the biceps. Great exercises choices. Definitely all my favorites. Thanks again and stay pumped!

    • Kevin Post authorReply

      Hey Dan! Thanks for dropping by and it’s good to hear that you liked my article! Stay buff! 😉

  4. Shelley Reply

    Good information. Myself and my partner are Personal Trainers I work with mostly women and he works with the men. I know he gets questions about chest and shoulders a lot. Men like to be big. Target muscle training is very important and doing the exercise properly is essential. I like that you included video, It helps understand the exact movement. Interesting read and we will refer back.

    • Kevin Post authorReply

      Hi Shelley! Thanks for showing your support. It’s true: most men want big when it comes to muscles. However, anyone can perform these exercises, regardless of gender and/or goals! Have a great day!

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