Why You Don’t Feel Your Chest During Push Ups – Avoid These 5 Mistakes

Last updated on November 6th, 2022 at 03:08 pm

A common complaint I often hear is that you don’t feel chest during push ups.

The push up is primarily a chest exercise, so surely you should feel your chest whenever performing them.

Admittedly, the push up also works the shoulders and the arms.

And as the anterior deltoids and the triceps are smaller muscles than the pecs they will typically fatigue quicker.

However, you should still feel your chest whenever you’re doing push ups, unless you’re making the following mistakes.

Why You Don’t Feel Chest During Push Ups

The main reasons you don’t feel your chest during push ups are all down to positioning. This includes the position of your elbows, shoulders, hands, and forearms. Additionally, to increase chest activation you should also concentrate on the mind-muscle connection and an increased range of motion.

1. Elbows Flaring Out to the Side During Push Ups

One of the biggest mistakes I see when people perform push ups is that they allow their elbows to flare out to the sides.

Your elbows should remain tucked into your sides throughout the movement.

For me, the most important aspect here is hand position.

Your hands should be directly below your shoulder blades during push ups.

If you regularly perform the bench press then this may also have a bearing on incorrect hand position.

The standard bench press will typically see the hands placed wider than shoulder-width apart.

However, when performing push ups aim to have your hands in the same position as you would when doing narrow-grip bench presses.

This will generally mean that your hands are still wider than shoulder-width apart, but only just.

I would also recommend spreading your fingers out wide and turning your hands out ever so slightly.

If your fingers are spread wide then ensure that your index fingers are pointing straight ahead.

Many of us have a tendency to have the hands pointing inwards and this will automatically make the elbows flare out.

2. Lack of Shoulder Retraction and Protraction

The next mistake I often see with push ups is not allowing the shoulders to retract at the bottom of the movement and protract at the top.

I believe this is due to trying to perform push ups at speed rather than focusing on actual technique.

Push Up Retraction

At the bottom of the push up in order for the shoulders to retract you need to concentrate on getting the shoulder blades as close to each other as possible.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s the best way I can describe shoulder retraction.

Try this:

Stand up and place your hands against a wall and stand at arm’s length away.

Now slowly bring your hands in towards your chest, but concentrate on what your shoulders blades are doing.

As your hands reach your chest and your elbows are now behind you, notice how your shoulder blades have automatically retracted.

It’s almost as though if an object was placed on your upper back you could hold it in place with your shoulder blades.

As I’ve mentioned, this is slightly exaggerated.

But, I want you to be aware of how the shoulder blades draw in towards each other as your hands come closer to your chest.

You should aim for the same effect during the bottom part of the push up.

Push Up Protraction

This is the exact opposite to what I have just mentioned.

When you’re in the top position of the push up you want the shoulder blades to protract.

Once again, an exaggerated version of this would be how your shoulder blades spread out when you hug someone.

A common mistake is not fully extending your arms at the top of the push up, and therefore not protracting the shoulders.

So, in effect you’re almost trying to separate the shoulder blades as far as possible from each other.

Don’t worry I’ve included a video below that covers everything that I mention in this article, including shoulder retraction and protraction.

3. No Mind-Muscle Connection

I actually think that mind-muscle connection is crucial with any exercise, not just push ups.

This is something that most of us tend to ignore.

However, not only will the mind-muscle connection help you to concentrate on a specific muscle that is being worked during an exercise, it can also lead to greater muscle and strength gains.

In terms of the push up I like to contract my chest at the top of the move.

You can achieve this by basically really squeezing your chest muscles.

Then maintain this contraction throughout your set.

I would also suggest slowing down the movement.

You’ll probably find that you won’t be able to perform as many push ups per set when the chest muscles are properly contracted.

Plus, by performing push ups more slowly, fatigue will set in after fewer reps too.

Throughout the entire movement, keep squeezing your chest and really focus your mind on keeping this tight contraction.

Even after just one set you’ll notice far more of a pump in the chest.

4. Your Forearms Don’t Stay Vertical

Your forearms should remain vertical during push ups.

Once again, poor hand positioning could be to blame here.

I’m not sure why, but I generally see people placing their hands too far forward when performing push ups.

In fact, I often note that some people have their hands more in line with their head than their shoulders.

By having your hands placed in such an advanced position you’ll notice that your forearms angle towards the lower body.

