6 Best Horizontal Push Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
January 9, 2023

Due to the recent surge in popularity of directional movement pattern workout splits, it is no surprise that quite a number of people have taken to including horizontal push exercises within their push day workout.

This presents quite a number of benefits that vertical push exercises are not capable of producing, helping the exerciser round out the training stimulus produced during the course of their training program.

Nearly all horizontal push exercises involve the production of muscular force in an outward manner along a horizontal plane, hence the classic barbell bench press exercise being considered the poster child for all horizontal push movements.

Other exercises within this category are dips, the push-up, the various chest press variations and the many types of horizontal chest flyes.

What is a Horizontal Push Exercise?

In more technical terms, a horizontal push exercise is a dynamic resistance exercise featuring activation of one or multiple muscle groups whose effective range of action involves adduction, abduction or extension of the arms away from the body.

horizontal push example

Not all exercises that involve adduction or abduction of the arms can be considered a horizontal push exercise, leading many fitness authorities to instead define horizontal push exercises as any exercise that involves a movement pattern of elbow and shoulder extension away from the front of the torso.

Horizontal push exercises are noted for being among the most effective types of exercises for training the chest and triceps muscles, as well as aiding in improving performance for a variety of athletic activities like boxing or swimming.

Muscles Worked by Horizontal Push Exercises

Nearly all horizontal push exercises will involve the muscles of the triceps brachii and pectorals to a certain extent, while the anterior and medial heads of the deltoid muscles are often used as secondary mover muscles or as stabilizer muscle groups.

Other muscles that may also be recruited alongside these are the serratus anterior, posterior deltoid head and (rarely) the latissimus dorsi.

As can be inferred from this set of muscular activations, the majority of horizontal push exercises will target the upper portion of the torso and arms, and often those muscles that are otherwise neglected by exercises of the non-push movement pattern.

Benefits of Horizontal Push Exercises

Improved Upper Body Explosiveness

The muscles of the chest are among the most important when attempting to build explosiveness of the upper body.

This is due to their position relative to the rest of the torso, wherein they act as both a supportive structure as well as a major contributor of force during certain biomechanics. 

Furthermore, the chest is also one of the largest muscles along the front of the upper body, being responsible for movement of the arms in a variety of ranges. 

These two factors combined result in horizontal push exercises being highly effective at building the chest - and, in turn, building explosiveness of the upper body.

Build Chest and Arms Easily

Many - if not all - horizontal push exercises will recruit the muscles of the pectoral major and minor alongside the triceps brachii, two large muscle groups that are responsible for much of the force production required in upper body exercise.

This recruitment pattern alongside the high-volume nature of many horizontal push movements equates to a high potential for muscular hypertrophy and neurologically-driven strength development, so much so that the quintessential horizontal push exercise that is the bench press is considered to be a necessity in any upper body workout program.

Prevent Deltoid Muscular Imbalance from Pull Exercises

Though it is more common for the anterior head of the deltoids to be comparatively overdeveloped, the posterior head of the deltoid muscle group can be disproportionately larger than the anterior or front-facing head, resulting in externally rounded shoulders or other postural issues.

The inclusion of a horizontal push exercise to counteract the developments from pull-type exercises is absolutely essential in forming a proper training program, as failing to do so will result in muscular imbalances and overall poor muscular growth.

The Best Horizontal Push Exercises

1. The Bench Press (and Variations)

As was touched upon briefly earlier, the bench press is considered to be the quintessential horizontal push exercise due to its muscular recruitment pattern, angle of resistance and absolute effectiveness at acting as a training tool.

barbell bench press

The bench press is a compound free weight exercise that is utilized in nearly every bodybuilding or strength-training workout routine, usually with a moderate to heavy amount of weight and a repetition range of anywhere between three and twelve repetitions per set.

Muscles Worked by the Bench Press

The bench press and most bench press variations will recruit the pectoral muscles, the anterior deltoid head and the triceps brachii to a significant level.

Variations of the Bench Press

The majority of bench press variations will involve changing the angle of the torso relative to the floor, thereby shifting the intensity of recruitment towards the pectorals or triceps depending on this torso angle.

