Push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises that you can do for many reasons.
Aside from being convenient enough to do anywhere without any equipment, they’re also great for improving upper body definition and core strength.
They offer a ton of benefits that can be achieved in a pretty short span of time by almost anyone regardless of your age or fitness level.
10 Benefits of push-ups
Push-ups are one of the most popular and well-known calisthenics movements. If you’ve never done them before, well… you probably will after reading this article.
1. Tons of variations
One of the key benefits of bodyweight exercises is that there are usually lots of variations and modifications that make them an easy tool to use for progressive overload.
The progressive overload principle dictates that in order to continue seeing results you have to keep providing your body with enough of a stimulus to elicit adaptation.
Once your body gets used to a movement it won’t respond as well, so it’s important to keep challenging yourself.
Since push-ups have so many variations to choose from, it’s a great exercise for adding variety to your routine.
Even if you’re just a beginner and learning to do them properly, there are multiple modifications to work with that will challenge you and give you great results while keeping your joints safe.
2. Compound movement
Compound movements place a higher demand on your metabolic system, meaning they require more energy for you to execute them.
This abundance of required energy translates to a greater impact on your body composition changes, and your heart health.
As your body has to work harder to control the movement, your heart rate and breathing will increase letting you know that there’s stress your body needs to deal with in order to keep functioning appropriately.
Not all stress is bad, so your body responds to this by adapting and trying to be more efficient the next time it encounters this movement.
This is what ultimately changes your body composition for the better, adding more muscle and decreasing fat.
It’s also why full-body, multi-joint compound movements are great for weight loss and increasing muscle mass.
3. Functional strength
Functional strength training uses multiple muscles simultaneously. Research shows that when you train all of your muscles together you become stronger a lot faster.
Push-ups are a fantastic way to activate your whole body during exercise which improves strength, agility, and balance.
Full-body movements are an effective way to train your muscles to work synergistically and promote muscle balance, which can decrease your risk of injury and fortify your joints.
When you do functional exercises, you’ll normally find that you’ll experience larger strength increases due to the level of activation this type of bodyweight exercise elicits.
Plus, since push-ups are a pushing movement, improving this fundamental movement pattern will transfer to other activities as well, consequently increasing your performance.
4. Endurance and strength
The military uses push-ups as a fitness performance indicator, using them to measure your fitness level, and track progress.
Their logic behind this reasoning stems in large part from the capability of this exercise to build overall fitness.
Push-ups are an endurance-based exercise, but it’s an exercise that also requires a good amount of strength.
After all, you’re pushing your body weight against gravity, which is no small feat.
Push-ups are tough, especially if you’ve never done many of them before.
So, when you start to focus on them, you’ll find that your strength may dramatically improve along with your stamina.
5. Increase your anabolic response
Another benefit of doing push-ups is that they can increase your anabolic response regardless of your age or fitness level.
When you participate in resistance training, your body reacts by adjusting your anabolic hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, also known as HGH, in order to help you get better at what you’re doing.
It does this because your body is smart and likes to do the most work with the least amount of effort, so it adapts.
Our bodies adapt to resistance training by increasing our testosterone, in men and in women, as well as our HGH.
Testosterone helps us to build stronger bones, bigger and stronger muscles and stimulates fat loss.
While HGH does similar things, it also speeds recovery, helps to repair tissues like your brain and muscles, aids you in healing injuries more quickly, and boosts your metabolism.
6. Increase your metabolism
One of the main benefits often mentioned with respect to bodyweight exercises is that they increase your metabolism because you’re working lots of muscles at once.
Push-ups are no exception. While they may not target your lower body as much as they emphasize your upper body musculature, you’re still using a bunch of muscles to execute a difficult movement.
Even just the act of practicing push-ups will give you a multitude of benefits including muscle growth, fat loss, and increased calorie burn. All of these things correlate with your metabolism.
When you increase your metabolism, you’re increasing your daily calorie burn at rest and ultimately contributing to a decrease in fat storage.
Improving your total lean body mass or muscle will further ramp up your metabolism because you have to take in more calories to maintain your muscle mass.
7. More muscle definition
Using multiple muscles at once increases your overall calorie burn.
When you’re burning more calories through strength training, your body maintains or increases your muscle mass while stimulating fat loss.
The less fat you have on your body, the more defined your muscles will look whether they’re actually getting bigger or not.
This is why leaner individuals tend to have more of a “popping out” look to their muscles. There’s less fat, and therefore more definition.
Since push-ups are a challenging exercise, they not only signal your body to build more muscle and increase strength, but you’ll also burn more calories from fat.
8. Core strength
Most exercises require core strength, as that’s where a lot of your power originates.
However, bodyweight exercises tend to really activate your core because they require more overall balance and stability.
Whenever you do any type of movement, your core is stimulated in order to protect your spine from injury, and help you balance or stay upright.
Push-ups require you to maintain a rigid body position while moving your whole body up and down as a unit.
This requires your core to be isometrically contracted, and ultimately gain strength and endurance in order to promote more stability in that position.
9. Balance and stability
When your muscles have to work together during a full-body movement, it increases the work of your stabilizing and supporting muscles.
These are the ones responsible for helping you to balance and maintain joint stability during everyday activities like walking up the stairs or standing up.
As we age, a condition called sarcopenia starts setting in, which is the gradual loss of muscle mass.
This condition often contributes to falls and injuries in older adults who don’t have the ability to balance and stabilize like they used to.
So, it’s imperative to do resistance training, as well and exercises that improve balance and stability, like the push-up.
As a bodyweight exercise, it requires you to use a lot of muscles together at the same time which can improve your joint stability and ability to balance.
