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August 01, 2022 5 min read

Push-ups are one of the best upper body exercises to learn and perform in your training. They work a ton of upper body muscles including the core and even train cardiovascular endurance.

Push-ups are also a free exercise to do as you only need your body weight to do them.

While also being a great bodybuilding exercise, there is minimal risk of injury as the weight you will use is your bodyweight.

There is a reason that these are a test for military members to test physical and mental strength. These can get tedious after you have been doing them for a while, but the benefits of them far outweigh the negatives. If you are losing motivation to work out or need a boost on some days. 

Muscles Worked While Doing Push-ups

When someone first says to you that you should do push-ups, what muscle do you instantly think of?

The chest is the one that comes to mind and triceps. While those are definitely worked while doing push-ups, there is a multitude of other muscles that are effectively targeted while doing pushups. Certain variations will favor specific muscle groups more, but we will get into that later.

Chest: This is the muscle that most people think of when doing push-ups, and rightfully so as it is heavily targeted during the pushup. The chest is made up of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

The pectoralis major is the large chest muscle that covers almost all of the chest and is the one that is most talked about when referring to the chest. The pectoralis major is the prime mover of the chest, while the pectoralis minor is mostly used as a stabilizer and is actually utilized to help the backside function. 

Triceps: The tricep muscle has 3 different heads to the muscle that make up different parts of the arm.  The 3 heads are the long head, lateral head, and medial head.

The long head is the largest part of the tricep and is mostly utilized in overhead tricep movements. The lateral head is the horseshoe-looking part of the muscle that most gym-goers will focus on. The medial head is below the long head and that term is hardly used when referring to training the tricep.

When it comes to doing push-ups, the most utilized part of the tricep is the lateral head of the tricep. The long head will be used for stabilization purposes but is not worked as much since your arms aren’t overhead.

If you want to target the triceps even more than a standard push-up, you will want to do diamond push-ups which we will discuss later. 

Forearms and Wrists: While not being the main muscle group worked during pushups, the wrists and forearms are used to help stabilize the body during a pushup. You can also up the forearm work on the pushup by doing a forearm push-up, which is essentially going to a plank position then back up to the pushup position by resting on your arms.

Push-ups can build a solid level of strength on the wrists. Since the position you are in while you are performing push-ups involves constant tension and pressure in the muscles and joints of the wrist, the forearms get some work too.

Shoulders: The shoulders are used heavily when doing a pushup right behind the chest and triceps. The shoulder has many different muscles that make up the shoulder, but when it comes to doing pushups, the front deltoid is what gets used the most.

The front deltoid is used during a shoulder press, bench press, and of course the pushup. A strong front deltoid can help lifters increase numbers on pressing movements, and can also be a primary reason why compound lifts are not progressing like you would like.  

Mentality: The mental strain it will take to perform a long grueling set of pushups will make you mentally tough. To get the full benefit of the pushup, you will have to train to failure or at least very close to it.

Training to failure is very difficult, yet it is the key to making progress in the pushup and in the gym in general. The pushup is a great way to build mental toughness without risking a major injury compared to other lifts that use weights.

 

Different Types of Pushups

There are many variations of pushups that can be done to add or take away intensity from the workout.

The first variation or lack thereof is the standard one that everyone thinks of when doing a push-up. 

This push-up will hit the chest, tris, and shoulders equally and is the one that you should do if you are able to perform it. If the basic pushup is too difficult when getting started, you can do a pushup from your knees to make the resistance significantly less.

Another variation that tends to be a little easier and focuses on the tris and shoulders a tad more is an incline push-up.

For this, you can use stairs, a bench, a chair, or anything that is elevated that can hold your weight. The form for this is the same as a standard push-up, but just with an incline. A decline push works vice versa of an incline pushup as during this one it is more difficult to perform compared to a standard push-up. 

Another type of pushup that you should add to your repertoire is the diamond push-up.

For this push-up, you will want your hands to make a diamond shape as the name suggests. This variation will focus a lot more on the triceps and will be much more difficult to perform than the other variations above. 

Common Mistakes and Errors

Now that you have a good understanding of the push-up and its variations, and why it should be added to your workouts. Let us go over some of the common mistakes and errors that occur when performing seated calf raises.

The most common error with this exercise is flaring the elbows when lowering yourself to the ground. 

When doing a basic standard push-up, you will want to keep your arms between a 45 and 90-degree angle to limit the stress on the shoulder joint. The tighter your arms are together, the more work the triceps and shoulders will do versus the chest. 

If you're not quite ready for conventional push-ups, many people will sacrifice their range of motion, which can limit progress.

It's important to get your chest to the ground to help recruit as many muscle fibers as possible. 

Build Your Upper Body with Push-ups 

Push-ups should be added to everyone’s workout routine regardless of your current level of fitness as they can be great for advanced trainees and beginners. A push-up seems like a basic exercise, but just one rep can be challenging for many people.

Practicing proper form and range of motion can help you get the most out of this exercise. Bench press and overhead press are beneficial moves to include into your push day, but push-ups offer a different intensity and can be done anywhere.