Out of the dozens of push-up variations employed by exercisers, the wide arm push-up is considered to be second only to its more traditional counterpart.
Just as its name implies, wide arm push-ups are simply push-ups that are performed with the hands of the exerciser splayed at a greater distance apart than would be the case for conventional push-up sets.
But why perform wide arm push-ups instead of regular push-ups? For the benefits, of course.
The wide arm push-up surpasses its conventional counterpart in terms of muscular activation of the chest and serratus, while simultaneously producing a far more efficient method of carryover to other push-type exercises, like the bench press or dip.
Wide arm push-ups are a bodyweight compound exercise primarily targeting the muscles of the deltoids, pectoral or chest muscles and triceps brachii. Muscle groups that are incidentally recruited as secondary movers or as stabilizer muscles are that of the core, serrats and erector spinae.
They are considered to be a novice level calisthenic movement with a very accessible level of complexity and is of a closed kinetic chain classification - all factors equating to the wide push up being an appropriate exercise for the majority of healthy individuals.
To begin performing a wide arm push-up repetition, the exerciser will simply assume a plank position on the ground with their hands spread further than shoulder-width distance apart.
Then, fully extending the arms, they will slowly allow their torso to move towards the floor as they bend at the elbows and maintain a straight torso.
Once the chest is within a handbreadth of touching the floor, the exerciser will push through their palms and into the ground, pushing themselves back to a full plank position as their elbows return to full extension as well.
This completes a repetition of the wide arm push-up exercise.
While there is no doubt that wide arm push-ups are beneficial to practically any healthy person, certain habits may further improve upon these benefits - maximizing the physical development and positive health effects induced by regular performance of this exercise.
The majority of compound movements (like the wide arm push-up) are most useful when paired with secondary exercises that target muscle groups underutilized by the former movement.
For the wide grip push-up, this may be exercises like the tricep kickback or bodyweight dips, two highly compatible exercises that can induce further training stimulus in the same muscles worked by the wide arm push-up.
Physical developments from resistance exercise are hampered or otherwise impossible without sufficient recovery and nutritive intake.
This means that exercisers wishing to progress in any reasonable capacity should ensure that their body is given sufficient time to recover between workouts, that they are sleeping for an adequate length of time, and that they are consuming sufficient amounts of macronutrients alongside a net caloric surplus.
While it is technically possible to progress with a few of these factors left unchecked, an exerciser making the effort to perfect their recovery and diet will physically develop at a vastly quicker rate than one who does not.
Like all sources of physical strain, the body will slowly adapt to the stimulus provided by regular performance of the wide arm push-up.
While this is largely unavoidable, an excellent way to ensure that the body remains challenged and therefore developing is to make use of progression techniques within your training program.
Methods such as progressive overload, periodization or deload cycles all involve manipulating your workout sessions in such a way that the body is kept steadily challenged in such a manner that the training stimulus accrued remains effective at inducing muscular developments.
Ensuring that the body is primed and ready for resistance exercise will help reduce injury and generally improve athletic performance as a whole.
These two factors directly contribute or otherwise limit the effectiveness of a workout, with injuries often preventing exercisers from progressing at a steady rate and poor athletic performance equating to a lesser capacity to maintain proper exercise intensity.
In order to maximize the benefits you may receive from performing wide arm push-ups, ensure that you are performing proper mobility drills and warming up prior to actually beginning a working set.
Due to the wider positioning of the hands during wide arm push-ups, the pectoralis minor and major muscles are recruited to a far greater extent than they would be in traditional push-up repetitions.
This will result in a more powerful and dense group of chest muscles while also improving their performance in other areas of athleticism that may involve such muscles.
An often forgotten muscle group that is recruited by most push-up variations; the serratus anterior aids in movement of the arms and scapula, hence its nickname of the “boxer’s muscle”.
Wide arm push-ups train the serratus anterior to a far greater extent than most other push-up variations due to the wider position of the hands in relation to one another, resulting in the serratus bearing more of the exerciser’s bodyweight and the tension of maintaining a straight torso throughout each repetition.
This particular benefit makes the wide arm push-up a particular favorite of martial artists and weightlifters wishing to improve the power of their bench press.
Due to the fact that the wide arm push-up is performed in a plank position with the support and stability of the arms reduced, exercisers regularly performing the wide arm push-up will note a marked improvement in the strength and stability of their core muscles.
While this sort of development pales in comparison to actual targeted core exercises, it is nonetheless quite effective.
Though the wide arm push-up is considered an excellent and highly efficient exercise all on its own, calisthenic athletes or novice lifters may wish to include it in their workout routine as an accessory exercise that helps condition the body towards more intense or complex push exercises.
Movements like the bench press or ring dip all relate to the wide arm push-up in terms of muscular recruitment or movement pattern, meaning that regular performance of the latter exercise will improve the general execution of the former exercises as well.
Just as how the wide arm push-up is capable of improving the exerciser’s performance of push exercises, so too can it act as a progressive step before more advanced variations of the push up itself.
Wide arm push-ups are often programmed as a progression from the conventional push-up prior to the exerciser further intensifying their workouts through the usage of more complex push-up variations.
Exercise progressions of the wide arm push-up can be the explosive clap push-up, the planche push-up, the archer push-up or even the one-arm push-up.
Neither the wide nor narrow push-up is effectively better than the other, as they are exercises with two entirely separate purposes.
While the wide grip push-up is better for training the chest and serratus muscles, the narrow push-up is instead better for training the triceps brachii and parts of the deltoid muscle group.
While each push-up variation will also train these other muscle groups to a certain extent, both the narrow and wide push-up are utilized as a method of increasing muscular recruitment specificity in comparison to traditional push-ups.
No - unless otherwise performing the wide push-up incorrectly, it is not possible for the biceps brachii to be meaningfully stimulated by performance of the wide push-up exercise.
If you are searching for a bodyweight exercise that trains the biceps brachii in a safe and effective manner, movements like the inverse row and chin-up are far better than any sort of push-up variation that could incidentally activate the biceps.
In terms of pure time under tension placed on the chest muscles, it is in fact the wide arm push-up that is considered to be the greatest chest builder among most other push-up variations.
Exercisers wishing to take their pectoral muscle activation to the next level will see some benefit in performing wide arm push-ups at a slower pace, or otherwise using push-up blocks to increase their total range of motion.
In summary, we can see that the wide arm push-up is a significantly beneficial exercise that makes an excellent addition to any serious calisthenic workout.
Remember that in order to reap the greatest benefit from performing resistance exercises, you must perform them with correct form and ensure that other aspects of your lifestyle are also supportive of proper physical development.
1. Kim YS, Kim DY, Ha MS. Effect of the push-up exercise at different palmar width on muscle activities. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 Jan;28(2):446-9. doi: 10.1589/jpts.28.446. Epub 2016 Feb 29. PMID: 27064571; PMCID: PMC4792988.
2. Kowalski KL, Connelly DM, Jakobi JM, Sadi J. Shoulder electromyography activity during push-up variations: a scoping review. Shoulder & Elbow. 2022;14(3):325-339. doi:10.1177/17585732211019373
3. Dhahbi, Wissem & Chaabene, Helmi & Chaouachi, Anis & Padulo, Johnny & Behm, David & Cochrane Wilkie, Jodie & Burnett, Angus & Chamari, Karim. (2018). Kinetic analysis of push-up exercises: a systematic review with practical recommendations. Sports Biomechanics. 21. 10.1080/14763141.2018.1512149.