Though bench press variations are definitely the most popular exercise in the gym, wide pushups shouldn’t be overlooked. Wide pushups are excellent variation of the old calisthenics standby, and can be a great way to work the upper body that you’re not used to.
It’s no secret that pushups in general hit the chest, triceps, and the front deltoids. This is still the case with wide pushups, but there are a few nuanced differences. But to understand why, you have to understand why wide pushups are different.
Because your hands are spread so wide, not only will the muscles be hit from a different angle (more on that in a second), but the range of motion will be greatly reduced. To a certain extent, this mimics a sort of effect that lockouts have, in that you’re not really working any muscle group over a full range of motion.
When the hands are placed out wide, it’s the outer chest that’s hit the most. You’ll likely feel a slight strain where the pecs tie into the deltoids, and this is normal. Keeping your hands in line with your nipples (as opposed to up near your shoulders) will minimize this. It’ll also work the bottom outside of the chest. It does bear mentioning that if you’re able to do a lot of reps (which will depend on how strong you are in relation to your bodyweight), your entire chest will still get a good pump.
Speaking of the shoulders, you will feel it some in the front deltoid. In fact, even though the range of motion is much shorter, you might even find that you get a much greater pump in the deltoid than you do with normal pushups. This is why you want to try to minimize deltoid involvement in wide pushups if you can, so as to ensure you don’t strain anything.
Also, while normal pushups can work the triceps hard overall, wide pushups will hit pretty much entirely the inner head of the triceps. This is both because of the aforementioned reduced range of motion, as well the much wider the normal grip. You can affect this even more by changing hand position as described below.
You might wonder why you should do wide pushups instead of just opting for a wide grip bench press, instead. The main reason is that doing bench press with a really wide grip tends to place a lot of stress on the shoulders, opening you up to injury.
However, if you’re doing wide pushups, your entire core, upper back, and more are engaged. This tends to reduce any stress the shoulders might experience. To alleviate this even more, you can rotate your hands such that your fingers are pointed outward instead of straight ahead. This will point your elbows more toward your torso, putting your shoulders in a much healthier and safer position.
Though wide pushups aren’t the most common exercise, they’re definitely effective. They’ll hit the outer chest well and inner triceps hard, and doing them for a lot of reps (if you’re able) can result in a pretty significant pump. They’re also probably a better option than wide grip bench presses for most lifters as long as you still take care to keep the shoulders in a safe position.