8 Best Barbell Push Exercises For Strength and Size

If you’re looking for barbell push exercises to incorporate into your push, pull, and legs (PPL) workout program, you can check out this article. I’ve shared eight barbell push workouts that I often perform on my push days. You may already know some exercises, such as bench press and overhead press, but there are some other workouts as well that you can perform on your different push days.

I’ve divided this article into three parts; you’ll see muscles worked during the barbell push workout in the first part, the benefits of doing push workouts with barbells in the second, and how to perform barbell push exercises step-by-step in the last.

Muscle Worked During Barbell Push Workout

Barbell pushing exercises strengthen and tone upper body muscles, particularly the chest, shoulder, and triceps. They also engage abdominal muscles and help develop a sturdy core.

  • Chest: The pectoralis muscles, also known as pecs, is one of the largest muscles of the upper body that engages during the bench press variations, such as flat, incline, and decline bench press. Having sturdy and sizeable pecs helps improve the appearance of your upper body physique.
  • Shoulder: The shoulder is made of three muscles, anterior delt, lateral delt, and posterior delt. However, the front deltoid is the primary muscle worked during barbell push exercises.
  • Triceps: The triceps is the largest arm muscle located on the back of your upper arm. It has two heads, long and short, and almost both muscles are activated during barbell push workouts, such as narrow grip bench press and french press.

Pros and Cons of Doing Push Exercises with Barbells

Barbells, dumbbells, machines, and kettlebells all are excellent pieces of equipment and allow you to do myriad exercises. However, when it comes to doing push exercises, the barbell has a few advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Barbell Exercises

1. Barbell helps lift more weight than dumbbells

If you want to lift more weight, you can exercise with barbells. A barbell helps lift 17 percent more weight than dumbbells during the bench press – shown in a study published by the Journal of Sports Science.1A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements – Journal of Sports Science

Related: Dumbbells vs Barbells (Which Is Better And Why)

2. Barbells provide a better range of motion than machines

A barbell is a free weight and allows a greater range of motion than machines. A better range of motion helps you perform exercises efficiently as well as improve your balance.

Cons of Barbell Workouts

A barbell is a useful tool, but it also has one downside. For example, you can not perform many unilateral exercises using one arm at a time and won’t be able to correct muscle and strength imbalance if you want. That’s why incorporating dumbbell push exercises along with barbells will help you achieve maximum results.

The Best Barbell Push Exercises to Build Muscles

  1. Barbell Bench Press
  2. Military Press
  3. Dual Arm Landmine Press
  4. Kneeling Single-arm Landmine Press
  5. Incline Barbell Bench Press
  6. Barbell Push Press
  7. Close-Grip Bench Press
  8. Barbell French Press

1. Barbell Bench Press

Exercise LevelIntermediate
Target MuscleChest
Exercise GoalBuild Strength and Mass
Suggested Reps8-12 x 4
Barbell push workout

The barbell bench press is the most popular upper body exercise2Schick EE, Coburn JW, Brown LE, Judelson DA, Khamoui AV, Tran TT, Uribe BP. A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Mar;24(3):779-84. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc2237. Erratum in: J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jan;25(1):286. PMID: 20093960 that helps build stronger and sizeable pecs. It also works out your triceps, shoulders, and core.

A study published by the American Council of Exercise (ACE) has also shown that the barbell bench press highly activates the pectoralis major compared to nine chest exercises, including pushups, dips, and chest flyes. 3ACE Fitness Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises

The barbell bench press also helps improve your balance and grip strength because it requires you to hold the weight without assistance.

However, it can also put unnecessary stress on your shoulder joints and increase the risk of injuries if you lift too much weight or fail to maintain proper form. So it’s best to ask someone to be your spotter when you lift heavy.

How to perform bench press:

  1. Put the appropriate weight into the bar. Begin with light weight, approximately 30-40% of your 1RM.
  2. Lie on the bench with your face underneath the barbell.
  3. Grab the bar with an underhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  4. Brace your abdominal muscles, unrack the bar, and hold it above your chest. Make sure your chest is above your hips, and your elbows are not flaring outwards.
  5. Lower the bar close to your chest, inhale and press it directly over your chest until your arms are straight.
  6. Exhale, pause for one second, and lower the barbell close to your chest again. That’s one rep.

Helpful Tips:

  • Perform each rep in a controlled fashion, and make sure you lower the bar on the same spot during each rep.
  • Try not to hold the bar at the bottom for more than one or two seconds.

2. Military Press

Exercise LevelBeginner to Intermediate
Target MuscleShoulder
Exercise GoalIncrease Strength and Mass
Recommended Reps8-12 x 4
Barbell Overhead Press

The military press is one of the best exercises for strengthening shoulder muscles. It works primarily on the front part of the shoulder, anterior delt.4Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, Oliveira JLD, Hernández-Mosqueira C, da Silva SF, Marchetti PH. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct 31;75:5-14. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2020-0033. PMID: 33312291; PMCID: PMC7706677 It also engages the triceps and core (especially during overhead press) and helps improve upper body composition.

You can do the overhead press when you perform specific shoulder strengthening exercises, push workouts, or even on your leg and back leg.

How to perform standing barbell overhead press:

  1. Put the suitable weight into the bar.
  2. Grip the bar firmly with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bend your elbows and hold the barbell at your shoulder height. Make sure your elbows are not pointing completely outward.
  4. Brace your abdominal muscles and press the bar overhead until your arms are straight.
  5. Lower the barbell on your shoulder level again and repeat the desired number of times.

Tips

  • You can also perform seated shoulder presses, but you need a flexible workout bench as well as access to the rack to perform that.
  • You can use a gym belt while performing standing overhead presses as it provides stability to your lower back and reduces the chances of low back pain.

