What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?

Push-ups are a staple in strength training routine. (Photo via Pexels/Domagoj Bregant)
Push-ups are a staple in strength training routine. (Photo via Pexels/Domagoj Bregant)

Push-ups are a staple exercise in strength training. They are one of the most conventional and foundational bodyweight exercises that benefit the entire body while emphasizing more on the upper body muscles.

There are a variety of push-ups to suit different ranges of abilities and fitness levels. While beginners can include a standard push-up in their fitness routine, advanced exercisers can modify the movement and take the exercise to a more challenging level.

What muscles do push-ups work?

While push-ups are commonly referred to as upper body exercises, particularly chest workouts, several other muscles also get targeted during the movement. Here are the muscles that get hit during almost all variations of a push-up:

  • Chest muscles – pectoralis minor and pectoralis major
  • Back muscles – majorly the middle and upper back, including the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, trapezius
  • Biceps and triceps
  • Serratus anterior
  • Shoulder muscles – deltoid minor and deltoid major
  • Core muscles – rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, erector spinae, and pyramidalis

How to do a standard push-up correctly?

Push-ups work several upper body muscles. (Photo via Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)
Push-ups work several upper body muscles. (Photo via Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)

To do a standard push-up, get on all fours with your hands positioned slightly wider than the shoulders.

Extend your legs straight out to balance the body on your toes and hands, and keep your feet at hip width. Now, maintaining this position, engage your abs, pull your belly button in, and bend your elbows to lower yourself towards the floor.

Continue to lower your upper body till your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Engage your chest muscles ,and slowly push yourself back through your hands. Return to the starting position, and repeat a few more times.

When doing this exercise, ensure that your back muscles are straight, and your core is perfectly engaged. Your body shouldn’t arch; instead, it should be in a straight line with your hips aligned.


How many push-ups should you do daily?

If you're a beginner, try to add this exercise to your workout schedule between two and three times a week. Each time, aim to perform at least 5-8 reps. If you're unable to do a full push-up, start with your knees on the floor, or modify the move.

As a beginner, you may try the box push-up or wall push-up. These easy variations can help improve your basics and also reduce chances of injuries.

Once you're well-versed with the basic modifications, attempt a full push-up, and increase your reps to amp up your progress. Additionally, you may also try some challenging push-up variations such as:

  • Incline push-up
  • Decline push-up
  • Stability ball push-up
  • Pike push-up
  • Diamond push-up
  • Clap push-up
  • One-arm push-up
  • Rolling push-up

Try to incorporate these variations into your routine on alternate days, and aim to perform 12-15 reps or more.


Benefits of doing push-ups

There are many incredible benefits of doing push-ups, including:

1) Develops upper body strength

When adding a push-up as part of your strength training routine, this exercise helps build massive strength in your upper body muscles, including the chest, triceps, shoulders, and biceps. Various studies suggest that push-ups done using dumbbells or other free weights offer similar benefits as bench press.

2) Accessible and convenient

Another great benefit of doing this compound exercise is that you can easily add it to your at-home workout routine. It requires very little or no equipment and can be done almost anywhere – at the gym, at home, and outdoors.

3) Boost cardiovascular health

Doing push-ups raises the heart rate, strengthening the heart muscles and helping pump more fresh and oxygenated blood throughout the body. Studies suggest that exercises that elevate heart rate also help control high blood pressure, manage insulin levels, regulate weight, and boost overall cardiovascular health.

Bottom Line

Doing push-ups regularly can potentially help you achieve stronger and toned upper body muscles.

However, it's important to note that overtraining and increasing your reps too quickly can be dangerous for your muscles and ligaments. So, initially stick with fewer reps, and try to focus more on your form.

As you progress, continue to challenge yourself by practicing advanced modifications. Most importantly, add a few more strength training exercises to your routine to achieve optimal muscle growth and strength.

While they're safe and effective for everyone, people with injury to their wrists, elbows or shoulders should avoid this exercise. It's best to consult a doctor or physical therapist to determine if a push-up is an appropriate exercise for your health condition.

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Edited by Bhargav
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