One of my favorite responses to deliver whenever someone asks me whether or not they should buy a push-up bar has typically been, “What’s wrong with the floor? The floor is always free.” It’s a cute, clever, quippy thing to say, but it doesn’t adequately capture the realities of push-ups, nor the capabilities of modern push-up bars.
Here’s the deal: Push-ups are an interesting exercise because of how much is at play within your body as you’re performing them, how many factors are involved in determining your push-up capacity and how rapidly a push-up can transition from being a pure power-development exercise into a clear endurance exercise. Because of the wide disparity in push-up-pumping prowess amongst people, the roles of push-up-oriented devices also vary widely.
For example, if you can only execute fewer than 10 push-ups at a time, but want to enjoy the physiological benefits of repeating the fundamental push-up motion with less weight, a tool that alleviates some of the burden of carrying weight might be beneficial to you. Conversely, if you have the upper-body endurance of a Navy SEAL — meaning that you don’t even begin to feel your pecs tightening until you’ve dispensed with at least 60 push-ups in a row — a contraption that increases the difficulty of push-ups may reduce the time it takes for you to achieve muscle failure without compromising the benefits to your physique.
Three Things to Consider When Buying Push-Up Bars
1) Purpose: Why do you need a push-up device? Are you trying to take some of the struggle out of your push-ups or the strain out of your wrists in order to boost your endurance, or are you hoping to increase the overall difficulty of the movement to reduce the amount of time you’re forced to spend prostrate on the floor?
2) Practicality: There are plenty of push-up devices that offer their users a seemingly endless variety of features, but not all of the gimmickry can survive close scrutiny. Just because a push-up bar offers you some novel pattern with respect to movement, that doesn’t mean it’s actually unlocked some unprecedented benefits. In fact, it may be doing your joints and muscles more harm than good.
3) Performance: You might have a well-formed purpose in mind for purchasing your new push-up tool, and its function may leave you injury-free, but could the movement assistance that the device is providing be setting you up for future failure by eliminating too much of the muscle-recruitment pattern that makes push-ups what they are?
Okay, with all that out of the way, let’s push on and take a look at the five best push-up bars on the market…
Best Resistance-Adding Push-Up Bar: The Iron Chest Master
Why You Should Saddle Up to This Bar: The Iron Chest Master is one of the best items you can ever own for pumping up your pecs while using a push-up as its foundational exercise. The lateral movement of the handle bars enable you to squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement, enabling you to powerfully flex your pecs into a peak contraction right at the point when you’re experiencing a maximum contraction in your chest muscles.
Why You Should Bar It from Your Home Gym: This device isn’t for rookie lifters, and it will make your push-ups substantially harder. Realistically, we’re talking about taking the maximum number of push-ups you can do and reducing that figure by at least two-thirds. That may be great if you’re dropping from 90 regular push-ups down to 30, but if you ordinarily struggle to perform 10 regular push-ups with proper form, the Iron Chest Master might not be the ideal first place to look for a boost.
The Last Word: It’s probably best for you to be able to perform at least 20 ordinary push-ups before you purchase an Iron Chest Master. However, it can ultimately help you elevate your push-up totals into the stratosphere by empowering you to extract more muscle engagement out of a push-up than you ever imagined possible.
Best Multi-Grip Push-Up Bar: The Power Press Push-Up Board
Why You Should Saddle Up to This Bar: The included, color-coded board provides you with 14 different hand positions in which to place the push-up handles, each of which corresponds to a different arrangement of muscles. The 36-inch width of the board also makes it accommodating of people with fairly wide wingspans.
Why You Should Bar It from Your Home Gym: Broadening the variety of push-up styles you’re able to include in your workout isn’t going to do anything to necessarily make the exercises easier aside from offering you a beneficial grip, and the muscle-targeting extent of these boards is a bit overblown. Yes, varying push-up angles will vary the degree of emphasis placed on different body parts. But nothing is going to alter the fact that the push-up remains predominantly a pec, tricep and anterior deltoid exercise, with tertiary abdominal benefits.
