Push-ups are one of the most popular forms of exercise, a comprehensive movement that targets many different muscle groups and parts of the body.
Many people see the push-up as something simple, a beginner workout for teenage boys looking to try and impress their schoolmates, or people only just starting to work out.
The push-up however is one of the most efficient and effective calisthenic exercises you can do. The beauty of the push-up is you don’t need any equipment to earn the benefits this exercise can provide you with, meaning anyone can start building muscle, strength, and endurance for free almost anywhere.
But what muscle groups do push-ups actually target?
We’re also going to look at alternative styles and versions of the push-up to look at the ways in which this exercise can be tweaked and tailored to almost anyone.
A key part of becoming fitter and stronger is learning about how different exercises work and can benefit you, and understanding how push-ups work is key to making sure you get the best out of them.
What Is A Push-Up?
For some total beginners, the term push-up may be absolutely meaningless. A lot of people take for granted that these things are obvious and this can make beginners feel intimidated or demotivated before they even start.
A push-up is an exercise where you lie face down on the floor. Then you put your hands beside your chest, palms down, and keep your feet perpendicular to the floor only using your toes for grip and balance.
Keeping the legs, back and hips straight, you push with your arms to raise your upper body until the arms are straightened, then lower your chest face to the floor, repeating for a certain amount of repetitions and sets.
This is the simplest and most common form of push-up, widely used in militaries around the world and by almost all athletes to promote upper body strength, good bodyweight to strength ratios and muscular endurance.
Muscle Groups Hit By Push-Ups
In this section, we’re going to look at which muscle groups push-ups target, as well as how effective they are at targeting them and what you can do to increase their effectiveness.
The number one target of a push-up is the pectoral muscles. The pushing motion a push-up makes it a highly effective bench press alternative, which is one of the best exercises for developing a strong chest.
The standard push-up targets almost all areas of the chest at least a little, and it can be tweaked to target different areas of the chest more than others by adjusting the width of your hands as you do the exercise.
To target the inner and lower pecs more, close up your hands so they are closer to your body, for example. Alternatively, you can widen your hands so that they are further apart, which will target the outdoor pectoral muscles more.
Push-ups are highly effective at targeting this area of the body and are one of the go-to exercises to build chest muscles at home or at the gym.
After chest, one of the key areas push-ups can help develop is the shoulder area. This is because the shoulders have to work quite hard to maintain stability and support the overall movement during a push-up.
As a result, the muscles here get a good workout, and while they are mainly supporting muscles, the front deltoids, lats, and traps can all get a fairly effective workout simply by supporting the push-up.
This can be again tweaked by changing hand position to offer more strain to this area of the body.
The core is an absolutely critical part of the body for push-ups, as you need to maintain a perfectly rigid and controlled posture to perform an effective push-up.
While the core again is mostly a stabilizing muscle, the workout that can give your abdominal muscles and obliques is phenomenal, and it promotes fat loss, endurance, and strength in this vital area of the body.
Push-ups, where the feet are raised up above the body, can promote core strength and endurance even more, and are also very effective.
While back muscles aren’t the key target of the push-up, they still get worked due to the simple fact that you need to lower yourself down to the floor in a controlled manner to avoid breaking your nose or getting a black eye.
The back muscles will assist in this massively, and while the arms, core, and chest do a lot of the work, there’s no doubt that the back is also involved and does a lot of supporting work also.
This is particularly true of the lateral muscles which work with the chest and shoulders to both stabilize and support the body as the pecs and arms do most of the heavy lifting.
Legs are probably the least used body part in the push-up, due to the fact that they don’t really need to take any of the major weight or resistance the exercise creates.
As already mentioned, however, good posture is critical to a good push-up, and the legs are a key part of this. As such the legs, particularly the quads and hamstrings are at least stabilizing muscles in this intense exercise.
Arms are one of the biggest targets during this exercise after the pecs of the chest, as they do a lot of the initial pushing during the push-up, as well as a lot of the supporting throughout the whole exercise.
As a result arms, particularly the triceps area, are very well used during push-ups and will likely see considerable improvements in strength, definition, and endurance during a course of push-up heavy training.
The truth is, the push-up is an all-body exercise, and one of the most effective ones at that.
It's the reason why every athlete encounters them at some point in their lives, and why the militaries of various nations rely on push-ups as a key component of their training process, to quickly build good strength, endurance, and strength to weight ratios essential to their soldiers.
Push-ups are a true all-body exercise and bring great benefits to those who master them, as well as incredible challenges to trainers who know how to use them.