What Muscle mass Do Push-Ups Work? Get Extra Out of This Timeless Train

As one of many foundational actions of any exercise program, the push-up is greater than only a means to extend your higher physique strength and endurance. Relying in your hand place, tempo, and physique angle, this seemingly easy train can present a ample stimulus to not solely construct an even bigger chest but in addition enhance your core stability and general health.

In truth, research present {that a} larger baseline push-up capability is related to decrease incidence of heart problems occasions. (1) Plus, perfecting your method and increasing your push-up repertoire can put you in a extra advantageous place to crush compound lifts just like the bench press and overhead press.

Credit score: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Whereas it could appear to be second nature to drop to the bottom and begin pumping out reps such as you did in center faculty health club class, step one to maximizing your strength- and muscle-building efforts is to be sure you perceive the biomechanics of the nice ole’ push-up. When you’ve actually mastered the fundamentals, you’ll be able to level-up your coaching by swapping out the usual type of this time-tested train with distinctive push-up variations that focus on particular muscle tissues extra immediately.

What Muscle mass Do Push-Ups Work?

The way to Excellent Your Push-Up Approach

Fortunately, the push-up is much simpler than one thing just like the clean & jerk. Nonetheless, it’s vital to carry out any train with the proper method for security and effectivity — and it’s not totally different on this case.

As a result of push-ups can place fairly a little bit of stress in your wrists, being conscious concerning the alignment of your palms can go a good distance in staying pain- and injury-free. As well as, realizing the way to place your elbows could make a significant distinction in finishing a clear rep or setting the stage for potential shoulder issues.

If you wish to make sure you’re getting probably the most bang to your buck, right here’s what you might want to do to carry out the right push-up.

  1. Begin in a “excessive plank” place along with your palms barely wider than your shoulders and your elbows simply barely bent. Keep straight legs with out dipping your hips towards the bottom or mountain climbing them upward.
  2. Interact your core by pulling your stomach button towards your backbone.
  3. Slowly decrease your self to the ground, ensuring to maintain your elbows tucked near your sides as your arms bend towards a 90-degree angle.
  4. When you attain the underside of the motion, contract your chest and triceps muscle tissues and push again by way of your palms till you attain the beginning place.

Muscle mass Labored Throughout a Push-Up 

Though many individuals take a look at the push-up as solely an higher physique train, it’s really a closed kinetic chain motion that includes a number of muscle teams from head-to-toe. After all, since push-ups primarily contain the pectorals (main and minor) and triceps, it’s straightforward to see why they’re a well-liked alternative for chest and arm day programming.

But when you think about the complete scope of what the motion entails, you could possibly make the argument {that a} push-up is actually a full-body train. In spite of everything, not solely do you might want to make the most of your pecs, triceps, and shoulders, however you additionally should recruit your belly, decrease again, and leg muscle tissues to carry out a correct rep.

Right here’s a breakdown of how and when the first and secondary muscle tissues are recruited throughout a push-up.

Pectoralis Main 

The biggest of the chest muscle tissues, your pectoralis main is a thick, fan-shaped muscle that acts because the agonist (major mover) throughout a push-up. It consists of two heads: the clavicular (which originates from the entrance floor of your clavicles) and the sternocostal (which originates out of your sternum and higher ribs).

The pec main lengthens and stretches as you decrease your self down throughout the eccentric part of a push-up and it contracts as you push again as much as the beginning place.

Pectoralis Minor 

Situated underneath the pec main, the pectoralis minor is a small, triangular muscle that originates from the third to fifth ribs and inserts into your scapulae (shoulder blades). Though it pales compared to the dimensions of its bigger cousin, it nonetheless performs a vital function.

As you carry out a push-up, the pec minor retains your scapulae in place. Nevertheless, tightness on this muscle, or having comparatively weak rotator cuff or scapular stabilizers, can result in discomfort and imbalances. This makes higher physique mobility work notably vital.

Man performing a close-grip push-up.
Credit score: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock


Apart from the pec main, no muscle advantages extra from the push-up than your triceps brachii. Situated on the again of your higher arm, this three-headed monster contains the medial, lateral, and lengthy heads — every of which has a singular origination level.

Throughout the preliminary part of a push-up, the triceps helps stabilize your torso. Then, as soon as the muscle is underneath stress, it takes over because the agonist while you prolong your arms to lockout the highest of the motion.

Anterior Deltoids 

Just like the triceps, the deltoids are comprised of three heads (anterior, lateral, and posterior). These giant, triangular muscle tissues are situated on high of your shoulder joints, with the anterior head taking part in probably the most lively function throughout a push-up. Apart from helping with shoulder stability throughout the eccentric part, your entrance delts additionally assist carry your arms inward in the direction of your chest throughout the concentric portion of a push-up.


Your core will obtain a wake-up name while you carry out a push-up, too. Comprised of 5 important muscle tissues — the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, inner and exterior obliques, and the comparatively small pyramidalis — your abdominals work synergistically along with your erector spinae to maintain your torso straight all through the motion.

Failing to maintain your core engaged from begin to end can have an effect on your total-body place and alignment. Finally, poor core management could put you in a compromising place that would trigger issues, and even ache, down the road.

The way to Goal Explicit Muscle mass Throughout a Push-Up 

The essential push-up does a stable job of recruiting a number of muscle teams, particularly your chest and triceps, and even higher again for stability. Nevertheless, you don’t at all times should subscribe to the usual kind, particularly if in case you have particular muscle-building objectives in thoughts.

A group of people perform incline push-ups on plyo boxes.
Credit score: Yuri A / Shutterstock

Prioritize Your Triceps

To concentrate on constructing your arms, all you might want to do is change your hand placement, as research present {that a} narrow-width push-up offers extra triceps activation. (2) The nearer you place them collectively, the extra you’ll shift the main target away out of your pecs and towards your triceps.

