There may be times when you can’t hit the gym, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a solid upper-body pump. Exercises like close-grip push-ups give you a great pump and fatigue your muscles almost as much as if you had been to the gym. The close-grip push-up is one exercise with the potential to generate a massive pump in the triceps, with decent carry-over for the anterior deltoids, chest and even a bit of the scapular muscles of the back. This exercise is an intense way to engage your triceps when the heavy iron isn’t around.
If you simply don’t have time to get to a gym and might be forced to skip the occasional workout, then you should consider this triceps shocker. It’s also a great way to get a quick pump in your upper body before stepping out. Either way, this rather basic exercise can have some amazing effects that will quickly gorge your triceps with blood and make them feel like they’ve just completed their usual session at the gym.
Close-grip push-ups activate the serratus anterior, upper trapezius and pectoralis muscles along with a number of shoulder and rotator cuff muscles, but it’s the triceps brachii muscles that really get torched in this exercise. Hand position on this exercise is important because if the hands are shoulder-width apart, the force at the elbow is up to 45 percent of bodyweight, but the force increases significantly (and involves more triceps work) with the hands closer together (up to 70 percent of bodyweight with a close-grip spacing).
The triceps brachii muscle – and especially the long head of the triceps – is strongly activated in close-grip push-ups. The lateral head of the triceps begins high on the humerus bone, but doesn’t cross the shoulder joint. The medial head of the triceps begins in the middle of the humerus bone and is mostly buried by the other two heads, but part of it can be seen above the elbow. The long head of the triceps runs from the scapula (shoulder blade) just below the shoulder joint, and it joins the medial and lateral heads of the triceps brachii to cross the elbow and attach to the ulnar bone in the forearm. The long head of the triceps, or the “inner head,” gets the most activation because it both extends the arm at the shoulder joint (pulls the upper arm backward during the controlled descent) and extends the forearm at the elbow joint (straightens the elbow) during the upward movement. The medial and lateral heads also contribute strongly to elbow extension by helping the long head raise the body from the floor during each repetition.
The anterior fibers from the deltoid muscle are activated with each push upward. These muscle fibers begin along the lateral part of the clavicle bone. The fibers from this region of the deltoid insert on the proximal (closer to the head) and upper anterior (front) regions of the humerus bone. They cover the insertion of the pectoralis muscle as it also attaches to the humerus bone of the upper arm.
The large, fan-shaped sternocostal head of the pectoralis major muscle attaches along the lateral edge of the sternum and the upper-six ribs. Although all of the fibers are activated by close-grip push-ups, the fibers closest to the sternum are most directly and constantly activated. The pectoralis major adducts the humerus (moves the arm toward the midline of the body), so this muscle is active to position your arms into the close hand spacing. The fibers of this muscle also flex the humerus (move the humerus bone of the upper arm anteriorly) as you push your upper body up from the floor.
The subscapularis muscle is a deep, rotator cuff muscle of the shoulder. It’s a thick, triangular-shaped muscle that begins and lies on the anterior surface of the scapula (closest to the ribs). It forms part of the armpit (axilla) and crosses the anterior part of the shoulder joint where it attaches to the humerus near its head. This muscle is a strong medial rotator of the humerus. It also helps hold the humeral head in the glenoid cavity during all phases of the push-ups.
The serratus anterior muscle is a very large muscle overlaying the lateral part of the rib cage. Its fibers look like ropes lying just above the attachments of the latissimus muscle fibers on the lateral side of the ribs. When the serratus muscles have been pumped by close-grip push-ups, these muscle bundles begin to live up to their name, which in Latin means “saw-toothed.” The fibers of the serratus anterior muscle attach to the first eight ribs and then run posteriorly along the lateral side of the thorax. The other end is attached along the medial border of the scapula (shoulder blade). This muscle pulls the scapula forward (protraction) and holds it against the thoracic wall. It stabilizes the scapula for pushing, and the serratus anterior acts as an anchor so other muscles can use the scapula as if it were a fixed bone (even though it’s a free-floating bone).
