Monk Pushup – Theory

I just thought about upper chest development this way:

I. Most lifters have an underdeveloped upper chest.

II. Most lifters train flat and incline bench and shoulder presses as well as isolation movements like flyes.

III. Dips and decline bench don´t really focus on the upper chest.

This tells me that basically all exercises done for upper chest development don´t work for most people (especially most natural people).

Let´s look at some other facts:

IV. During all the exercises I mentioned above, we are taught to keep our scapula back and down the whole time. When doing pushups we at least protract the scapula, but it remains depressed. Let´s make the scapula happy again.

V. Due to these technical cues we are neglecting our strength with an elevated scapula. The same applies for pulling movements such as rows and pullups. This is an expansion on the gymnast theme of “straight-arm strength”, which has been neglected by lifters for a long time. I have to admit, I´ve rarely incorporated straight-arm movements into programs, though I like to use them for warming up and pre-fatiguing muscles before compound movements.

VI. To target the clavicular portion of the pectoralis major you need to move your elbow towards your throat. That´s common knowledge and explains why people do incline presses etc.

By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below) Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 410, Public Domain,

Side note: This picture also tells you that you can´t expect as much growth on the inside of the upper chest, as you have mostly tendons there, not muscle. Still, a developed outside of the upper chest will make every pose from the side immensely more impressive.

VII. There is a reason why we are told to keep the scap down and back. It´s either so we can generate more force (which doesn´t really matter for bodybuilding or fixing weaknesses) or to avoid shoulder impingement.

The second point is indeed worth considering. I can tell you two things: Firstly, most people have removed exercises like Upright Rows fromt their routines for the same reason, instead we are told to train external rotation. Is it not true that since this started taking place, more people have had shoulder problems? Back when I did external rotation movements I had shoulder problems all the time. Second point: I have had less problems with movements that include an elevated scapula than with movements that include a depressed scapula. In fact, elevated-scapula-exercises only rarely pissed off my left shoulder that I injured years ago and that doesn´t like exercises like curls, pushdowns, barbell bench variations, shoulder presses, lateral raises, external rotation, internal rotation, flyes, pullups, rows, carries. My healthy right shoulder has never had any problems doing these exercises. The only exercises that pissed off my right shoulder were external rotation and the first retarded movement in this shit (which is also external rotation):


In the end you´ll have to see for yourself whether the elevated-scapula movement pattern hurts your shoulder and whether it might cause problems down the line.

There are 3 general strategies for avoiding complications during risky movements:

  1. To avoid joint pain, do low reps in a fast, but controlled manner while not hitting failure.
  2. To avoid tendon pain, use high reps and slow tempo while not hitting failure.
  3. Do the movement in a natural manner without worrying about how to perform the exercise while you´re doing it, this avoids excess stiffness in certain muscles and makes the entire exercise smoother and less dangerous. Internalize the technical cues before hand or do it without resistance while standing up, so that the movement is almost automatic when you finally apply resistance.

Now I will present a movement that trains horizontal and / or vertical pushing strength (depending on how you do it) as well as scapula protraction, all in an elevated-scapula position. Consult a doctor before blah blah don´t sue me blah blah get permission from your parents blah blah.

Description of movement in words:

  1. Get into a normal pushup position, alternatively a pike pushup position.
  2. Position your hands closer than shoulder-width apart and a little more to the front, about face height.
  3. Elevate and protract your scapula while maximally flexing your upper chest.
  4. Do pushups, alternatively pike pushups, during which you push your scapula backward on the way down and forward on the way up. Keep the scapula elevated all the time.
  5. You do not want to flare your elbows too much, as this increases the risk for shoulder pain.

This is vastly superior to using dumbbells on an incline bench, as it allows for better contraction, less strain on your shoulders and a better strength curve.

Supplement this exercise with dips in which you only move the scapula. The more you lean forward, the better you will hit the Pectoralis Minor muscle, which sits deeper than the Pectoralis Major muscle and might cause the chest to stand out more, especially the mid to upper chest.

If you want pre-activation of the upper chest, try doing some form of carry or isometric cable hold, in which you squeeze your bent arms together in the maximally contracted position of the chest (hugging the weight), while your scapula is elevated and contracted. I doubt that an isometric hold will cause any injuries, in case you’re worried about that.

Lastly, I would like to add something: If calves supposedly don´t grow much because they are used to a lot of stimulation and because there are fewer testosterone receptors the lower in the body you go, then think of the traps (M. Trapezius). This elevated-scapula training provides entirely new stimulation for the traps and they will grow rapidly. After doing the Monk Pushup for the first time, my upper traps were sore for almost a week. If you think that you don´t need to train your trapezius because of your good insertions (which I thought as well), then think again, as they can still grow a lot more and look more impressive.

6 thoughts on “Monk Pushup – Theory

  1. I think it is my responsibility to inform you that adding a fancy new movement to your program next to all of the other accessory bullshit you’re doing won’t help much. You need to prioritize a movement and strive for progressive overload.

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