Whereas a close-grip push-up will definitely get the job carried out, you can also make this triceps-centric train much more difficult by forming a diamond form along with your palms. Place your index fingers and thumbs so that they contact, interact your core, and punctiliously decrease your self to the ground. Your triceps could detest you on the high of a diamond push-up, however they’ll thanks later for giving them direct consideration with nonetheless many reps you get by way of.

Goal Your Higher Chest

To emphasise your higher chest, steal a web page from the normal weight coaching playbook and press at an incline instead of a flat angle. To make this adjustment throughout a push-up, you have to elevate your ft.

Though it could appear counterintuitive on the floor, doing a decline push-up — so named as a result of your physique is technically “declined” along with your head decrease than your ft — offers a stronger stimulus for the higher a part of your pectoralis main than the usual model.

You should use a weight bench, plyo field, yoga blocks, and even stairs to show an atypical push-up into one thing that’ll assist you develop extra thickness on the high of your chest and allow you to fill out your t-shirts just a bit bit higher.

Activate Your Decrease Chest

When you’re seeking to construct extra muscle in your decrease chest, take the precise reverse strategy from concentrating on the higher portion. Reasonably than elevating your decrease physique to stimulate your higher chest, place your palms on a step, platform, bench, or different equipment to carry out an incline push-up.

Altering your leverage and urgent angle on this method will let your decrease chest tackle a extra lively function regardless of the extra restricted vary of movement.

Push-Up Variations for Constructing Power, Muscle, and Energy

Whereas the focused variations outlined above are a stable begin, they’re simply the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not you’re an athlete seeking to enhance your energy or a house health club fanatic who desires to include dumbbells right into a push-up, there’s a variety of push-up variations that’ll serve your wants.

Listed below are three favorites that it is best to think about including into your coaching routine.

Plyometric Push-Up

A sophisticated variation tailored for athletes, the plyometric push-up (extra generally known as the plyo push-up) provides an explosive component by recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers. Not solely does it strengthen your chest, core, triceps, and shoulders, however it additionally may help enhance your conditioning when carried out as a part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

The way to do it:

  1. Begin in a excessive plank place along with your palms immediately underneath your shoulders.
  2. Brace your core and decrease your self down till your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Interact your chest and triceps to push upward with ample drive in order that your palms really depart the ground. (Non-compulsory: Clap your palms collectively on the high.)
  4. Land flippantly on the bottom in the identical beginning place, then carry out the following rep instantly.

Renegade Row Push-Up

You’ll be able to kill two birds (aka your chest and again) with a combo transfer that comes with dumbbells into the final word push-pull train. The renegade row push-up is in no way straightforward, however it’s an efficient instance of the way to superset workouts for higher effectivity and outcomes. Primarily, you’ll be working your pecs, triceps, lats, rhomboids, and core, all whereas working to keep up stability and steadiness throughout this dynamic motion.

One word on this variation: The nearer your ft are to every every, the more durable will probably be in your core. A wider stance will supply higher stability and scale back the core-training problem.

The way to do it:

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the bottom about shoulder-width aside.
  2. Place one hand on every dumbbell along with your palms going through in, so the weights are parallel to one another.
  3. Arrange in a excessive plank place along with your ft shoulder-width aside to begin.
  4. Decrease your self down till your elbows attain a 90-degree angle.
  5. As you push again up, maintain your physique in a straight line and, on the high of the push-up, carry out a dumbbell row by pulling the dumbbell up towards your ribs on one aspect.
  6. Decrease the dumbbell again down and carry out one other push-up, adopted by a row with the other arm. Repeat in alternating vogue.

Spiderman Push-Up

Demanding, dynamic, and positively not meant for inexperienced persons, the Spiderman push-up is an effective way to get your core and decrease physique concerned. This variation will get up your obliques, rectus abdominis, hip flexors, and quadriceps whereas nonetheless offering greater than sufficient of a problem to your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Finally, your mobility and adaptability can be examined simply as a lot as your power and endurance.

The way to do it:

  1. Begin in a excessive plank place along with your palms barely wider than shoulder-distance aside.
  2. Brace your core and punctiliously decrease your self towards the ground, retaining your elbows at a 45-degree angle out of your physique.
  3. Throughout the reducing part, decide up your proper foot and draw your proper knee “up and out” so it approaches your elbow on the similar time your chest is a number of inches from the ground.
  4. As you prolong your elbows to press up, prolong your leg backward and return your proper foot to the beginning place.
  5. Repeat on the other aspect.

Get Artistic to Get Extra Out of Push-Ups

Cease limiting your self by solely sticking to the usual model. From narrowing your hand width to elevating your decrease half to including resistance, you’ll be able to shortly rework the fundamental push-up into an train that’s much more dynamic, troublesome, and deliberate in its goal. Problem your self to attempt a brand new variation on a weekly foundation, be aware of any roadblocks, and maintain increasing your arsenal so you’ll be able to enhance your power, confidence, and coordination each time your chest hits the ground.


  1. Yang, J., Christophi, C. A., Farioli, A., Baur, D. M., Moffatt, S., Zollinger, T. W., & Kales, S. N. (2019). Affiliation between push-up train capability and future cardiovascular occasions amongst lively grownup males. JAMA Community Open2(2), e188341. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341
  2. Marcolin, G., Petrone, N., Moro, T., Battaglia, G., Bianco, A., & Paoli, A. (2015). Selective activation of shoulder, trunk, and arm muscle tissues: A comparative evaluation of various Push-Up variants. Journal of Athletic Coaching50(11), 1126–1132. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-50.9.09

Featured Picture: ESB Primary / Shutterstock

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