The superior (upper) portion of the trapezius is strongly activated by close-grip push-ups. The trapezius is diamond shaped with sides like a trapezoid, an irregular, four-sided figure. The superior part of the trapezius muscle (the top of the diamond) begins along the base of the skull and the seventh cervical (neck) vertebrae. The fibers angle downward and laterally to attach on the lateral part of the clavicle (collarbone) and along the scapula. The superior fibers of the trapezius lift the scapula and shoulder structures toward the ears and stabilize the shoulder during push-ups.
1. Position your body facedown (prone) with your feet close together. If you really want to turn up the heat on your triceps, place your feet on an elevated (high) bench, chair or even the bed.
2. Place your hands together, with your forefinger and thumbs forming a heart shape. You can spread your fingers if you feel unstable, as this will increase the base and give you a little extra support.
3. Start with your elbows flexed (bent) and your chest on the floor. Rise up so your bodyweight is distributed between your toes and your two hands.
4. Keep your knees and body straight and push upward by straightening your elbows. Do this quickly (in about one second).
5. Don’t rest at the top with your elbows straight; slowly lower your chest toward the floor (in about three seconds). Your elbows should point backward as you lower your body.
6. When your chest touches your hands, start the upward thrust. Continue until your set is done (e.g., 30 reps). Rest 30 seconds, and then start again for a great pump.
A wider hand placement will direct a greater activation and stretch to the lateral fibers of the sternoclavicular portion of the pectoralis muscle and away from the triceps. However, if your hands are closer together (especially if they’re touching), the triceps brachii will feel like they’re on fire and you’ll also activate the inner fibers of the pectoralis next to the sternum. If you’ve had a wrist injury, you might want to stay away from this exercise until your wrists heal completely.
This exercise is the paramount exercise for the perfect triceps pump.
1. Cogley RM, Archambault TA, Fibeger JF, Koverman MM, Youdas JW and Hollman JH. Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res, 19: 628-633, 2005.
2. Fodhazy Z, Arndt A, Milgrom C, Finestone A and Ekenman I. Exercise-induced strain and strain rate in the distal radius. J Bone Joint Surg Br, 87: 261-266, 2005.
3. Freeman S, Karpowicz A, Gray J and McGill S. Quantifying muscle patterns and spine load during various forms of the push-up. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 38: 570-577, 2006.
4. Jaskolski A, Andrzejewska R, Marusiak J, Kisiel-Sajewicz K and Jaskolska A. Similar response of agonist and antagonist muscles after eccentric exercise revealed by electromyography and mechanomyography. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 16:829-839, 2006.
5. Standring, Susan, Gray's Anatomy text, 39th edition, CV Mosby, Churchill Livingstone, 2005, ISBN: 0443071683.
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Get Strong and Shapely Arms for Summer
Firm and shapely arms from your fingertips to your shoulders look great any time of the year, but what do you do if your arms are a little softer or not quite as toned as you wish they were? You just have to face facts; it is really impossible to hide your arms for the entire summer. Unfortunately, it is just too easy to lose your arm firmness after a winter of hibernation and reduced activity during the pandemic. Sure, you can wear sweaters in the spring and cover up with baggy sweatshirts for a while, but unless you live in the Antarctic, your arms will have to come out into the sunlight at some point. Even endless hours of cardio and dieting during the winter will not firm your arms. As the summer months are approaching, there is still time to work toward tight and shapely arms that will give you an entirely new look for the warmer weather.
Your anterior arms will get some indirect activation if you routinely do some form of rows or pulldowns for your back. However, to achieve the goal of firm and shapely anterior (front) arms, you will need some direct arm work, and hammer rope curls will get the job done quickly. The “hammer” title describes the mid-prone hand position during the exercise, as if you were holding a hammer in your hands. It activates all of the primary and secondary movers of your anterior arms and forearms. Do not worry about bulking up your arms with this exercise since you will not need heavy weights for hammer rope curls to stimulate your muscle fibers.
