From the Blog

What Muscles Do Push Ups Work?

Most gym-goers ask “What muscles do push ups work?”, and rightly so. Understanding this will help you to perform them properly, and become stronger.

Push ups target several muscle groups in your upper body, emphasizing the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Primary Muscles

Chest (pectoralis major and minor): push ups engage the pectoral muscles, helping to develop upper, middle, and lower portions of your chest.

Shoulders (deltoids): the anterior (front) deltoid muscles are heavily involved in the pushing motion during push ups.                                        

Triceps Brachii: triceps, located on the back of your upper arms, play a significant role in extending your elbows as you push your body up.

Other Muscles Used

Core Muscles: push ups engage your core muscles, including the rectus abdominis (front of the abdomen) and obliques (side of the abdomen), to stabilize your body during the movement.

Scapular Stabilizers: muscles like the serratus anterior and trapezius help stabilize your shoulder blades (scapulae), aiding in proper shoulder mechanics.

Back Muscles: the muscles of your upper back, including the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi, are engaged to some extent as you stabilize your body during the push up motion.

Now that you understand the muscles used, apply it to performing each and every push up properly so you can get stronger. Not focusing on this could easily result in injury.

push up alignment diagram showing proper form and engage muscles

Push Up Form

It is easy to see your strength improving when you are lifting weights since you can increase the weight of the dumbbells or of the plates added to a barbell. Another way to measure your strength is to use push ups.

To do this, we first must ensure you are executing them properly.

The 4 Count Push Up

Take a video of you performing push ups and compare your form with this checklist. In step 2, your shoulders should be rotated towards your spine, your hands will be under your shoulders, and your elbows will be pointing back, not flared out.

After you are certain you are following each of the 5 steps, film yourself again, and do it with a two count on the way down and a two count on the way up. Be sure to count “0-1-2” to get a full 2 second count in each direction. 

Once you do this consistently, then progress to a more challenging variation. If you are having difficulty, modify. Whichever push up variation you choose, you can measure your strength based on the results of a study where researchers calculated the percentage of bodyweight that you are actually pushing when you perform different types. This is your push up strength.

Push Up Style

Feet elevated on a 24″ box – 74% of bodyweight
Feet elevated on a 12″ box – 70%
Regular Push Ups  – 64%
Hands elevated on a 12″ box – 55%
Knee Push Ups – 49%
Hands elevated on a 24″ box – 41%

What does this mean to you?  It answers your original question “What muscles do push ups work?” and tells you how to properly perform them. Beyond this though, it probably means something different to everyone. For some, it shows how much progress you can make as you continue to get stronger.  For others, it could encourage you to try more difficult push ups for a bigger challenge.  No matter your answer, you now have a better idea of how strong you really are.  Don’t forget to use the proper muscles when performing them. Form is always more important than quantity.

Not happy with where you are? Or do you want to get even stronger? Start on a fitness plan designed for you!