Push up bars or handles are a lifesaving piece of gym equipment if you’ve struggled with wrist injuries and struggle having your palm flat on the floor under load. They also take things up a notch if you want to work on your mobility and end range strength for a whole host of other strength exercises.
Is it better to do push ups with handles?
As with almost every question I get asked about exercise, my answer is “it depends”. Using push up bars can be great for optimizing shoulder mobility. By gripping in a neutral position (palms facing each other), the shoulders can get a little more external rotation and the scapulars can retract more freely than when palms are flat on the floor. I’m pretty passionate about mobility and find a lot of weightlifters are lacking in this area. Poor shoulder mobility can lead to injuries.
Push up handles also allow you to move in a greater range because you can go a little deeper on your downward movement. This can be great for loading your muscles in their end range, but here’s where by “it depends” comes in to play. Be mindful not to go too deep, because you can actually end up causing damage to your shoulder or elbow joints if they are stretched too far. I suggest only going as deep as you could if your chest were to touch the floor without using push up handles, maybe 10% further than a standard push up.
The main advantage of push up bars is for people who suffer from wrist pain in a pronated (palm down) position. If you’ve struggled with eight bearing on your hands, you probably find push ups, plank holds and downward dog position pretty much impossible. Some exercises can be modified to resting on your forearms, but push ups aren’t one of them. If you’re one of these people, push ups handles are an excellent investment in to your gym equipment arsenal.
So, to summarise my “it depends” answer, I would say that those with wrist problems may get a lot of benefit from using push up handles. If you have elbow or shoulder joint issues, however, use push up bars with caution. Make sure the gains from the extra 10% of effort doesn’t come at a cost of placing more strain on your joints.
Are hand release push ups better?
You may have noticed that ‘hand release” push ups have been popping up increasingly in gym classes, Crossfit WOD’s and online training videos. The hand release push up is recognised as being a superior exercise to the traditional push up because it places more focus on the chest (pecs) area. The hand release variation also starts from a dead position so it requires more effort in the initial contraction to begin the movement. By completely lowering to the ground, a HRPU also adds more depth to the entire push up movement, so works your muscles in their end range.
For those who have hand or wrist discomfort though, HRPU are not an option. If you want to try HRPU’s whilst incorporating push up handles, I suggest using a very low height handle, rather than a raised bar to avoid overstretching the shoulder capsule from the starting position. Alternatively you could lie on a step block to get the handle height more in line with your chest.
How do I choose a push up bar?
Great question. There are a lot of different styles of push up handles on the market and it can be confusing to know where to start. Here are some point to consider when deciding how to choose the right push up bar for your needs:
What exercises can you use a push up bar for?
A serious bodybuilder may be just looking to add variation in grip position to isolate different muscles, whereas someone wanting to get back to yoga positions such as downward dog or even handstands, may require a slightly higher bar. Push up bars can be great tools for calisthenics movements.
What sort of size or weight rating do you need?
For most average Joe’s, the weight capacity of your push up handles shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but if you’re a big unit, I recommend checking that the product you choose can handle your frame before you click “buy”. Some handles are more girthy than others and could be too wide for a smaller hand, while other handles are smaller overall and could feel unstable for a bigger athlete. (Yes, we’re all athletes – no matter how part-time).
Why do you want or need to use push up handles?
Someone recovering from an injury may need a slightly angled bar rather that one sitting parallel to the ground. While most push up bars are stable, there are varieties which can also rotate. Is this helpful to you?
What sort of surface do you want to grip on to?
I personally prefer a soft padded handle, but I’m the only one who uses my set of push up bars. If I was sharing the equipment with others, I’d opt for a surface that can easily be cleaned between users. some handles are smooth plastic, while others have a more textured, wooden finish. It’s about balancing comfort, hygiene and girth.
How much do you want to spend?
Obviously price is a factor for most of us mere mortals. You be the judge.
If you want some equipment that is easy to take on business trips for that mini hotel room workout, you might like a more compact or lightweight model.
What’s the difference between various types of Push Up Bars?
The chart below is a great place to get started with comparing the best push up bars.