The brachialis muscle of the upper arm is strongly activated by hammer rope curls. It is covered by the biceps and not visible except for the lower and outer parts; however, it is a very important flexor of the elbow joint and it still contributes significantly to the overall shape of your upper arm. This muscle begins on the humerus bone of the upper arm about two-thirds of the way from the elbow to the shoulder and it crosses the anterior part of the elbow joint, where it becomes anchored to the ulna bone near the elbow joint. The ulna bone lies closest to the little-finger side of the forearm. This attachment to the ulna prevents the brachialis from having any role in supination, but when the hands are semi-pronated or pronated, it is a very strong elbow (forearm) flexor. The semi-pronated (neutral) hand position during hammer rope curls ensures that the brachialis muscle is fully activated throughout the exercise.
The biceps brachii muscle has two parts. The short head of the biceps attaches to the coracoid process, a little beak-like projection from the anterior-lateral side of the scapula (shoulder blade). The long head of the biceps brachii attaches to the supraglenoid tubercle, a little bump over the shoulder joint on the scapula. Both heads of the biceps come together and attach to the radius bone of the forearm via the bicipital tendon. The radius bone (the most lateral forearm bone) forms a combination rotational-pivot joint and hinge joint at the elbow. The biceps becomes an effective forearm flexor, when the hands are supinated (the palms turned toward the ceiling). This is because supination rotates the radius bone, which tightens the biceps. In contrast, the biceps brachii is a very poor elbow flexor when the hands are pronated, because this rotates the radius so that it sits on top of the ulna and this position slackens the biceps muscles. In hammer rope cable curls, the hands are semi-pronated, which “unloads” the biceps a bit to concentrate more fully on the brachialis of the upper arm, but the biceps are still stimulated quite strongly.
The brachioradialis muscle is primarily a forearm muscle, but it helps to provide the firm continuity from the arm to the forearm. It is also an accessory muscle to help elbow flexion. The brachioradialis muscle attaches proximally to the lateral ridge of humerus bone just above the lateral epicondyle of the elbow and it attaches distally by a long tendon along the lateral side of the distal end of the radius bone near the wrist. It does not cross the wrist, so it can only flex the elbow and it therefore assists the biceps and brachialis in hammer rope curls.
Hammer Rope Curls
1. Attach a Y rope handle to the cable from the bottom of the cable pulley station. Make sure the end of the rope has a large knot or a solid plastic knob to keep your hands from slipping off.
2. Grab each part of the Y rope. Turn the hands so the palms are facing each other. This is a semi-pronated grip and your hands will stay in this position throughout the exercise.
3. Back away from the cable machine so that your feet are about 2 to 3 feet from the base of the pulley unit. Your back should be straight and tight, but your knees should not be locked straight. Your feet should be placed at hip-width.
4. Start with your elbows straight and the hands in front of the thighs.
5. Keeping your elbows close to the sides of your torso, take a breath and exhale as you flex the elbow and pull the hands up toward your shoulders.
6. Keep your elbows back and tight to the side of your ribs as you are completing the repetition. Your forearms should be moving, but your upper arms should not be moving at the shoulder. Continue to curl until your hands are as close to your shoulders as possible.
7. Lower the rope back to the starting position by controlling the weight downward as you inhale.
8. Stop just before the elbows are completely straight, then start the next repetition upward.
The arms are typically among the most challenging areas for women to tone. Part of the reason is that fat is readily deposited in the arms of women. The other primary reason is that unless you achieve direct exercise for the arms, there is little to stimulate and tone the underlying musculature. Proper dieting, resistance training and cardiovascular activity are all required to reduce your subcutaneous fat and improve the shape of your arms. Resistance training is really the only way that will help you tone and firm your anterior arms, but alone, it will not eliminate much excess fat that you might have on your arms. For strengthening and toning your arms, there are many exercises you can do, but hammer rope curls will be excellent at activating your anterior arms and forearm muscles. Hammer rope curls will not build muscle mass, which is reasonable, because they are not designed to build muscle mass. However, this exercise is an excellent finishing exercise for your arm workout and it will definitely improve the firmness and shape of your upper arms.