Other variations of the bench press involve changing the sort of equipment involved, such as switching out the standard barbell for a pair of dumbbells or even a different type of barbell.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the barbell bench press, the exerciser will load a moderate amount of weight onto a barbell within a rack and lie beneath it.

Placing the hands approximately shoulder-width apart along the barbell, the exerciser will then unrack the bar with the scapula fully retracted and the hips pressed firmly against the bench so as to form an arch with their lower back.

Then, bending at the elbows without excessively flaring them, the exerciser will lower the barbell to their chest in a slow and controlled manner.

Holding this position for a count, they will then push through the chest and palms, extending their elbows back into a nearly-locked position and thereby completing the repetition.

2. The Push-Up

The only horizontal push exercise with arguably more popularity than the bench press, the push up has become a staple of modern fitness culture and is possibly one of the most accessible upper body exercises ever formulated.

push up

It is a compound bodyweight exercise that recruits muscles throughout the core, torso and arms in such a manner that the risk of injury is low and little impact is placed on the joints. This

high margin of comfort comes at a cost, however, as a significant volume of repetitions is required to induce any sort of physical development for exercisers beyond the novice stages of training.

Muscles Worked by Push Ups

The push up trains quite a number of muscles in a dynamic fashion, with muscle groups like the triceps and pectorals being recruited to a similar level of intensity as the serratus anterior and anterior deltoid head.

Furthermore, due to the plank position with which the conventional push up is performed in, the core musculature and glutes are also trained in an isometric fashion, thereby improving muscular strength and endurance.

Variations of Push Ups

Quite a number of variations or progressions of the conventional push up exist, with small changes like the knee push up or archer push up simply changing the intensity of the exercise, whereas exercises like the planche push up or clap push up are meant to increase the specificity of the exercise towards a certain training goal.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the conventional push up exercise, the exerciser will assume a plank position on the ground with their core tensed and the hands set wider than shoulder-width apart.

push up

Then, squeezing the chest, the exerciser will bend at the elbows and lower their upper body to within several inches of coming into contact with the floor.

Holding this position for a count, they will then push through the palms and explosively rise back into a full plank position, thereby completing a repetition of the push up.

3. Dips

Dips are a compound push exercise performed with either the exerciser’s own bodyweight or with additional resistance in the form of weight plates attached to a belt.

chest dip

This particular horizontal push exercise is favored by more advanced lifters or calisthenic athletes for its greater margin of safety and higher potential for pectoral muscle recruitment in comparison to many other chest-focused exercises.

Muscles Worked by Dips

Dips excel at recruiting the muscles of the chest alongside the anterior head of the deltoids and the triceps brachii.

Furthermore, muscle groups like the medial deltoid head, serratus and abdominal muscles are also recruited to a small extent as stabilizing muscle groups.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of dips, the exerciser will simply suspend themselves between two parallel bars with their elbows in a state of full extension.

Then, engaging the pectoral muscles, they will slowly lower themselves to parallel level with the bars, tilting somewhat forward as they do so.

Once reaching the maximum safe range of motion of their shoulder joint, they will then complete the repetition by pressing themselves back to their original position.

4. Machine Chest Press

A variation of the conventional chest press exercise that makes use of a resistance machine to make up for the deficits normally associated therein, the machine chest press is most often employed as a secondary compound exercise within a push workout session.

chest press machine

It is characterized by having a reduced utilization of stabilizer muscle groups and being quite effective for placing significant training volume upon the pectoral muscles without prematurely fatiguing the deltoids and triceps brachii.

Note that not all chest press machines are of the horizontal push movement pattern, as some may feature one that is angled more upward and therefore will shift the target of the exercise to the deltoids to some extent.

Muscles Worked by the Machine Chest Press

The machine chest press will recruit the pectoral muscles quite significantly, while also utilizing muscle groups like the deltoids and triceps brachii as secondary mover muscles.

Furthermore, the suspended state that dips are performed in also recruits the abdominal muscles quite extensively - making it an excellent exercise for athletes that wish to build their functional upper body power.

Variations of the Machine Chest Press

The majority of machine chest press variations simply alter the angle of resistance placed upon the torso, or otherwise simply feature different handles that allow the exerciser to perform the movement unilaterally or bilaterally, or with varying grip forms.

