The pushup is one of the gold-standard bodyweight exercises, a move you can take with you anywhere that, when done correctly, blasts your abs and glutes, and builds muscle and strength in your chest, triceps, and shoulders (and, to some extent, the rest of your body, too).
It’s a move you can level up in a series of ways, too, with tempos, pauses, and unilateral ideas. All of these add significant challenge to the pushup, helping you use it to pack on major size and well-proportioned chest definition.
It’s not an exercise that needs to be made better with too much gear, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying. And that’s why pushup handles are often so popular, especially in this new era of home training. The pushup handle, so the thinking goes, can make your pushups that much more devastating, so you can build more muscle throughout your upper body. The pushup handle, some people will tell you, is the best way for you to take your pushups to the next level.
Is that true? Not exactly.
What Are Pushup Handles?
Pushup handles come in several forms, but essentially they boil down to this: They’re a bar upon which you can put your hands when you do pushups. This can accomplish several things.
First and foremost, it lets you stack your joints better. When doing pushups with your hands on the floor, your wrists must bend back a bit. When you do pushups on pushup handles, your wrists don’t need to bend. If you have a history of wrist issues, this can help.
Many pushup handles, such a the Perfect Pushup, also let your hands rotate as you’re doing a rep. This can, in theory, alleviate stress on the wrist in the same way an EZ-curl bar alleviates wrist stress when you curl: It lets your hands move through a pain-free path no matter what. If you feel pain at any point, you just rotate the handle to accommodate for it.
Can Pushup Handles Lead to Faster Gains?
Those who sell pushup handles will claim that that’s true. In the case of the Perfect Pushup, the rotating handles are a key selling point, one that’s supposed to help you target and develop more muscle. None of this is actually true, though, for multiple reasons.
Rotating Handles Make Rotation Too Easy
First off, let’s get rid of this rotation myth, because those rotating handles definitely aren’t letting you stimulate any more chest growth. Truth be told, if anything, they’re taking away from your ability to create true total-body tension.
When you do any pushup rep, even a basic pushup without handles, you want to screw your hands into the ground, twisting left wrist counterclockwise and right wrist clockwise, and turn your elbow pits forward, which creates tension through your lats and shoulders. Maintaining this tension as you do a rep helps establish total-body tension, which does, in fact, help spur muscle and strength gains.
But you’re creating that tension by actively and continually screwing your hands into the immovable ground, essentially forcing an isometric-type contraction for the life of each set. Rotating pushup handles actually make this process easier, removing the need for true constant tension through the body. You don’t need that.
Handles Add Range of Motion
Pushup handles do, to a degree, add slight range of motion to every pushup rep, moving you farther away from the ground by a few inches. So that means you can get a greater stretch on your chest at the bottom of each rep.
This, however, isn’t essential for growth, and, depending on your pushup mechanics, it may not actually be beneficial. Yes, you’re getting added range of motion, but where is it coming from? If you’re overstretching the shoulder capsule, then you’re doing more harm than good. And if your chest is already tight, that’s what can actually happen. Want a better (and cheaper) way to add a bit of range of motion to your pushup? Do your pushup on your knuckles instead of with your palms flat on the floor.
Or, just as easily, you can grab a pair of hex dumbbells or kettlebells, place those on the ground and do pushups on those surfaces. The kettlebells are your best bet, too, adding challenge to your reps by forcing you to balance on the smaller bells. Bonus: If you use either kettlebells or dumbbells, you can also do, you know, other exercises with those when you’re done with your pushups, too.
Can Handles Double as Parallettes?
Here’s one respectable reason to think about pushup handles: They can double as parallettes, which are, essentially, tiny bars that simulate the parallel bars gymnasts use. A pair of parallettes can be useful for training certain gymnastics skills, like L-sits, planches, and handstand maneuvers.
Parallettes themselves are terrifically useful, letting the wrist find a neutral position for moves like L-sits and planches. And they’re just high enough off the ground to make training, say, the L-sit, a bit easier.
Pushup handles, however, are not replacements for parallettes. They’re generally smaller and lighter, and that means they’re less sturdy, less glued to the ground on moves like L-sits. If you’re losing your grip on one and you grip a pushup handle harder during a move, instead of grounding you, it may fly up off the ground and lead you to lose your balance.
If you want parallettes, spend the extra money and grab a pair of parallettes. Pushup handles are a different beast entirely. Need a pair of parallettes? Aim for sturdy, heavy, and long instead of tiny and portable. Think of this pair from Vita Vibe.
Better Alternatives to Pushup Handles
If you were thinking of grabbing a pair of pushup handles, hopefully we’ve talked out of it. But we do understand that you may want to create more challenge with your pushups. After all, while there are myriad pushup variations out there, sometimes you want to create a different challenge, right?
If that’s the case, we’d suggest these options for building a home pushup station. They’ll all help you mix up your pushup training in smart ways. And the best part: each of these tools can also be used for other exercises, too.
A looped resistance band increasingly adds challenge to your pushups: Just grasp it with both hands, loop it around your back, and get to work. The looped resistance band will also challenge you to be explosive at the start of each pushup rep. Resistance bands deliver the most tension when they’re longest, and they’re going to be longest when your arms are fully extended. That means you want to power out of each rep aggressively from the start, so you have the momentum to carry you through when the band fights you more.
When purchasing resistance bands, aim for looped bands whenever possible. They’re easier to tie to a structure if you need to, and they offer more versatility for other movements beyond pushups. Check out this pair from DynaPro.
A simple weighted vest also adds resistance to your pushup. Weighted vests also offer another advantage in your pushup training: Unlike bands or pushup bars, you can use them for all variations of pushups. You can easily don a weighted vest for archer pushups, typewriters, or clapping pushups, and yes, even the challenging Superman pushup can be done with a vest.
Aim for a weight vest with adjustable weights that’s comfortable and relatively fitted. The more form-fitting the better, especially if you use this for your morning run, too.
The TRX challenges stability which leads to greater core activation, and that can be a great way to add push your pushups to the next level. You can easily hold the TRX straps and do pushup reps, challenging shoulder stability. Or force your core and glutes to work harder by putting your feet into your TRX straps and doing pushups with your hands on the ground.
The TRX Pro3 Suspension Trainer is one of your best overall options.
A simple medicine ball can create elevation for your pushups, just like a pushup handle; it just comes with instability, too. Try doing pushups with both hands on a single medball to challenge your triceps.
Any basic medicine ball will do for this. Smaller, harder medballs have advantages for pushups, increasing instability even more and forcing a great balance challenge for your entire body. This Amazon Basics ball can get you started.
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