What Do Push Ups Work?

What Do Push Ups Work?

Have you ever wondered what do push ups work? After all, this is a trendy exercise, and countless people today recommend doing it.

But why? What makes it so unique? Wouldn’t we be better off doing other exercise and workouts?

Let’s take an in-depth look at the push up, what muscles it works, what benefits it offers, and what you should consider before you start doing it.

Let’s dive in.

What Do Push Ups Work? (Muscles Involved)

Classic Push-ups

The push up emphasizes three muscle groups (see light to dark shades of red in the image above):

Primary

  • Chest (Pecs)
  • Shoulders (mainly the front deltoids)

Secondary

  • Triceps

Depending on the angle of your body and your stance width, you can emphasize different muscle groups or regions better.

For instance, if you do the classic push up with a wider stance, your chest works the hardest while your triceps and shoulders assist. In contrast, by having your hands close together, you reduce chest involvement and instead work your triceps more. Tricep push ups (diamond push ups) are a great example of this.

If you elevate your legs and do decline push ups, you have to push a greater percentage of your body weight. Besides causing a stronger resistance, this also targets your shoulders and upper chest better.

It’s difficult to say what the exact percentage is between the muscle groups, but each contributes. For optimal development, it’s good to do several types of push ups. Click for a complete push up workout.

Besides the shoulders, chest, and triceps, the push up is also great for promoting core strength. Specifically, the exercise strengthens and develops your serratus anterior, scapula, abs, lower back, and glutes.

Muscles Pushups Work

What Makes Push Ups Such a Great Exercise?

Okay, you might be wondering, “But what makes this exercise so great? I’ve heard there are many fantastic exercises for upper body strength and muscle gain.”

Fair point. But many people consider the push up exceptional because of its functionality and versatility. You can train a range of muscle groups in one simple motion without much experience. 

You can also pick from many variations depending on your fitness level and what you can handle. There are many options – wide, arrow, classic, incline, decline, plyometric, weighted, and much more.

For instance, as you get fatigued, you can do knee push ups or incline push ups. These have you push a smaller percentage of your body weight, which makes them easier. In contrast, if you want to challenge yourself more, do decline push ups, where you have to push a higher weight on each repetition.

Besides that, you can do push ups at any time and anywhere. You don’t need any equipment, so long as you have some free space. Do these in the gym, at home, in a hotel room, or outdoors. The options are limitless.

Important Considerations For Effective Push Up Training

Now that we’ve gone over the question of, “What do push ups work?” let’s go over some final considerations:

First, technique. Proper training form is key to effective push ups. Keep your body in one straight line – from your head down to your heels. When pushing up, go all the way up, just short of locking your elbows out. On the way down, lower as much as you can – ideally, until your chest taps the floor.

Push-up Using Poor Form

Second, angle. Incline push ups emphasize your mid and lower pecs better, where the decline works your middle and upper chest more. With the decline push up, the more vertical you get (feet higher), the more you engage your shoulders and the less your chest works.

Third, warm-up. Always make sure to prepare your body for each workout, no matter how simple it may seem. For push ups, it’s essential to warm up your shoulders, elbows, and wrists well. This will allow you to do them safely and prevent any aches from occurring down the line.

Click to return to other great bodyweight exercise.

David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David Williams is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

Click to see our medical disclosure.