Undoubtedly, push-ups require great strength and power from your full body, which makes them excellent for general conditioning. They are also one of the fundamentals of calisthenics or bodyweight movements. With no fancy equipment or setup required, push-ups can be conveniently performed anywhere with a safe and flat surface. Regular push-ups arms straight 

As an essential compound movement, push-ups will do you a favor by targeting multiple muscles at the same time, including the chest, shoulders, triceps, core, back, and legs. But you wouldn’t exactly be justifying this exercise if your form is all over the place and your body moves without rigidity.

Push-ups are simple yet not as easy as they look. The key to successfully performing push-ups lies in your form and the muscles engaged. This article discusses all that and more. Aside from teaching you what to do, we’ll also let you in on what not to do, so you can always have your form in check while keeping potential injuries at bay. You may also consider a Push Up Bar that comes with lots of Benefits for the push up exercise. Another alternative is the Parallettes that are now extensively utilized by strong and advanced calisthenics athletes since they allow for a variety of dynamic bodyweight workouts such as pushups, dips, planches, swing-throughs, and handstand push-ups.

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To Do A Push-Up
  • Push-Up Benefits
  • Common Push-Up Mistakes To Avoid
  • Push-Up Muscles Worked
  • Push-Up vs Bench Press
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Push-Up Variations
  • Push-Up Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Push-Up

How To Do A Push-Ups

What You’ll Need:

  • Exercise Mat: The push-up is typically performed with bodyweight only. You may place a mat on the floor for more cushion against your hands and feet.

Alternative Equipment:

  • Weight Plate: Adding a bumper plate of your desired weight on the back will increase the overall load you will be pushing, thus will challenge your core, back, and upper body strength.
  • Push Up Bars / Push Up Board : You can purchase a pair of push-up bars or board to assist with the proper hand placement. This will also help you target specific muscles while achieving proper form.

Step 1: Kneel For The Starting Position

Go on all fours and spread your arms across your chest shoulder-width apart. Raise your hips, put your feet on tiptoe, and have your arms fully extended to achieve the high plank position. Make sure to keep a straight line alone across your entire back, starting from your head to your toes.

Step 2: Activate The Working Muscles

Proceed to engage the working muscles to perform the perfect push-up. These muscles include the abdominal muscles, chest, triceps, back, and even the quads, which act as a stabilizer throughout the movement. Place your hands in a neutral position and neither inward nor outward to avoid wrist pain.

Step 3: Descend with Full Control

With your body fully rigid and tight, begin to slowly lower yourself on the floor using a combination of your tricep and core strength the majority of the time. Bend your elbows at a 45º angle and aim to have your chest and upper thighs touch the floor to achieve the perfect push-up with a full range of motion. Keep your elbows tucked throughout the movement and avoid them from flaring outward.

Step 4: Ascend with Power

It takes more strength to push your body weight from the floor so make sure to keep your core tight and your working key muscles fully activated, including your pectoral muscles, shoulder blades, and even hip muscles. Maintain your elbows tight in a fully extended position to achieve one successful repetition. Perform the rest of the sets according to your program.

Push-Ups Benefits

1. Gain Functional Fitness

Push-ups go beyond the borders of the gym. In real life, you can apply the fundamentals of push-ups for practical purposes. With your pushing skills improved, you can do mundane everyday things with more ease, such as pushing the grocery cart, pushing a box on an inclined surface, and so much more.

2. Improve On Pecs-Specific Exercises

Performing push-ups regularly and incorporating them into your workout program can help you improve on chest-specific exercises, including the bench press. With push-ups, your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor are properly targeted both for strength and muscle mass.

3. Shoulder Stability And Mobility

The shoulders work hand-in-hand with the chest and back during the whole movement. Better shoulder stability and mobility can assist in other exercises that target a combination of the deltoids, chest, and back, such as chest press, chest flys, pull-overs, and scapular squeezes.

Common Push-Ups Mistakes to Avoid

Flared-Out Elbows

You may commonly see novice lifters having their arms perpendicular to their back when performing the push-up. While this may be all too common, it does not necessarily make it right. Aiming to achieve a perfect T on your back (from an aerial viewpoint) is one of the biggest cardinal sins you could commit in the gym (or even outside its borders).

This common mistake results in a greater risk of injury on multiple joints, including the elbows joints and less activation on your triceps and chest. This leads to even fewer improvements in terms of strength and power. If you have been making this novice mistake, don’t worry, it’s never too late to fix your form. 

To achieve a good form, place your hands just a bit wider than shoulder-width apart with your elbows tucked on the sides. Aim for a 45º to 60º angle. You’ll know you’re doing the correct form when your chest is leaning forward and not simply going down and up from the floor.

Wrong Hand Orientation

With a simple wrong placement of the hands, you can quickly throw your push-up form out of the window. If you are a total beginner with push-ups, you may easily overlook this common mistake. You may be focusing too much on your push-up movement and not enough on the minor aspects such as your hand orientation.

Put simply, your hands should neither be pointed inward nor outward. Your hands should be in a neutral position with your index fingers pointing forward. As you bend your elbows to descent, focus on distributing both balance and strength across your entire hands.

Speed Pushing

Aiming to hit a high number within a short period may be practical in some physical fitness tests, but in reality, the last thing you want to do is rep out your push-ups, rely on momentum, and risk injuring your shoulder or elbow joints along the way. 

