The push-up is one of the most timeless and universally practiced exercises in the world. In fact, legend has it that the Roman emperor Constantine may be responsible for first popularizing the workout all the way back in the third century when he obligated soldiers to use the strength-training method in order to prepare for battle.
Regardless of who originally came up with the idea, it was a good one: as Jonathan Ross of the American Council for Exercise put it, “one of the reasons the push-up has endured so long is it’s cheap, it’s easy, it doesn’t require any equipment, it can work multiple parts of the body at the same time — and pretty much everyone, from beginners to athletes, can derive benefits.”
In this article, we will cover all the basic information that you should know about this common exercise — from the muscle groups it works to the basics of proper form, to several popular variations, and more.
What Muscles Benefit From Push-Ups?
Above all else, traditional push-ups benefit the pectoral muscles, the triceps, the shoulders, and the “wing muscles” directly under the armpits. However, in a more indirect manner, push-ups also benefit the biceps, the back, the core, the glutes, and even muscles in the legs. Moreover, as we will discuss later on in this article, push-ups can be altered to a number of variant forms which work different muscle groups more intensively.
How to Do A Push-Up (Correctly)
Here are a few simple tips that can help you master a safe and productive form for each and every push-up.
- Brace your core. Leaving your core muscles overly relaxed puts your back at risk for strain — keep your body naturally tensed and tight and maintaining proper form will be a breeze.
- Grip the floor. Keep your hands planted firmly, and don’t allow your wrists to loosen up suddenly, as this can strain ligaments far too easily.
- Keep your body straight. Arching your back, twisting your core, and bending at the knees are all dangerous maneuvers that can reduce the effectiveness of each rep while risking injury.
- Slow and in control. The downward part of a pushup should be just as slow and laborious as the upward motion. If not, then you are not completing a full range of movement, and your muscles will pay the price.
How Many Push-Ups Should I Be Doing?
Ideally, resistance training should consist of 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 20 reps — so anywhere in this range is acceptable. If you are completing close to five sets of 20 reps and still feel unchallenged, then it is probably time to start learning variations on the standard push-up in order to diversify and intensify your workout.
Push-Up Variations for Added Challenge and/or Different Muscle Focus
- Modified Push-Ups. For beginners, pushing off from a hands and knees position can be easier than completing a full push-up.
- Wide Push-Ups. Setting into a wide grip will place added resistance on the muscle groups concentrated in the chest and shoulders.
- Triangle Grip Push-Ups. Performing push-ups with a narrower-than-normal grip places extra emphasis on the triceps — making this exercise quite challenging.
- Decline Push Ups. Elevating your feet on a stable surface and performing push-ups at a declining angle can make this workout significantly more difficult for every muscle group, including your core. This makes decline push-ups a perfect workout option for expert-level fitness enthusiasts.