Push-ups are one of the most convenient exercises you can do.
They don’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere: the floor or ground, on a bench, on the wall, on a bar, using handles, etc.
Whether you like to go to the gym or workout at home, it’s an easy addition to your workout program that doesn’t require any set-up.
While push-ups can be enhanced by adding equipment, it’s not necessary in order to get in a good pushing workout at any time you choose and anywhere.
What muscles do push-ups work?
Main muscles targeted
These are the muscles emphasized the most:
- Chest muscles (pecs)
- Shoulders (delts)
- Back of your arms (triceps)
Help your main targeted muscles to work more efficiently:
- Serratus anterior (part of your core, around your ribs)
Add to joint stability and help you to balance:
- Fronts of your thighs (quads)
Wide grip vs close grip push-ups
There are so many variations for push-ups, with two of the main ones being wide grip and close grip.
While they both target your chest, shoulders, and triceps, they do so to varying extents based on your hand position and body angle.
Wide grip push-ups place more of an emphasis on your chest and the fronts of your shoulders.
They require you to place your hands a lot wider than shoulder-width, which decreases some of the triceps assistance.
As you lower yourself with your hands wider, you’re able to get more of a stretch in your chest.
An increased stretch in your muscles at the bottom of the movement means more muscle fiber activation for your chest.
This provides more of a stimulus for your body to respond to in order to get stronger and build muscle.
This push-up variation also tends to be easier so it’s a good place for beginners to start.
The close-grip push-up emphasizes your triceps a lot more than the wide-grip variation.
For this version of the push-up you’ll want to place your hands under you, or at least no wider than just outside of your shoulders.
The emphasis on your triceps comes from the angle of your arms during this push-up.
As you lower yourself in this position, your elbows can move further behind your body creating more range of motion during elbow extension.
Elbow extension is one of the primary movements for triceps activation.
Push-ups variations and grips
Emphasis on upper chest and shoulders:
- Hands outside of shoulder-width or wider.
- Upper body elevated, like on the Smith machine, wall or bench, takes away from the amount of weight your body has to control, decreasing leg involvement.
Emphasis on lower chest:
- Hands outside of shoulder-width
- Feel elevated
- Greater metabolic demand than standard or incline push-up
Wide grip push-ups
Emphasis on chest and shoulders:
- Hands are farther apart and away from the torso
- Easier, good for beginners
- Harder to keep wrists straight
Narrow grip push-ups
More emphasis on chest and triceps:
- Hands closer together, under or just outside of shoulder-width
- More pec major activation than standard or wide push-up
- Increased difficulty compared to standard or wide push-up
How many push-ups should I do?
First, you should gauge how many push-ups you can do with the correct form.
If you find that you’re unable to get one clean push-up, meaning you’re able to maintain a tight core and go up and down in a smooth manner, then you’ll want to start with modified push-ups.
Some modified options for push-ups are:
This is the ultimate beginner modification where you’ll place your hands on the wall a little outside of shoulder-width.
Smith machine push-ups
Set the bar at about belly button level and keep your wrists straight while lowering your chest to the bar and pressing back up, the higher the bar, the easier the movement.
Instead of being on your hands and toes, you’ll place some type of cushion on the floor and bend your legs to rest on your knees instead.
Timed drills for endurance and speed
Push-ups are an endurance-based exercise so if you can already knock out a few with good form, then you can do timed drills to increase your push-up performance.
You’d do this by setting a timer for 30-60 seconds and seeing how many you can do in that time.
Repeat this two more times after resting for about 60-90 seconds in between.
Mass and strength building
If your focus is strength or mass building then you’ll want to take the number of push-ups you can do with correct form and subtract a few reps from that number.
The reason for doing this is to prevent you from going to failure. While exercising until failure has it’s benefits, it’s too intense to consistently shoot for on a regular basis.
Instead, you’ll want to do about 3 sets of just below your max amount. Go slowly enough to focus on your form and execute each push-up with a full range of motion.
Don’t cheat yourself by doing bouncy reps where your arms aren’t actually extending all the way at the top of the movement.
Your body will respond better to full, controlled reps.
Let’s say you can do 20 push-ups with great form. You’ll want to aim for about 3-4 sets of 15-18 push-ups and slow down your reps to make it more challenging.
The slower you go, the more muscle fibers you’ll recruit while calling on your stabilizer muscles to work a little harder also.
Should I do weighted push-ups?
You may want more of a challenge after you’ve perfected your push-up form and mastered the bodyweight version of this exercise.
If so, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve got your technique down before adding any type of load to this exercise.
Weighted push-ups are a great way to progressively overload your muscles with systematic progression.
Once you’ve gotten into the higher rep ranges and want to add strength or size, rather than focus on endurance.
Push-ups at home
There are a few products that can provide some alternative angles, add difficulty or decrease difficulty, and make the movement safer for your wrists.
Push-up stands are rectangular half mood shaped bars that you can use to deepen your range of motion and keep your wrists safely aligned so that you’re not putting undue pressure on your joints.
There are also some push-up handles that rotate for an added stability challenge. They’re often marketed as “perfect push-up” equipment and sold by a few different companies.
If you’ve gotten really good at using just your bodyweight and would like to make your push-ups harder, build more muscle, and increase your strength then you can wear a weighted vest.
These are great tools for added resistance because you can remove some of the weights to make it less difficult and work your way up.
The external load will force your muscle to work harder and stimulate more of an anabolic, or muscle-building response.
Let’s say you’re not in a place to buy a bunch of at-home equipment and just want to keep things simple.
You can also use 2 chairs or 2 benches in order to deepen the range of motion (just make sure they don’t flip).