There are seriously 101 push up handles out there to buy, so I decided to compare some different styles for you so you could get an idea of what you like and don’t like. Comparing the pro’s and cons of different style push up bars can help you get a clear idea of what will suits your individual needs. Keep on scrolling for a more in depth discussion on the features of different push up bar models.
|Name||What I Like||Down Side|
|N1 Fit Push Up Bars||Budget Friendly. Slightly inclined position more comfortable for push ups.||PVC Plastic construction might not handle heavier loads or handstands|
|PULLUP & DIP wooden Push Up Bars||Wooden and steel construction feels high quality and eco friendly.||Very girthy handle size. Smaller hands may have trouble getting a good grip.|
|ABLE Push Up Stands with wheels||Wheels allow for a variety of exercises especially core work.||The rolling feature may be too advanced for beginners to control.|
|Perfect Fitness perfect Pushup Elite||Rotating action gives a wide range of muscles a wake up call||A little on the pricey side|
|RDF Push Up Bars||Budget Friendly.|
Solid steel & horizontal handles ideal for calisthenics and handstands.
|Smaller size and "S" shape design can make them more easy to tip sideways.|
|Heroic Sport T-Spikes Push Up Handles||Brutal Core and Stabilizer Workout.||You will probably achieve less range of movement with each rep, so throw some full push ups in the mix as well.|
|RBX Push-Up Bars plus 2lb Hand weight Combo||Hand weight inclusion and soft grip make these great for injury rehab.||Very small in size. Ideal for petite women, but size may make them unstable for bigger users.|
Inclined Push Up Handles vs Straight Ones:
Traditional push up bars have a straight horizontal handle, that runs parallel to the floor. In order to maintain a neutral grip, the user needs to lean their body forward to work the chest. Inclined push up bars shift a little of the load away from the upper body and to the feet, which can make a complete push up movement slightly easier to perform. This is why progressions towards doing push ups often involve pushing against a wall, or a table, before using the floor. The difference in angle on inclined push up bars is so minimal, however, that it’s unlikely to have much bearing of how difficult the athlete finds the exercise. The effort required to use an inclined push up bar does get drawn from a larger area of the chest and core when compared to a straight bar targeting the upper chest more directly.
The biggest noticeable difference between inclined push up bars and straight ones will be felt by those with wrist problems, as the angled version places the wrist in a more comfortable position.
If you want to use your push up handles for exercises such as assisted handstands, handstand push ups, or handstand walk movements, the straight / parallel handles will be necessary for balance and stability.
These inclined push up bars by N1Fit are a super affordable entry level model. If you’re unsure of what you prefer, I suggest buying a couple of sets of cheap push up bars to try out first – you can always give them to a mate if you decide to upgrade. Obviously you get what you pay for, so a cheaper set of bars like these are made of plastic, rather than steel. For most people, they will be more than durable enough and their lightweight construction makes them easy to throw in a suitcase for workouts away from home. I have even tossed them in a backpack for a running / Crossfit style workout, which I like to do with my mate on the weekend. (Check out some of these workouts for inspiration!)
Skimping on cost means you might not get a rubber non-slip finish either. It’s not a deal breaker – just something to be mindful of when you choose your surface. If in doubt, a simple yoga mat underneath you is an easy fix.
These straight push up handles are available on Amazon and are a lot more sturdy, being solid steel and will support 300lbs! If you are looking to perform handstand push ups or overhead exercises, a parallel set of handles is a safer option and this set are a good value purchase that should be able to withstand heavier loads.
Rotating push up handles vs fixed bars:
Perfect Pushup is the best known brand of rotating push up handles, although there are some similar models available on the market. There is some conjecture about the benefit of rotating vs fixed push up handles and I’ll summarise the key arguments here, so you can make up your own mind.
The claim by the manufacturers of rotating push up bars is that they reduce strain on the joints, while activating more muscles than a regular push up. However, there are those who believe rotating handles actually produce less results because they take away from your ability to create an isometric tension through your lats and shoulders. When you compare a push up done on rotating handles vs fixed bars, you can feel what they’re talking about. My own opinion, however, is that the trade off for the greater level of who body tension is the ability to work the muscles through a greater range of motion as you feel your scapulars move far more using the rotating bars.
A common cause of joint strain is poor form through flaring the elbows out as you lower yourself. When using rotating handles, you should start in the raised position with the handles positioned perpendicular to your body. As you lower down, the handles will rotate, so your elbows come in close to your sides and the handles end up parallel to your body.
My favorite aspect of rotating push up handles is that they force you to do slower, more controlled movements, so each rep is focused more on muscle activation and less on momentum. Quality over quantity. The 10,000 five star ratings on Amazon is an indication to me that there are plenty of people out there who enjoy this product.