Good form is important if you are going to get the most out of it for your biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. It is important to use enough resistance so that your arms fatigue within 12 to 15 repetitions. If the resistance is too light, then you will not obtain the shape and muscle firmness that you will want. You should also try to keep the rests between sets to 90 seconds or less. It is acceptable to allow the arms to move slightly forward when the elbow is fully flexed, but the upper arms must remain as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible to ensure a full, aching contraction during the curl.
If the outside (lateral part) of your upper arm is soft or more shapeless than you would like, you should try extra hard to keep the elbows and arms back when you are doing the curls. This will stretch the long head of the biceps brachii and thereby activate this muscle head more fully during each curl upward. This helps to shape and firm the outer parts of the upper arm so that the arms look great at any angle. You can also add a bit of supination to the movement on the way up rather than keeping the semi-pronated “hammer” positions. Supinating the hands while you are lifting the weight upward will increase the recruitment of the biceps brachii; however, do not forget to pronate the hands back to the hammer position as the weight is lowered.
Arm development is critical if you want to look great around the pool, or if you need to firm up your arms after your serious dieting has paid off. Dieting and cardio will reduce your body fat and shrink the fat around your arms, but without direct resistance exercise, they will not help to firm and shape and tone your arms. If great arms are something that you want to have this summer, and if you are having a little trouble keeping on track, why not get a gym partner who has similar goals? Together you can achieve a great arm structure in only a few months and hammer rope curls are a great start to unveil your new summer arms.
Basmajian JV and CJ DeLuca. Muscles Alive, 5th Ed. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, 1985, pp. 285-286.
Clemente CD. Anatomy, A Regional Atlas of the Human Body. Second edition, Baltimore, Urban & Schwarzenberg Pub. Co. p.43-55, 1981.
Kostek MA, Pescatello LS, Seip RL, Angelopoulos TJ, Clarkson PM, Gordon PM, Moyna NM, Visich PS, Zoeller RF, Thompson PD, Hoffman EP and Price TB. Subcutaneous fat alterations resulting from an upper body resistance-training program. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 39: 1177-1185, 2007.
Nickols-Richardson SM, Miller LE, Wootten DF, Ramp WK and Herbert WG. Concentric and eccentric isokinetic resistance training similarly increases muscular strength, fat-free soft tissue mass, and specific bone mineral measurements in young women. Osteoporos Int, 18: 789-796, 2007.
Pescatello LS, Kelsey BK, Price TB, Seip RL, Angelopoulos TJ, Clarkson PM, Gordon PM, Moyna NM, Visich PS, Zoeller RF, Gordish-Dressman HA, Bilbie SM, Thompson PD and Hoffman EP. The muscle strength and size response to upper arm, unilateral resistance training among adults who are overweight and obese. J Strength Cond Res, 21: 307-313, 2007.
Sarsan A, Ardic F, Ozgen M, Topuz O and Sermez Y. The effects of aerobic and resistance exercises in obese women. Clin Rehabil, 20: 773-782, 2006.
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
“I Dropped from a Heart Attack and Died”
In 2018, Blake Gauthier was reminded that life can change in a heartbeat. The 6-foot-7-inch Gauthier—who weighed 530 pounds at the time—literally dropped dead of a heart attack while walking down the street. Fortunately, he was brought back to life in time to realize that life is too short and too precious to take for granted.
