Why aren't press-ups putting any strain on my chest?

I’ve been trying to do press-ups (push-ups) every day for the past few weeks in order to work my chest, as I seem to be developing moobs. This is in conjunction with rugby/football for cardio exercise.

However, the exercises never seem to work my chest, rather, it feels as if all the strain is placed on the muscles across my shoulders. This isn’t just a problem with press-ups, but even on machines at the gym, such as butterfly presses, all the power seems to come from my back muscles, not my chest.

What is causing this? Am I doing something wrong, or am I actually working my chest but not feeling it?

Is this what you refer to as a butterfly press? If so, I’ve got nothing. I feel push-up style exercises mainly in my upper arms, but when I do the pectoral fly like in the image I feel it across my chest and my pecs twitch like wild afterwards.

It’s similar to that machine, yes. You hook the pads under your elbows and move your arms together and downwards, like a butterfly flapping its wings. The same problem occurs on other machines too, like the chest press. I feel that in my upper arms and back, but never in my chest.

EDIT: similar to this: http://zzstc.en.alibaba.com/product/50103066/51375654/Fitness_Equipments/Butterfly_Chest_Machine/showimg.html

Note, all these machines have instructions on them, and summaries of the muscles to be worked. Butterfly is supposed to exercise the chest.

Your back muscles are primarily used for pulling, not pushing, so you shouldn’t be feeling much in your back (the back muscles do help with stabilization, though). With push-ups you’re primarily using your chest, shoulder and triceps. It’s difficult for novices to feel the chest muscles working when doing chest exercises, but you should be able to with time. I find it’s easiest to concentrate on pecs with dumbbell bench presses and dumbbell flyes.

A lot of folks refer to moobs (man boobs) as overly muscled pecs ala Fabio. I’m guessing you’re problem is with fat gains (or maybe gynecomastia). Gaining muscle size in the chest may help disguise your problem (or make it look worse), but chest workouts aren’t the best way to lose fat.

Pressing exercises are primarily a triceps exercise for most people. And as x-ray vision alludes to, you can’t lose fat on a body part by working that body part.

Butterfly presses, like you describe, are not supposed to work your chest very much. Your chest…at least the part you seem to want to work… is used for pulling the shoulders inward in front of your body. so you should be doing exercises that try to touch your elbows together in front of you.

As for pushups, that strain across your shoulders IS part of your chest. It’s hard to realize it when you’re doing them, but when you stand up, you should notice that burning muscle slide back into the side of your chest. Trust me, it’s helping. If you want more chest in the pushup, slide your hands farther apart and focus on going as low as humanly possible.

The latisimus dorsi bring the elbows down as well, so to the extent that you are moving the elbows down, you will involve the lats to some extent. I suspect you are not particularly flexible in the upper back, so you are feeling the stretch there. I can’t imagine how, physiologically, your upper back could move your arms forward. Muscles pull; they never push.

Try what IntelSoldier says about hand spacing further apart, and/or turn your fingers out to the sides.


To add to the good advice, it could also be an issue of a strength disparity between your chest and back muscles- if your chest muscles are more developed than your back muscles, you’ll feel the strain more in the weaker muscles. I had a similar problem with ab exercises, because my abs were more developed than my back muscles so it didn’t feel like I was working them at all.

Also, make sure your butt is down. The first time I was shown how to do a push-up properly, it was like a light bulb went off. Suddenly they actually became difficult.

The machine you linked to is commonly called a “pec deck,” or, more accurately, a “pec wreck.” There are too many opportunities for doing something wrong on one of those and its proper gains are way too minimal to even give it the time of day except as a burnout tool.
You want to be doing bench presses, incline presses, decline presses (with barbells and with dumbbells). You want to be doing cable crossovers. You want to be doing flat-bench and incline flyes. You want to be doing seated flyes with your arms extended.
And if you want to get rid of your moobs, you want to be doing cardio, because otherwise all you’re going to have is strong pecs UNDER moobs and any cosmetic benefit you might have gained will nevertheless be invisible.

I’m doing cardio, too. I play 5-a-side every week, and go rugby training twice a week.

Anyway, thanks for the advice!

Ditto this. Small changes in posture and hand position make a big difference in pushups. Sounds like your butt is too high.

Push ups (press ups) aren’t very strenuous anyway. Lower your expectations when it comes to just how much stress they are going to create for your pectoral muscles.

I second dumbbell presses - incline, decline, and flat. I’ve been bench pressing since high school and hit a plateau a long time ago - couldn’t add enough weight to get a good workout without hurting my shoulders. Since I started doing the dumbbell presses it has built up my stabilizer muscles and I don’t have the shoulder problems when I bench press anymore. You have to bring all your helper muscles up to speed before you can work the big guys.

In addition to all the other helpful tips, here’s how I do pushups: get a pair of dumbbells (the type with hexagonal weights, and with towels around them if you need to) and grab those while doing pushups. Lets you go lower. Also, do them with your feet up on something else–this works out the upper part of your pecs and actually feels like its doing something. Finally, at the end of each rep when your arms are fully extended, don’t stop and go the extra inch by arching your shoulders and fully flexing your pecs–I find it helps but ymmv.

Not true in this case. Your back muscles are not directly involved in chest exercises such as push-ups and flyes. If you had said that his shoulders and triceps may be doing most of the work (possibly due to technique) I would have agreed with you.

I doubt that your abs are stronger than your back muscles. It’s more likely technique and what exercises you were performing. For instance, sit-ups work the lower back muscles because those muscles are designed to do the work.

I used to have same problem, until I realized that the purpose of your pecs is to pull your shoulders forward. When doing pushups or bench presses, you need to let your shoulders roll back, and then instead of using your arms so much, concentrate on contracting your chest, pulling your shoulders forward. When doing pushups, you will need to do what Mojo says, or buy some pushup bars to get the full range of motion.