Strength & Conditioning

6 Vertical Push Exercises For Improved Shoulder Strength

Vertical Push Exercises

Vertical push exercises should be an important part of your workout routine.  

Exercises like the overhead press or bench press are a great way of targeting your upper body’s vertical pushing motion.

Recommended Reading – 10 Best Strength Exercises For Your At Home Pull Workouts

This will help you develop key muscle groups including the shoulder muscles, triceps, and upper chest. 

So, if you’re looking to boost muscle growth and enhance your upper body strength continue reading to discover the best exercises for your push day training program.  

The Best Vertical Pushing Exercises For Growth

1. Incline Barbell Bench Press

The dominant pushing movement of the incline bench press will activate your middle and upper chest muscles along with the rear shoulders and triceps.  

However, it’s important to note that the incline setting of the bench determines how effective the exercise is when it comes to upper chest growth.  

incline upper chest exercise

With that in mind set the back rest to between 30-45 degrees for best results.  

If you want to work more of your rear delts then go for the higher setting.

If you’d rather hit more of your upper chest with less shoulder activation then stick to a 30 degree angle and a narrow grip on the bar.  

Depending on the bench a 30-degree angle tends to be around two notches above the bottom setting.  

Progressive overload is easy when using a barbell as you can increase the weight load in small increments, so you don’t plateau.  

Start with a moderate weight and stick to a rep range of between 6 and 8.  

How To Perform The Incline Barbell Bench Press:

1. Set your bench up to your preference. 

2. Take and seat and ensure your back is completely supported with feet spread wide and planted on the floor. 

3. Unrack the barbell using an overhand grip and hold it straight up above your upper chest.  This is the starting position. 

4. Engage the muscles of your upper back to help stabilize the weight.

5. Lower the bar down towards your chest, keeping your elbows under your wrists as you descend. 

6. Once the bar has touched your upper chest, brace these muscles along with your triceps to push the bar back to the start.  

2. Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press 

The standing dumbbell shoulder press will work your shoulders but with more emphasis on the front and outer portion of the delts.  

For this vertical push workout, it’s better than other shoulder press variations as it does work the shoulders to a much greater degree.

Especially when compared to an exercise like the seated military press.  

As you’ll be using your core muscles to help stabilize you during the exercise, you’ll probably find that you can’t press as much weight.  

But that’s OK, as long as you use proper form and you resist the urge to engage your legs you’ll get a great shoulder pump.  

Increasing the weight load when using dumbbells is a little harder as they have larger jumps in size, and the heavier the dumbbell the more difficult it can be to get it into position.  

So, start with a lighter weight and perform your sets to a rep range of 10 to 15.  

How To Perform The Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press:

1. Start by placing a pair of dumbbells on the floor just in front of you. 

2. Bend the knees and squat down and take hold of the weights (don’t bend over as this could strain your lower back).

3. Push through your heels to stand up and simultaneously swing the dumbbells so they are now positioned at shoulder height with palms facing forwards.

4. With your feet at a shoulder width distance, press the dumbbells straight up overhead. 

​5. If it’s more comfortable, you can position your elbows slight in front.  This will depend on your range of motion but can minimize stress on your shoulder joint.  

3. Pike Push-Up

Pike push ups are body weight push exercise that targets your upper chest, shoulders, and triceps.  

It’s more challenging than a regular push where your body forms an upside-down V shape.  

Pike push up exercise at home

They’re often used as a progression towards performing a full handstand push-up or they make a great substitute for overhead pressing movements when equipment is limited.  

Even though it’s a bodyweight exercise, it can be difficult to do so make sure to get in plenty of practice.  

Once you’re confident with your form, aim to perform around 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

How To Perform The Pike Push-Up:

​1. Begin in a standing position with your feet together. 

2. Lean forwards so that you can touch your toes. 

3. Walk your hands forward enough so you can lay your hands flat on the ground while keeping your feet flat on the floor too. 

4. Push hard into the ground to elevate your shoulder blades. 

5. Now bend at the elbows to lower your head towards the floor. 

6. Your head should move forwards so at the bottom of the movement it’s in front of your hands.  

7. Extend at the elbows to push yourself back up to the start.  

4. Plate Press

The plate press is a great exercise for targeting more of your middle chest and the clavicular head, creating definition, and adding muscle mass.  

It will also engage your triceps as you extend your arms to press the plate upwards.  

By using a plate during this exercise means that it’s easy to change the levels of resistance and adding it into your push day routine will help develop your shoulders, overall upper body strength and improve your pressing capabilities.  

If you’re new to strength training, start off with a light weight so you can perfect your form and prevent any injuries.  

It requires you to press your hands together on either side of the plate as opposed to gripping the edges.  

For reps, aim to do around 10 to 15 reps for 3 sets. 

