Spoiler alert, yes, you can add muscle mass with Push Ups. Personally, I believe that there is a lot of value in both bodyweight exercise and externally resisted exercise. Therefore, I’m not the biggest fan of the “for or against” crowd.
Body weight exercise allows a person to develop the ability to support his or her own weight. This is particularly important for sports performance as well as overall wellness. On the other hand, externally resisted exercise allows us to exceed our body weight regarding the load we can lift and challenge us from obscure angles.
Now, onto the topic at hand. It is perfectly possible to add muscle mass or sheer strength with body weight exercise alone. It simply requires creativity. Rather than add resistance, we take away limbs or utilize leverage. Also, mass can be developed through high repetitions. Let’s tackle both!
Mass and Strength Through Low Repetitions
For the beginner, a standard Push Up will build strength and maybe muscle mass depending on the individuals diet. From a later point, that beginner may evolve to perform Push Ups with their feel elevated.
Trouble tends to hit when a person can do multiple push ups with elevated feet. There just seems to be a struggle between this point and the ability to do one arm Push Ups. It’s comical that people don’t often consider doing a one arm Push Up with their hand placed on a weights bench. Again, we must use leverage to our advantage.
At our most advance Push Up potential, it is essential that we evaluate our primary weaknesses. If our pelvis tilts to round our lower back, we must perform lower abdominal exercises, glute strengthening exercises and hip flexor stretches. These three factors are important for reducing the anterior pelvic tilt.
If the lower back hurts, again, abdominal strength is an issue. This time, however, we may need to add a more generous quantity of Planks or Roll Outs.
If our shoulders struggle, it is common to displace more weight on the feet by elevating the hips. For this intervention, we may wish to add additional pressing actions such as dumbbell presses. You now see where body weight exercise meets externally resisted exercises.
When we begin to eliminate weaknesses, we can add a more thorough challenge. This may involve utilizing leverage further or adding an obstacle such as a stability cushion under the hand or the feet. Another anti-stability option is to use the TRX for single arm Push Up variations.
After gradually utilizing leverage, we can eventually perform the one arm Push Up.
The High Repetition Myth
In the body building community are starting to value high repetitions. After all, high repetition workouts are associated with muscular exhaustion, the key ingredient for developing muscle mass. Volume is so substantial for the physique competitor. Just consider the muscle gaining benefits of German Volume Training or Neil Hills Y3T.
To keep this simple, blast the living daylights out of your muscles and they will grow. Just make sure that they are also well fuelled and are given plenty of time to recover. But what about strength and high repetitions?
Honestly, I’m sceptical to believe that a high rep protocol will develop substantial strength. I’m not saying that high reps and strength may have no correlation. After all, if a person goes from performing 20 Push Ups right the way up to 60 without stopping, of course his personal best on the Bench Press will go up! However, I don’t believe that high repetitions will ever have the same impact on strength that low repetitions do. It is simply the principle of specificity.