How-to:

To perform a machine-based chest press repetition, the exerciser will sit within the machine with their torso facing the handles and the resistance set to a moderate level.

Then, retracting the scapula and flexing the core, the exerciser will press the handles away from their body, stopping once the arms are at a point of full extension.

To complete the repetition, they will then allow the handles to return to their original position in a slow and controlled manner.

5. Cable Press

The cable press is a horizontal push exercise that makes use of a cable machine to produce a unique angle of resistance quite suitable for bodybuilders or individuals wishing to maximize recruitment of their chest muscles.

cable standing chest press

The cable press is often programmed as a secondary pectoral exercise meant to isolate the muscle in a manner that maximizes hypertrophy within the workout session.

Muscles Worked by the Cable Press

While cable presses primarily target the muscles of the chest, they may also recruit the medial and anterior head of the deltoid muscles, as well as the biceps brachii depending on what sort of handle is being utilized.

Variations of the Cable Press

Variations of the cable press simply involve changing the angle of resistance or type of grip utilized during the exercise, with the primary idea and movement behind the press remaining much the same between variations.

How-to:

To perform a cable press, the exerciser will step within a cable machine and grip both cable handles at their sides. 

Stepping forward so as to draw the source of resistance behind the torso, the exerciser will then raise their hands to approximately chest level with the palms facing inwards, maintaining an neutral wrist shape.

Contracting the pectoral muscles, they will then extend their hands forward, drawing them closer together as they do so.

Once the arms are fully extended ahead of the torso, the exerciser will then slowly return their hands to their original position at chest elevation, thereby completing the repetition.

6. Chest Flys

Chest flys are a pectoral muscle isolation exercise often included in bodybuilding workouts as a method of maximizing targeted training stimulus after heavier compound exercises have already been completed.

dumbbell chest fly muscles

Depending on the sort of training stimulus desired by the exerciser, chest flys may be performed with a variety of angles of resistance or equipment, making it an excellent horizontal push exercise to include into any sort of push day workout.

The most common form of the chest fly is that of the lying dumbbell chest fly, and is generally considered to be easily accessible and quite safe when performed correctly.

Muscles Worked by Chest Flys

Chest flys primarily train the pectoralis major and minor, but can also occasionally recruit the biceps brachii and anterior deltoid head depending on the sort of equipment used and the angle of resistance involved in the movement.

Variations of Chest Flys

Chest fly variations primarily involve a change in the sort of equipment used, with machine or cable chest flyes allowing for greater volume and specificity while free weight chest fly variations improve stabilizer muscle recruitment.

Furthermore, changes in the position of the exerciser such as the incline dumbbell chest fly or standing cable fly will alter the intensity and extent to which the pectoral muscles are recruited, shifting resistance to other muscle groups if so desired.

How-to:

To perform a conventional dumbbell chest fly exercise, the exerciser will lie on a flat bench with a pair of low weight dumbbells held in their hands, scapula retracted.

dumbbell chest flys

Extending the arms outwards to their sides, they will then draw the dumbbells towards the centerline of their torso, bending the elbows and flexing the pectoral muscles as they do so.

Once the dumbbells are positioned immediately over the torso, the exerciser will slowly return them to their original place at their sides, thereby completing the repetition.

In Conclusion

While we've covered the most effective and common horizontal push exercises available, there are still quite a few variations and more specialized exercises that are employed by advanced level lifters.

In the event that the exercises here are insufficient for your needs - don’t worry, as there is likely one out there that will fit whatever specifications called for by your training goals.

References

1. Cormier P, Freitas TT, Loturco I, Turner A, Virgile A, Haff GG, Blazevich AJ, Agar-Newman D, Henneberry M, Baker DG, McGuigan M, Alcaraz PE, Bishop C. Within Session Exercise Sequencing During Programming for Complex Training: Historical Perspectives, Terminology, and Training Considerations. Sports Med. 2022 Oct;52(10):2371-2389. doi: 10.1007/s40279-022-01715-x. Epub 2022 Jul 11. PMID: 35816233.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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