How To Perform The Plate Press:

1. Place a weight plate between your hands and lie back on a bench.  

2. Position the plate so it rests comfortably at the upper portion of your chest and in the middle.  

3. Squeeze your hands together and press the plate directly towards the ceiling in a vertical line. 

4. Keep squeezing at the top of the movement to activate your inner chest muscles.  

5. Lower the plate back down towards your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides. 

6. At the bottom of the exercise, you should feel tension along the back of your upper arms.  

5. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is a very popular exercise for working your side delts.  

While it’s not a classic “push” exercise in the sense of pushing a weight away from the body (as in push-ups, bench press, shoulder press, etc.), the lateral raise does involve pushing the dumbbells up and away from the body.  

While your delts typically do all the hard work to raise the dumbbells up at shoulder height, your rotator cuff muscles (specifically the supraspinatus) help to initiate the movement lifting the arm of the beginning of the exercise.  

You won’t need to lift heavy weights with this exercise and doing so will likely lead to poor form and potential for injury.  

Stick to low weights and high rep ranges, around 10 to 15 per set.  

Once you’ve become accustomed to it and your strength increase, you can look to moderately increase the weight load. 

A common mistake with this exercise it to use hip extension to initiate the movement, this tends to happen when you start with the dumbbells out in front of you and leaning the torso slightly forwards.  

You can avoid this by starting with the dumbbells down by your sides.  

How To Do The Dumbbell Lateral Raise:

1. Stand with your feet at a hip width distance and a dumbbell in each hand.  

2. To make it more comfortable keep the dumbbells slightly rotated inwards with your elbows soft (not locked out). 

3. Keeping your torso stable, slowly raise your hands up and out to the sides until they reach shoulder height.  

4. Make sure you keep a soft bend to the elbow throughout, this will keep stress off the joints. 

5. Pause briefly at the top and use control to lower the dumbbells back down to your sides.  

6. If you find you have to swing to generate momentum that you’re probably going too heavy.  In which case, move to a lighter set of dumbbells. 

6. Unilateral Cross-Body Triceps Extension

A triceps extension is a highly effective isolation exercise for working your triceps.  

However, by taking the weight across your body reduces stress on your elbow joints and working one arm at a time means you can address any strength and muscle imbalances.  

When doing a unilateral exercise be sure to do the same number of reps on each side.  

So, you can do it with good form, use a light weight dumbbell to begin and perform the exercise slowly for maximum triceps contraction.  

Do around 12 to 15 reps for 3 sets on each side.  

How To Perform The Unilateral Cross Body Triceps Extension:

1. Lie back on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. 

2. Hold a dumbbell in your working arm with your elbow extended.  

3. Place your free hand on the bicep of your working arm to provide stability.  

4. From here, flex your elbow to lower the dumbbell down to your opposite cheek.  You should feel your triceps engage. 

5. Pause then return your arm to the starting position.  

6. Complete your reps then switch to work the other side.  

What Do Vertical Push Exercises Work?

Vertical push movements will target muscles of your chest, shoulders, and triceps.  

To what degree each muscle group is activated will depend on the exercise performed and the technique used. 

For example, doing a close grip barbell bench press will activate your chest but with greater emphasis on the triceps.  

On the other hand, a dumbbell shoulder press will work primarily the muscles of your shoulder.  

That’s why it’s important to incorporate a variety of pushing movements into your training for optimal gains in strength and muscle size.  

What Workouts Are Push And Pull?

A push workout will target the upper body pushing muscles which are the chest, triceps, and shoulders.  

On the other hand, a pull workout will engage the upper body pulling muscles being the back muscles, biceps and rear delts.  

Usually when someone prefers a push pull workout routine, they’ll train their legs on a separate day which will activate all muscles of the lower body.  

An Example Push-Pull Workout Routine:

  1. Monday – Push Exercises
  2. Tuesday – Pull Exercises
  3. Wednesday – Leg Day
  4. Thursday – Rest Day
  5. Friday – Push Exercises
  6. Saturday – Pull Exercises
  7. Monday – Rest Day

The benefit of training in this way is that you’ll be able to work the major muscle groups twice per week while ensuring you factor in plenty of rest and recovery time.  

It’s worth noting that working your muscles twice each week has been scientifically proven to elicit the most in terms of muscle hypertrophy.  

​Final Thoughts

Keeping your workouts varied is key to keeping things interesting and to prevent any plateaus.  

A push / pull / legs split is a great way to get the most out of your training with adequate downtime for muscle recovery.  

The vertical push exercises in this article form a great workout for your push day training.

If you’re interested to know more about some highly effective pull exercises, read our article on pull workouts which features some great suggestions all of which can be done in the comfort of your own home.

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