The Last Word: The Power Press Push-Up Board isn’t going to make your push-ups any easier, but if you enjoy working from a stable base that enables you to effortlessly shift between hand positions, it’s one of the best options for you.
Best Push-Up Bar for Instability Training: The Beckford Bar
Why You Should Saddle Up to This Bar: The Beckford Bar employs ball bearings that create an unstable training surface. You can hold the handles at their furthest interior or exterior points to focus on the outer chest and delts, or inner chest and triceps, or you can attempt the push-ups with your hands in a more neutral position, forcing you to devote a massive portion of your energy and muscle fibers to the task of stabilizing your hand positioning as you perform your push-ups.
Why You Should Bar It from Your Home Gym: Using a push-up bar that’s unpredictably unstable can lead to serious shoulder injuries, especially if one of your hands slides off in an unanticipated direction. Adding steady or progressive tension to your pectoral training might be a wiser choice, particularly for people with existing shoulder injuries, or other concerns in that regard. Your hands also remain in the same perpendicular position relative to your body at all times, which isn’t the most ergonomically sound hand position for every variety of push-up.
The Last Word: If you’re searching for ways to spice up your push-up routine, the Beckford Bar may do the trick in a relatively compact unit. It’s also an adequate option if you’re on the lookout for a device that requires you to remain mentally locked in and focused during your training. Again, just make sure you don’t have any nagging shoulder injuries before adding it to your training routine.
Best Dual Push-Up Handles: Withgear Folding Push-Up Bars
Why You Should Saddle Up to This Bar: One of the fundamental advantages to training with two separate bars is that you have absolute freedom with respect to their placement. A quick rotation snaps the four legs of each bar into place, providing you with a very stable training surface, and virtually eliminating any chance that one of the bars will become bent. The fact that the bars are elevated also creates opportunities to test your plyometric strength, as you have the option of pressing yourself clean off the ground, and then catching and resting your hands on the raised handles.
Why You Should Bar It from Your Home Gym: The higher your handles are raised off the ground, the greater the amount of weight that’s transferred down toward your feet and away from where you want it placed in your upper body. This may be exactly what you’re interested in, but just know that the Withgear Folding Push-Up Bars are higher off the ground than most elevated push-up bars. In addition, if your hand grips haven’t been fixed squarely into precise locations, you may never perform your push-ups with balanced hand placement.
The Last Word: This is as portable of a push-up bar option as you’ll ever find, and the hand-position arrangements are limited only by your imagination. If you’re looking for portable push-up bars that will take a little bit of the resistance off for your upper body, the Withgear Folding Push-Up Bars are raised just enough to accomplish that without making you feel like you’ve purchased a push-up aid of some kind.
Best Portable Push-Up Platform: O-CONN 360° Rotatable Push-Up Board
Why You Should Saddle Up to This Bar: This highly portable device neatly folds up, and has easily removable handles, making it the ideal travel companion. Once the handles are in place, they rotate through eight different positions, letting you fix your hands in whatever position is most advantageous and preferred.
Why You Should Bar It from Your Home Gym: The handle rotation is a nice feature, but there’s nothing that can be done to widen the unit. This locks your hands into the same relative width whether you’re performing push-ups with a standard grip or a neutral grip. For most, this is likely to result in either narrow-grip push-ups that are too wide, standard push-ups that are too narrow, or both. To top it off, a few customers have complained about the flimsy feeling of the O-CONN’s plastic.
The Last Word: If you want the stability of a push-up bar where the handles are locked into place, along with the ease of transport provided by a pair of independent push-up handles, the O-CONN 360° Rotatable Push-Up Board should enable you to perform at least one of your desired push-up variations from an advantageous hand position. You may not get the full advertised functionality out of the board, but at least it offers a hand grip that provides your hands with eight opportunities to find a comfortable position.