3. Dual Arm Landmine Press

Exercise LevelBeginner to Intermediate
Target MuscleChest and Shoulder
Exercise GoalBuild Muscle and Strength
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3

The double arm landmine press is a compound movement that bolsters the chest and shoulder simultaneously and helps build a solid upper body.

The best thing about this exercise is that you don’t need any additional equipment to perform this exercise; all you need are barbells and weight plates.

How to perform:

  1. Place one end of the bar in the corner of the wall and insert the weight plates into another.
  2. Sit on your knees, grab the bar with your hands and hold it at your chest level.
  3. Slightly lean forward, keep your back straight and brace your core. That’s the start.
  4. Press the barbell toward the ceiling until your arms are straight.
  5. Pause for one sec and return to the start.

Tips:

  • You can place a foam pad under your knees for comfort.
  • Start with lightweight and increase the weight in your subsequent sets.

4. Kneeling Single-arm Landmine Press

Exercise LevelBeginner to Intermediate
Target MuscleShoulder
Exercise GoalBuild Muscle and Strength
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3

The one-arm landmine press is a unilateral exercise that forges shoulder muscles, primarily front delt. It also helps you focus more on your weaker side and help correct strength and muscle imbalance. So, it’s a great exercise if you want to work on one side of your delt individually.

How to do it:

  1. Place one end of the bar in the corner of the wall and insert the weight plates into another.
  2. Sit on your left knee while keeping your right foot flat on the floor in front of you.
  3. Grab the bar with your left hand, hold it in front of your shoulder by bending your elbow, and slightly lean forward. That’s the start.
  4. Press the bar overhead until your arm is straight in front of you.
  5. Lower the weight into the starting position. That’s one rep.
  6. Perform an equal number of sets and reps on each side.

5. Incline Barbell Bench Press

Exercise LevelIntermediate
Target MuscleUpper Chest
Exercise GoalBuild Strength and Mass
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3
Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline bench press hits your upper chest and helps build defined pecs. It also engages the front delt, triceps, and core muscles simultaneously and increases your muscle mass and lifting strength.

An EMG analysis published in the health journal has shown that performing a bench press at a 30-degree incline position produces greater activation in your upper portion of the pectoralis major. You can do an incline bench press with the dumbbell as well, depending on what you enjoy the most.

Let’s see how to perform an incline barbell bench press:

  1. Insert the desired weight into the bar and set the bench to a 30-degree incline position.
  2. Lie on the bench with your face underneath the barbell.
  3. Grab the bar firmly with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  4. Keep your chest up and core tight, unrack the bar, and hold it above your chest.
  5. Lower the bar close to your chest, inhale and press it directly over your chest until your arms are straight.
  6. Exhale, pause for one second and return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the suggested reps.

6. Barbell Push Press

Exercise LevelIntermediate
Target MuscleShoulder and Core
Exercise GoalBuild Strength, Speed, and Muscle
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3

The push press is one of the high-intensity exercises that burn significant calories and build muscles at the same time. It is an excellent way to work on strength, power, and explosiveness.

The push press strengthens many upper body muscles at once, particularly the shoulders and quads.

If you’re an athlete, you can also incorporate this exercise into your plyometric workout routine to boost your upper and lower body strength and power – a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggested. 5Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise – National Strength and Conditioning Association

Let’s see how to do it:

  1. Grab a loaded barbell and hold it in front of your shoulder with your elbows pointing forward and palms facing up.
  2. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and back straight.
  3. Keeping your core tight, lower into a partial squat, and then thrust your hips to push the barbell explosively overhead until your arms are straight.
  4. Lower the bar on your shoulder again and repeat for the suggested reps.

7. Close-Grip Bench Press

Exercise LevelBeginner to Intermediate
Target MuscleTriceps and Chest
Exercise GoalBuild Strength and Muscle Mass
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3

If you want to forge your tricep muscles and build bigger arms, you can incorporate a close-grip bench press into your workout routine. The close or narrow grip bench press increases triceps strength.

It allows you to keep your hands close together and forces your triceps to stabilize and press the weight.

However, you need to maintain proper form to engage your triceps effectively. Below are the steps you can follow to perform this exercise efficiently:

  1. Insert the suitable weight into the bar and set it to an appropriate position.
  2. Lie on the bench with your face underneath the barbell.
  3. Grab the bar firmly with your hands shorter than shoulder-width apart and palms facing up.
  4. Unrack the bar, and hold it above your chest with your elbows close to your sides and pointing forward.
  5. Press the bar directly over your chest until your arms are straight.
  6. Pause for one second and return to the starting position.

8. Barbell French Press

Exercise LevelBeginner to Intermediate
Target MuscleTriceps
Exercise GoalBuild Strength and Muscle Mass
Recommended Reps8-12 x 3

The barbell french press is also known as a skull crusher, and it’s an excellent way to strengthen and tone your triceps muscles. It also helps strengthen grip and wrist mobility and helps develop burly arms.

How to:

  1. Grab a loaded barbell, lie on a flat bench, and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Hold the barbell over your head with your elbows bent and facing forward.
  3. Keeping your elbows fixed, extend your lower arms over your head. You’ll feel the contraction in your long head of triceps at the top.
  4. Lower the bar in a controlled fashion and repeat for the desired repetitions.

The Final Words

A barbell is a great piece of equipment that provides a greater range of motion, helps you lift more weight, and allows you to perform various exercises.

Doing push exercises with barbells is a great way to strengthen and develop upper body muscles, especially the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

You can incorporate them into your push, pull, and legs (PPL) workout program, along with other exercises, to achieve the best results.

Related Exercises:

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