However, if you place your hands directly below your shoulders it’s much easier to maintain a vertical forearm position throughout.

This may take a fair amount of practice to perfect if you’ve gotten into a bad habit of allowing the forearms to angle backwards.

How To Do Push Ups

5. Poor Range of Motion

This ties in quite well with ensuring that your shoulders retract at the bottom of the movement and protract at the top.

And yet again, a poor range of motion could be down to the speed at which you’re performing push ups.

I like to ensure that my nose touches the ground at the bottom of the push up and that my arms are fully extended at the top.

When people are performing what I like to sarcastically refer to as “half push ups” the range of motion is drastically cut down.

This will also work the delts and triceps much more and will explain why you don’t feel your chest during push ups.

Basically, you’ve got no real chest activation with a limited range of motion and you’re quickly fatiguing the delts and triceps.

Increased Range of Motion With Push Up Variations

One of the main reasons that many people turn to push up bars (apart from applying less pressure on the wrists) is that it increases the range of motion.

You can get a far better stretch in the pecs, thus more chest involvement during push ups.

You don’t need push up bars for an increased range of motion.

This is also why people perform push ups on dumbbells too.

For me, I simply like to do push up variations that allow for a greater range of motion.

The most obvious starting point is the decline push up, so having your feet placed on a raised platform.

Your aim should be to get as close to the floor as possible.

Once more, I usually go all the way down and ensure that my nose touches the floor.

This is also another reason to slow-down the tempo of your push ups, as there’s a good chance of breaking your nose using my method, LOL.

Another fantastic way to increase range of motion and really feel your chest during push ups is to have one hand on a raised platform.

I typically use a thick book.

I’ll place my left hand on the book, my right hand on the floor, and complete a set of push ups.

Then I’ll simply swap hand positions for my next set.

With both the decline and raised-hand push ups you’ll definitely get a far greater stretch in the chest, which is perfect if you want to feel your chest working.

33 Push Up Variations

Final Thoughts

These are the most common mistakes made if you don’t feel your chest during push ups.

As I’ve mentioned, a lot of these errors simply come down to positioning.

Whether it’s the position of your elbows, shoulders, hands, or forearms.

That being said, the mind-muscle connection and a full range of motion is of the utmost importance when it comes to performing push ups.

The best advice I can offer is to practice all the above techniques and really slow down the tempo of your push ups.

You continue doing this and it won’t be long before you find that your chest muscles are getting properly activated.

I’ve also written about another push up related issue I know many suufer with, namely why your ribs hurt when you do push ups.

5 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Feel Your Chest During Push Ups – Avoid These 5 Mistakes”

  1. No 3 is the critical one.
    With all exercise movements, engage the muscle you intend to use before you start the movement.
    Keep the muscle engaged or reengage it during the movement.
    If you can’t achieve this then you are not doing the exercise correctly or it is the wrong exercise for the muscle you want to use.

    • Hey Steve,

      I couldn’t agree with you more.

      I spent many years in my youth not even thinking about the mind-muscle connection and just pumping out aimless reps.

      However, one the main changes in the way I trained, and indeed my physique, was when I started to concentrate on really focusing on and engaging the target muscles that I was training.

      Funnily enough, I often perform certain exercises with my eyes shut, simply because I feel it enhances the mind-muscle connection.


  2. over the years I came to the realization that we are all different and I fall into the category where I just don’t feel push ups in my chest just like I don’t feel anything in my chest when I do bench press, I am 5’11” with crazy long arms my arm span is 6’3″ great for swimming, ha ha but not for bench press

    • Haha, I hear ya, the struggle is real.

      Okay, not so much for me and my short stature and short arms.

      However, my training partner is 6’3″ with incredibly long arms, and he forever bemoans that it doesn’t feel push ups, bench, bar dips, or any other push-related exercise in his chest.

      Plus, his arms just get in the way, LOL.

      I guess the best way around this is probably to focus on isolation chest moves, especially flye variations.

      Then again, just because you don’t “feel” a muscle working doesn’t always mean that it’s not growing and getting stronger.

      Thank you for your honesty, certainly made me smile.


  3. I have had experience with this problem too. My chest is the lagging muscle of my body, so I have always looked for solutions and used methods to solve this. Regarding push-ups, but also bench presses, I began to feel my chest when I started to set my arms wide enough, and also when I bring my shoulder blades together.


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