Two years and more than 200 lost pounds later, Gauthier has the heart of a 20-year-old and the body to back it up. His heart attack could have taken everything away. Instead, as he describes in his story of transformation, it gave him everything he needed to change.—H.E.
At my heaviest, I weighed over 530 pounds. I am 6-foot-7, so I'm not a small guy by any means, but it's still no excuse. A couple of years before that, I was in fairly good shape. That was before I decided to renovate the houses my girlfriend and I lived in and sell them.
Instead of doing the smart thing and working on them one at a time, we decided to do both at once. That meant we didn't have a kitchen to use, which is what caused the weight gain. Everything just kind of snowballed until I dropped dead.
I Did What Any Guy My Age Would Have Done: Ignored the Warning Signs
I won't lie. There were some warnings that something was going to happen. I'd walk up a flight of stairs and get to the top hanging onto the walks and feeling like my heart was beating out of my chest, which in hindsight was a clue. But I figured I was OK. I'll ignore it, and it'll be fine.
One day I was walking down the street with my girlfriend at the time—who, luckily for me, was a nurse—and all a sudden, I couldn't catch my breath. I remember reaching out to grab onto the wall of a building. Next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance. They had just brought me back after dying from a heart attack.
About two days later, I was strapped to this table in a crucifix position. There was a big TV screen next to me and I could see this little thing on the screen going toward a beating heart. I realized that it was actually my heart, and they were going in through my wrist and trying to get out a blood clot. It was quite the wake-up call.
I Thought My Life Was Over
I tore my ACL and my MCL when I fell, which hampered my recovery a little. I was flat on my back on the couch for six months trying to get my heart to heal. I started ordering in any possible kind of fast food you can imagine. I started drinking, as well. I was going through almost a case of beer a day.
The more I drank or the more I ate, the more depressed I got. It became a very vicious cycle. The worst part for me was I had been fairly athletic before, but the aftermath of the heart attack and the depression that followed took me down. That was the hardest thing for me. I thought my life was over, even though I had been brought back for a second chance.
I was talking to my daughter one day and listening to her tell me how much she missed me kind of snapped me back to reality. I realized that if I wanted my daughter to have a father when she got older, I had to make some serious changes.
I Had to Get Off the Couch
When I hung up the phone, I grabbed my crutches and forced myself to get up off the couch. I walked to the end of the backyard and back to the house, which was maybe 80 feet in total. I was worn out by the time I got back to the house, but I decided that I was going to do that every day. Then I started trying to make it two times in a day.
At first, I couldn't even climb a flight of stairs without feeling like my heart was going to explode. Then, little by little, I started to make more small changes. Instead of driving to the corner store, I would walk. Instead of ordering in, I started making my own food and getting back on a healthier meal plan. Gradually, the weight started to come off.
In a little over a year on my own, I dropped almost 170 pounds. At that point, I realized I wanted to take it to the next step. I hired a personal trainer, Josh DeMelo, who became my coach. I've been training with him for a year now.
Half the Man I Used to Be, Twice the Man I Was
I've lost almost another hundred pounds, and I've put on a significant amount of muscle. This transformation has had me changing every single aspect of my life, from getting up in the morning to working out to eating to making healthy choices, both mentally and physically. I've started telling people, I'm half the man I used to be, but I'm also twice the man I was.
A memory came up on social media about six months ago. I was actually able to get on a stationary bike and make a full revolution on the pedals. That was just a year and a half ago. Now, I'm working out in the gym for an hour and a half, two hours, every day, not including the cardio sessions. So, it's just amazing what your body is capable of doing when you put in the work.
The Heart of a Champion
After I lost 200-plus pounds, I went to see a plastic surgeon for skin removal surgery. Because of my previous heart issues, they had me do an electrocardiogram, and I remember the surgeon calling me himself to go over the results. The first thing I thought was, “Oh, no, they found something. All this work I've been doing is for nothing.”
