Muscles Worked by Push-ups

Once you know the muscles that push-ups lay stress on, you will agree that it is indeed one of the best compound exercises. In this article, we will read about the muscles that get worked by doing push-ups, along with the right method to do this simple exercise.
FitnessVigil Staff
Last Updated: May 15, 2018
Man Doing Push Ups With Dumbbells
Push-ups are one of the most traditional and basic of all exercises. It not just builds upper body muscles, but also an individual's strength and stamina. The body parts that benefit the most by a regular routine of push-ups include the chest, shoulders, forearms and wrist area. Push-ups also help in developing a proper posture and a good torso.
One Handed Push Up
Push-ups are not just a part of every fitness freak's exercise regimen, but are also popular with beginners. As an exercise regimen, a push-up routine is religiously followed by athletes and military personnel too. The primary reason behind push-ups gaining such popularity is the fact that it does not require any exercise equipment! Push-ups target six important muscles in the body - the pectoralis, triceps, deltoid, serratus anterior, abdominal and coracobrachialis.
Muscles Targeted By Push-ups
The pectoralis muscle lies in the chest of the human body. The pectoralis major makes up most of the chest area in the male body, whereas in the female body it lies just under the breast. Under the pectoralis major lies the pectoralis minor - a thin triangular muscle. It is an adductor muscle which facilitates the upward lift and downward push movements in push-ups.
The deltoid is a major shoulder-joint which works prominently during the upward movement of the push-up. Although weak as a set, the deltoid muscles are needed for the shoulder's motion to be proper. Well-defined deltoid muscles are the reason behind rounded, broad shoulders that bodybuilders usually have.
Triceps Brachii
The triceps lie at the back of the upper arm. Their primary function is to extend the arm outward. Triceps make up about 65% of the mass in the upper arm and are the most exerted muscle during push-ups. The intensity of strain on the triceps will depend on the type of push-ups one opts for.
Serratus Anterior
The serratus anterior muscle is located at the back of the chest, just under the armpit. If while performing push-ups, the scapula has a winged look, it means that the serratus muscle is weak or virtually inactive. A strong serratus suctions the scapula during the movement, eliminating the winged look. The serratus anterior is usually an inactive muscle, but performing push-ups cause these muscles to activate. A regular push-up routine will strengthen this muscle further. A strong serratus anterior muscle helps in smooth, forward movement of the shoulder blade during push-ups or other similar exercises.
The coracobrachialis is a narrow muscle that runs from the shoulder blade to the biceps. It pulls the upper arm against the body during push-ups. A well-formed and worked coracobrachialis contributes in a big way while developing upper body strength.
Abdominal Muscles
Abdominal muscles contract during push-ups to hold the body above the ground, while keeping the legs and the torso balanced and straight.
Variations of Push-ups
Wide Grip Push-ups
Man doing push ups in gym
Spread the hands wider than usual; away from the body but still in the plane of the elbow. This variation is tougher than normal push-ups, as the body's mechanical scope to push up and down is reduced. While normal push-ups work the shoulders with a little attention to other muscles, this variation impacts the chest and triceps more.
Incline Push-ups
Young Woman Doing Push Ups
A chair, a bench, a coffee table ... grab anything that's about knee height, lean on it using the hands, steady the feet on the ground in alignment and play on! The main impact muscle is the shoulder muscle. Remember, the lower the incline, the harder is the push-up activity.
Decline Push-ups
Woman Doing Push Ups In Gym
Once again, grab any surface about knee height. Only this time, instead of placing the hands on it, place the feet on it. The hands will be pressed on the ground. The main impact muscle in this variation is the chest.
One Arm Push-ups
People At Gym
The one arm push-up is not an easy variation. The basic requirement here is that the body should have enough strength to lift itself up from the ground using just one hand. For a stable base, the legs should be set wider than normal. The main impact muscles are the shoulders and elbow.
T (Side Angle) Push-ups
Gym Push Up Strength
This push-up is the most complicated of all variations, since it involves putting all the body weight on a single palm or knuckle. The main impact muscles are the elbows.
How to Do Push-ups
Couple Doing Push Ups Together
  • Lie on the floor face-down and place your hands at a little more than shoulder distance next to the shoulders.
  • Lift your body such that all the weight is on the hands and legs.
Woman Exercising
  • Slowly lower your body towards the floor, till your chest is about to touch the floor. Inhale during this step.
  • Now slowly exhale and push your body up to the starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise after a brief pause of about 2 seconds.
It is important to note that if you perform different variations of the exercise, the focus will shift to different muscle groups. Before you try any of the variations, it is recommended that you talk to your trainer so that you do not injure yourself.

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