Studies have shown that more controlled movements lead to greater muscle activation. For push-ups, you want to target at least 2.5 seconds in doing one rep. Even better, increase time under tension by performing push-ups between 5 seconds to a full minute.

What Muscles Do Push Ups Work?

The push-up works multiple muscles such as:

  • Pectorals
  • Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Abdominals
  • Serratus anterior

The chest or pecs achieve proper flexion (bending) and adduction (movement of a limb toward the midline of the body) during a proper push-up. The deltoids are made of three parts, with the anterior delts being the most activated. This is primarily responsible for raising the arm in front of the body.

Heading over to the triceps, these straighten and bend your elbows. Depending on the muscle you’re targeting, the triceps are one of the two primary movers during a proper push-up. The core stabilizers are equally involved in the movement. However, in a holistic sense, the “core” also involves the lower back, the musculature of the pelvis, and the ribcage.

Push-Ups vs Bench Press: Which is Better?

The Push-Ups vs Bench Press? They are both horizontal pushing exercises, one pushing against the ground and the other pushing load away from the body. Generally, both work the pecs and triceps together. Some of the supporting muscles activated in each exercise include the traps, rhomboids, and antagonistic back muscles. 

In terms of strength, muscle hypertrophy, and general fitness, one can benefit from either of these two exercises. You can increase strength depending on your sport or lifestyle. Achieving hypertrophy boils down to always adding more load. 

For a specific answer, bench presses are a sport-specific move in powerlifting, while push-ups are highly applicable in calisthenics. One being better over the other is a matter of preference, exercise focus, and overall fitness goal.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For General Workout

As discussed earlier, push-ups present functional fitness for anyone who takes them seriously enough. Granted, your push-up form is spot on; you don’t have to necessarily rep it out if you’re not preparing for a powerlifting meet or competing in a physique comp soon. 

For general fitness and health, a couple of push-ups in perfect form two to three times per week would suffice. Throw in a couple of push-ups around 5 reps shy from failure. Do this for two to three sets with a rest period of 60 to 90 seconds, and consider your workout routine complete.

For Physical Improvement

You can actually achieve massive gain across your chest, triceps, and shoulders by incorporating push-ups into your workout routine. Putting it as a finisher twice a week into your regular program is like the icing on a cake. Do it AMRAP style and watch your gains begin.

For Strength Training

You might think that achieving strength through push-ups is best done by performing crazy variations while stacking weights on your back, but the truth is quite the contrary. The best time to do push-ups for power is at the beginning of your workout when your body and mind are fresh as a daisy. 

This ensures that you’re hitting a full range and giving it the best you got. You can do a couple of moderate effort sets or add it as a warm-up before your bench presses to condition your chest for the lift.

Push-Ups Variations

If you think push-ups are too simple for your taste, wait until you see the numerous Variations of Push-Ups out there, three of which we feature below:

Knee Push-Ups

A full push-up can be strenuous on your body especially if you’ve never done it before. You can modify it into an easier push-up variation by balancing on your knees instead of your toes. Knee push-ups can help you activate the right working muscles while lessening the load you will have to carry.

Diamond Push-Up

On an opposite note, if you want to further progress your upper arms strength and get that horseshoe tricep, the diamond push-up can place tremendous tension on your triceps. This also gives you stronger and more defined shoulders, especially on the anterior deltoids.

Incline Push-Ups

Another push-up variation you can try is the incline push-up. With your hands on an elevated surface, your lower chest and back muscles are more activated. You could perform this anywhere on any platform higher than the ground like a stout table or the armrest of a bench. You could also fire up your triceps more by positioning your hands on the edge of a narrower platform.

Push-Up Alternatives

The following are some great Alternatives to the Push-Up if you’re not yet ready to commit to a full bodyweight exercise:

Bear Crawls

Bear Crawls look like fun and games until you actually attempt them on the floor with the hands shoulder-width throughout. This push-up alternative places great tension on your core muscles, arm muscles, quadriceps, and shoulders. This can increase bone and muscle endurance and even improves blood circulation.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bench Presses allow more chest activation by providing more room for your elbows to go below your chest muscles. Doing this alternative can increase your strength and stability in preparation for a full-range push-up. You could also address some muscle imbalances by pushing one arm at a time while the other arm remains extended to the top.

TRX Chest Fly 

More than a great push-up alternative, the TRX chest fly assists in improving body coordination, building strength, and tightening various muscle groups such as the core, glutes, triceps, and calves. It starts with the same high plank position on an incline with the hands shoulder-width apart.

Frequently Asked Questions

Definitely! The key is to master the proper form and activate the right working muscles so you can achieve a standard push-up without straining your wrists, joints, or other body parts. If you are not familiar with the proper form, don’t hesitate to consult your local fitness professionals.

Given the proper form, push-ups target the pectorals, deltoids, triceps, abdominals, and serratus anterior. Regularly incorporating the standard push-up into your exercise program can result in improved pushing power, better everyday functionality, a stronger upper body, and increased muscle mass with the right program to support hypertrophy.

There is no strict number on how many push-ups you should do in a day. Complete beginners can start with three to five reps in proper form. Performing more than five and less than thirty push-ups can help you gain strength, while doing more than thirty results in endurance.

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