Instead, the doctor said, “I'm looking at your EKG, and according to what I'm looking at, there's no damage at all to your heart. You have the heart of 20-year-old.” It made me realize that all this work I had been putting in had paid off. Any damage that had been done by my weight gain and poor eating habits had been reversed.
I literally went skipping down the road that day, I was so excited—if you can picture a 6-foot-7-inch guy skipping down the road. It was quite the sight!
If I Can Do This, Anyone Can
A journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step. As a child I grew up watching wrestling on TV and in movies like “Pumping Iron.” Stepping onstage was something that I always wanted to do. I wanted that kind of look, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my heroes, like Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lou Ferrigno.
When I was on the couch recovering from my heart attack and weighing over 500 pounds, never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be preparing for a bodybuilding show. But each step I took over the past two years brought me to this point.
Now, I'm lifting heavier and I'm eating almost 4,000 calories a day. It's a little strange because for years I was watching that number go down on the scale, and now it's coming back up. I have to remind myself that this is just the next part. It's a little scary watching the number slowly creep back up, but it's a good thing.
One thing that's really nice is I have been sharing my story online through Instagram and Facebook. I've had a lot of people reach out to me saying, “Hey, I lost 20 pounds after seeing your story, and you've inspired me to do this.”
I would show people pictures of what I used to look like, and they'd say, “Oh, my God, I didn't even recognize you!” It's surreal. I have to pinch myself to realize this is actually happening. I remember as a kid picking up the muscle magazines and looking through them thinking, “These people are Greek gods. I'll never look like that.” And now we're actually working toward me getting on a bodybuilding stage.
If I ran into the man I was before, I'd tell him, “Don't give up, no matter what happens.” There were some very dark times a couple of years back, and I'm so glad that I pushed myself to where I am now. To anyone else who has been where I've been, just know that if you want something, it's there as long as you work for it.
Blake's Top 5 Transformation Tips
1. Know What's at Stake
I had the mindset that if I didn't eat the right way, the healthy way, I'd be back in that ambulance at nighttime. Maybe they wouldn't be able to bring me back. That made it pretty easy to stick to a healthy meal plan.
2. Get Back to Healthy Basics
The foods I relied on to lose weight were chicken and rice, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. They were pretty much the staples I had been raised on and always enjoyed that I was getting back to instead of ordering a Baconator.
3. Set Small Goals
Instead of looking at the total amount of weight I needed to lose to end up on a bodybuilding stage, I broke up that big goal into much smaller, more attainable goals. For example, I'd tell myself, “By the end of this month, I want to be down another five pounds.” Once I hit that goal, I'd say, “OK, now by the end of this month, I want to lose another five pounds.” I'd create small goals, and each day I would do something to work toward that.
4. Respect Your Limits
One of the hardest things for me was when I starting to do more intense cardio. Most athletes look forward to that feeling of your heart pumping and knowing you're pushing yourself. I'd been through the heart attack. That was actually quite scary for me for quite a while, so I had to kind of back off a little bit and take it easier.
5. You Don't Always Have to Be Positive
It doesn't really matter where you get your motivation. I won't lie—some of my best workouts come from days when I am really pissed off about something. In those moments, my motivation is, “I'm going to do this just to prove to everybody else.” So, it doesn't matter where you get your motivation, just so long as you get yourself up and you get moving.
To find a workout plan for your own transformation, check out BodyFit. If you want to share your success story with us to be considered for publication, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
20 minute Pilates routine, fitness exercise with Caity
weight loss4 months ago
Why Nutrition-Only Programs Rarely Work
fitness tips4 months ago
Fueling for Your Workouts
exercise4 months ago
The 5-Sequence Family Yoga Workout
apps4 months ago
Expansive Focus: Bahram Akradi
Just Starting Out4 months ago
Your Sports Health Questions, Answered: “I’m experiencing knee pain. What can I do?”
goals4 months ago
Coach Anika’s Fat-Burning Fourth of July Workout