What Muscular tissues 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 simple train can present a ample stimulus to not solely construct a much bigger chest but in addition improve your core stability and general health.

Actually, research present {that a} larger baseline push-up capability is related to decrease incidence of heart problems occasions. (1) Plus, perfecting your approach 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 might seem to be second nature to drop to the bottom and begin pumping out reps such as you did in center college gymnasium class, step one to maximizing your strength- and muscle-building efforts is to ensure you perceive the biomechanics of the great 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 concentrate on particular muscle mass extra instantly.

What Muscular tissues Do Push-Ups Work?

How you can Good Your Push-Up Approach

Fortunately, the push-up is way simpler than one thing just like the clean & jerk. Nonetheless, it’s essential to carry out any train with the proper approach 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 arms can go a good distance in staying pain- and injury-free. As well as, realizing methods to place your elbows could make a serious distinction in finishing a clear rep or setting the stage for potential shoulder issues.

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

  1. Begin in a “excessive plank” place together with your arms barely wider than your shoulders and your elbows simply barely bent. Preserve 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 mass and push again by your arms till you attain the beginning place.

Muscular tissues Labored Throughout a Push-Up 

Though many individuals take a look at the push-up as solely an higher physique train, it’s truly a closed kinetic chain motion that entails a number of muscle teams from head-to-toe. In fact, since push-ups primarily contain the pectorals (main and minor) and triceps, it’s simple 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 can make the argument {that a} push-up is actually a full-body train. In spite of everything, not solely do you could make the most of your pecs, triceps, and shoulders, however you additionally need to recruit your belly, decrease again, and leg muscle mass to carry out a correct rep.

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

Pectoralis Main 

The biggest of the chest muscle mass, 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 in the course of the eccentric part of a push-up and it contracts as you push again as much as the beginning place.

Pectoralis Minor 

Positioned beneath 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 essential position.

As you carry out a push-up, the pec minor retains your scapulae in place. Nonetheless, 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 essential.

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


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

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

Anterior Deltoids 

Much like the triceps, the deltoids are comprised of three heads (anterior, lateral, and posterior). These giant, triangular muscle mass are situated on high of your shoulder joints, with the anterior head taking part in essentially the most lively position throughout a push-up. In addition to helping with shoulder stability in the course of the eccentric part, your entrance delts additionally assist convey your arms inward in the direction of your chest in the course of 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 essential muscle mass — the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, inner and exterior obliques, and the comparatively small pyramidalis — your abdominals work synergistically together 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. In the end, poor core management might put you in a compromising place that would trigger issues, and even ache, down the road.

How you can Goal Specific Muscular tissues 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. Nonetheless, you don’t at all times need to 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 could do is change your hand placement, as research present {that a} narrow-width push-up gives extra triceps activation. (2) The nearer you place them collectively, the extra you’ll shift the main focus away out of your pecs and towards your triceps.

Whereas a close-grip push-up will definitely get the job finished, you can also make this triceps-centric train much more difficult by forming a diamond form together with your arms. Place your index fingers and thumbs in order that they contact, interact your core, and thoroughly decrease your self to the ground. Your triceps might 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.

Goal Your Higher Chest

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

Though it might appear counterintuitive on the floor, doing a decline push-up — so named as a result of your physique is technically “declined” together with your head decrease than your toes — gives 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 peculiar push-up into one thing that’ll make it easier to 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

Should you’re trying to construct extra muscle in your decrease chest, take the precise reverse strategy from focusing on the higher portion. Relatively than elevating your decrease physique to stimulate your higher chest, place your arms 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 position regardless of the extra restricted vary of movement.

Push-Up Variations for Constructing Energy, 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 trying to improve your energy or a house gymnasium 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 here are three favorites that it is best to contemplate 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 ingredient by recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers. Not solely does it strengthen your chest, core, triceps, and shoulders, nevertheless it additionally may also help enhance your conditioning when carried out as a part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

How you can do it:

  1. Begin in a excessive plank place together with your arms instantly beneath 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 pressure in order that your arms truly depart the ground. (Elective: Clap your arms collectively on the high.)
  4. Land evenly on the bottom in the identical beginning place, then carry out the subsequent 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 last word push-pull train. The renegade row push-up is certainly not simple, nevertheless it’s an efficient instance of methods to superset workout routines 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 observe on this variation: The nearer your toes are to every every, the more durable it will likely be in your core. A wider stance will provide higher stability and cut back the core-training problem.

How you can do it:

  1. Place a pair of dumbbells on the bottom about shoulder-width aside.
  2. Place one hand on every dumbbell together with your palms going through in, so the weights are parallel to one another.
  3. Arrange in a excessive plank place together with your toes shoulder-width aside to start out.
  4. Decrease your self down till your elbows attain a 90-degree angle.
  5. As you push again up, preserve 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 style.

Spiderman Push-Up

Demanding, dynamic, and positively not meant for newcomers, the Spiderman push-up is a good 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 in your chest, triceps, and shoulders. In the end, your mobility and adaptability can be examined simply as a lot as your energy and endurance.

How you can do it:

  1. Begin in a excessive plank place together with your arms barely wider than shoulder-distance aside.
  2. Brace your core and thoroughly decrease your self towards the ground, retaining your elbows at a 45-degree angle out of your physique.
  3. Through the decreasing part, choose 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 Inventive 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 rapidly remodel the essential push-up into an train that’s way more dynamic, troublesome, and deliberate in its goal. Problem your self to strive a brand new variation on a weekly foundation, pay attention to any roadblocks, and preserve increasing your arsenal so you’ll be able to improve your energy, 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 mass: 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

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