Is there such a thing as push-ups for biceps?
The short answer is yes. The push-up is an exercise which mainly targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, with the right approach, push-ups can be an effective biceps exercise, especially for calisthenics.
In this article, I will discuss how the biceps works, how you can turn a push-up into an efficient biceps builder, the controversy around this subject, and some alternative exercises.
Let us get started.
The functions of the biceps
I will start by presenting the functions of the biceps. In this way, I will lay the groundwork and you will be able to understand how the biceps push-up works.
There are three main functions of the biceps:
Elbow flexion is the movement in which your forearm moves towards your body, by bending at the elbow. This is the movement you are doing during a biceps curl.
Forearm supination is the rotation of your forearm so that your palms are facing forward (thumbs on the outside of your body). In contrast, forearm pronation is the movement that brings your thumbs on the inside of your body, and your palms facing back.
Shoulder flexion is the movement of bringing your arm from a resting position by your side, to an overhead position.
Introducing the push-up for biceps
The biceps push-up is known as the pseudo planche push-up (PPPU) in the calisthenics community. It is a variation of the push-up that mimics the position of your body during a planche. In this part of the article I will teach you how to do the PPPU for optimal biceps gains.
Start by laying on your belly.
Place your hands on the ground, with the fingers facing towards your knees, and the thumbs facing sideways. Put your hands closer to your waist (hips), instead of closer to the shoulders. Now push up to get in the top position.
In the top position keep a hollow body, or at least a neutral spine. Do not let your waist sag.
Once you have set the position of your hands, you will have the urge to move your feet to make the exercise easier. Do not do that. Keep your feet and hands where you placed them initially.
This is the starting point: your wrists are under your ribs or hips and shoulders in front of them.
To start doing push-ups, lean forward and shift your weight towards your shoulders. As you push back up, your biceps will be under significant strain. It will be trying to prevent you from falling on your face - and that is when it mainly works.
Even though the reverse placement of the hands will emphasize the biceps, you will still be working the primary movers in a push-up, especially the shoulders.
How to make it more difficult
There are several ways to make the biceps push-up more difficult. The most common ways are the following three:
As you lean further, your biceps will be placed under more strain. One of the best ways to progress with the push-ups for biceps is to keep leaning forward. With this exercise, you can progress indefinitely.
If you elevate your feet, you will have to push more of your body weight. The higher your feet, the more difficult the exercise.
Lastly, when you elevate your arms on a surface, the potential range of motion of the exercise increases. You will now be able to let your chest drop even further; therefore, your biceps will get a big stretch which results in more muscle building potential.
How to program the biceps push-up
There are two ways in which I like to train my biceps with push-ups. Choosing one or the other highly depends on my goals at the time of training:
As you will see, training for strength is different from training for size (hypertrophy). Instead of trying to build both at the same time, I suggest you pick the one you are most interested in and stick to that.
If you prefer to build strength, use a more difficult version of the PPPU. This can be leaning more forward, elevating your feet, or elevating your hands.
Use the following repetition ranges:
If you choose to train for strength, make sure those 4-6 repetitions are hard. There is no point in only doing five repetitions if you can do 15 more.
Change the exercise in such a way that it becomes very intense.
If you want to build more muscle mass, choose a variation of the biceps push-up that you can do for a higher amount of repetitions.
Use the following repetition ranges:
Once you can do three sets of 15 repetitions using a variation, make the exercise harder. Start again at the eight repetition mark and work your way up to 15 again.
How a biceps push-up works
Those who have basic knowledge about fitness and how the muscles work, may take all these with a grain of salt. After all, a pushing exercise couldn’t, from an anatomical standpoint, build bigger biceps. And that is correct.
However, you have to take into account the context.
This exercise comes from the calisthenics community. In this sport, you will find many exercises that require a strong biceps tendon. Therefore, yes, the PPPU is not great at building massive biceps.
However, it is an outstanding exercise to develop the stabilization component of the biceps.
There are two reasons for this:
#1 We are in weight bearing position
In this context, being in a weight bearing position refers to the fact that the biceps is in a position where it has to bear our weight. Depending on the exercise, it can be full weight bearing, or partial weight bearing.
For instance, in an exercise like the back lever, you are in full weight bearing position.
In an exercise like the PPPU, you are in partial weight bearing.
This is not only relevant to calisthenics, but to building strength and size as well.
Therefore, it is true that with the PPPU you will not optimize the development of the biceps. However, you will still get adaptations in terms of strength and muscle mass.
#2 We are stressing the straight-arm component
This is highly relevant to calisthenics. However, it is also useful to prevent injuries like a torn biceps tendon.
Specific to the exercise, there are two positions we are in:
If you are into calisthenics, most of the difficult moves that you are training for have those components. Whether we are talking about the planche, back lever, or certain front lever variations, you will be needing the aforementioned parameters.
And with that, you will need a strong biceps in its stabilization role.
Things are similar in regards to bicep tears. Most tears happen when the elbow is locked out, and the biceps is in its elongated position. When injury ensues, your body is demanding the biceps to generate muscle tension which it cannot handle.
Therefore, whether you are doing heavy deadlifts, preacher curls, or difficult calisthenics elements, you need to condition your elbow complex.
And one of the best ways of doing it is with the push-ups for biceps.
Alternatives to work your biceps
What if you want to directly target your biceps? I have prepared a few exercises that will build size and strength in your biceps muscles.
As far as bodyweight training is concerned, the best exercises for your biceps are:
This exercise is, in my opinion, the best bodyweight option to target the biceps. You will need a pull-up bar or gymnastics rings. Grab onto the bar or rings, then curl your arms so that your face moves towards the bar.
The chin-up is one of the staples of calisthenics, and a very good exercise to build bigger biceps. If you don’t have weights, you can make the exercise more difficult by doing it slower. I recommend you to start from the top position, then lower over a period of five seconds to make your biceps burn.
The pelican curl is another good bodyweight exercise to build your biceps. Start on your feet, holding the gymnastics rings as in a push-up position. Start lowering, squeezing the arms, until your arms are behind your back. Pull yourself back up and repeat.
If you have access to weights, I recommend you to do the following exercises:
With this exercise, start with a weight that allows you to do three sets of 8-15 repetitions. Once you can do 15 repetitions, increase the weight and start over.
Similar to the biceps curls, the barbell curl is done using a barbell rather than a dumbbell. This allows you to use greater weight and get more overall strength.
If you want to have an aesthetic arm, you should not ignore the brachialis. It is a muscle that sits underneath the biceps and can make your arm look bigger. To train this muscle do exercises using a neutral grip, especially hammer curls.
As you could see, the biceps has three functions: elbow flexion, forearm supination, and shoulder flexion. Changing the push-up so that it can mimic these functions proves to be an efficient way to do push-ups for biceps.
However, you will not be able to optimally train the biceps in this manner. This variation serves as a vessel by which to train the stabilization component of the biceps. Training the stabilization of biceps will help you condition the elbow complex towards more difficult exercises and towards avoiding injury.
Lastly, if you want to get bigger biceps, I recommend you to train using one of the exercises mentioned in the alternatives section.
Over to you.