The Best Push-Ups – Muscles Engaged, Tips, Variations

The push-up is actually one of the simplest yet most beneficial exercises you can perform to gain strength and muscle.

Even though it is a fairly simple movement, it engages different groups of muscles, there are different variations of push-ups that target a specific group of muscles. In this article, I’ll walk you through these topics and then present to you what are the best push-ups.

What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work?

A push-up uses your own body weight as resistance, working your upper body and core at the same time. In the standard push-up, the following muscles are targeted:

  • chest muscles, or pectorals (a.k.a ‘pecs’)
  • shoulders, or deltoids
  • back of your arms, or triceps
  • abdominals
  • the “wing” muscles directly under your armpit, called the serratus anterior

Standard Push-Up Plus Tips For Proper Form

Muscles worked: chest
The standard variety of this move is easy to execute, but proper form is key.standard-push-up-exercise

  1. Start in a plank position with your pelvis tucked in, your neck neutral, and your palms directly under your shoulders. Make sure your shoulders are rotated back and down.
  2. As you brace your core and keep your back flat, begin to lower your body by bending your elbows while keeping them pointed slightly back. Lower down until your chest grazes the floor.
  3. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as possible, for 3 sets.

Good to know:

– your feet should be no more than 25 cm (12 inches) apart – the closer together, the more difficult the push-up, because it requires more core activation for stability.

– You can bend your elbows out to the side in a T formation, which fires up your pecs, or keep them tucked in along your rib cage, which biases the triceps.

– To protect your shoulders it’s recommended that you lower your chest just past the level of your bent elbows so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Dropping any further increases stress on the anterior capsule of the shoulder.

– As for speed, there’s no reason to pound out 30 fast ones. Proper form is much more important. Always move slowly and in control. Make it meditative, and focus on your breathing: breathe in when lowering; breathe out when pushing back up.

Wide Hand Push-Up

A wide hand push-up, meaning your hands are further apart than a standard push-up, puts more emphasis on your chest and shoulders and may be easier for beginners.

Muscles worked: chest and shoulderswide-hand-push-up-exercise

  1. Start in a plank position but with your hands out wider than your shoulders.
  2. Begin to lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping your core tight and your back flat, until your chest grazes the floor. Elbows will flare more than in a standard push up.
  3. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as possible for 3 sets.

Decline Push-Ups

The decline push-up focuses on your upper chest and shoulders.

Muscles worked: chest and shouldersdeclined-push-up-exercise

  1. Start in a plank position, with hands stacked under your shoulders. Put your feet up onto a bench, box or exercise ball.
  2. Begin lowering your body by bending your elbows, keeping your core tight and your back flat, until your chest grazes the floor. Keep your elbows pointed slightly back.
  3. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as possible for 3 sets.

Triangle (Diamond) Push-Up

Muscles Worked: Strengthens the upper body and core, with more focus on the triceps.diamond-push-up-exercise

  1. Begin in a plank position, with your hands together and angled inward at 45 degrees so that your index fingers and thumbs touch to form a triangle (or diamond).
  2. Keep your elbows tight to your body and bend them to lower your chest toward the triangle.
  3. Reverse the movement to the starting position for one repetition.
  4. Keep the triangle directly below your chest throughout the movement.

Plyometric Push-Up

A plyometric push up is an advanced exercise that should only be attempted if you’re confident in your upper body strength.

Muscles worked: chest

  1. Start in a plank position with your pelvis tucked in, your neck neutral, and your palms directly under your shoulders.plyometric-push-up-exercise
  2. Begin to lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping them pointed slightly back, with your core tight and your back flat, until your chest grazes the floor.
  3. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up, but instead of stopping at the top, use force to launch your upper body up through your hands so your palms come off the ground.
  4. Land lightly back on the ground and lower your chest again for another rep. Add a clap at the top for added difficulty.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as possible for 3 sets.

Pike Push-Up

Muscles worked: Strengthens the upper body and core, with more focus on the shoulders.pike-push-up-exercise

  1. Begin in a downward dog yoga position, with your feet and hands just wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Keep your hips high, heels low, and maintain the inverted-V position
  3. As you bend your elbows, lower your head toward the floor between your hands.
  4. Reverse the movement to the starting position for one repetition.

Staggered Hands Push-Up

Muscles worked: trains the push-up muscles asymmetrically across the body and requires more core activation for stability.staggered-push-up-exercise

  1. From a standard push-up position, move one hand forward and the other backward so they’re offset by about 15-30 cm (6-12 inches) – the further, the more difficult.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower your chest until it is slightly below the level of your bent elbows.
  3. Extend your elbows to push back up to the starting position.
  4. Keep your elbows tight to your body throughout the movement.
  5. After one or more repetitions, switch the fore and aft positions of your hands to work each side evenly.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “The Best Push-Ups – Muscles Engaged, Tips, Variations

  1. Great informative post! I didn’t realize there were so many variations to do the pushup. Love all the images – they made it easier to visualize and try out. What do you think of the so called “girl pushups” (knees are bent down) not sure if that’s the correct term, but that’s what I grew up calling them. Are those beneficial or just cheating (as my husband says) from doing the pushup?

    1. They are beneficial and are not only for “girls”. Yes, they are easier than ‘full’ push-up but are mostly recommended for beginners, people who were inactive for some time etc. As you strengthen your core and arms you can start with ‘full’ push-ups. I hope this was helpful. If you need any other help or have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask 🙂 I’m here to help

  2. Great post, lots of different variations on a simple exercise to target different muscles. This will come in handy when I am travelling and don’t have easy access to a gym. I like the pictures and clearly laid out directions. Thanks,
    Tyler

  3. Wow,
    You have provided not only the benefits of doing push-ups, but also many varieties of this exercise we can be doing to keep from becoming bored. Do you know if push-ups would be a good exercise for someone with neck problems, I have pinched nerves in my neck so I am having problems knowing which exercises are the best for me to be doing?

    Jeff

    1. If it’s a constant problem please check with your doctor. If it’s a tension thing and massage and warm-up helps, then be sure to do proper stretching and warm-up first.

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