Pushups are some of the best workouts you can include in your training routine — and for a good reason. Not only do pushups require zero equipment, but they’re also a challenging total-body workout that is especially effective for your biceps, chest, shoulders, arms, and abs.
Pushups are full-body workouts that are especially effective for targeting muscle groups in your arms, chest, shoulders, back, and core.
Performing pushups on a regular basis has several benefits, including strengthening the upper body and back, increasing endurance, and even reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues.
To target different muscle groups, try incorporating several push-up varieties like diamond pushups, incline pushups, decline pushups, and pike pushups.
Pushups also have a ton of functional fitness benefits, like strengthening your back muscles and increasing your stamina. Read on to learn what muscles do push ups work, how to incorporate this bodyweight exercise into your workout routine, and get closer to your fitness goals.
What muscles do different pushup variations work
In general, pushups of all variations target a combination of muscles in your upper body, including:
- Upper and lower back muscles;
The classic pushup starts with your body in an upright plank position with your palms on the ground directly beneath your shoulders, back straight, and the balls of your feet on the ground. You then lower your body to the ground, keeping your elbows tight to your body, then push back up to the starting plank position.
In addition, there are also many pushup variations that you can add to your workout routine if you want to specifically target different muscle groups and add more of a challenge to your workout.
Muscles worked by diamond pushups
Diamond pushups are variations in which you form a diamond with your thumbs and index fingers. Bringing your hands into this close stance directly beneath your upper chest makes diamond pushups great for targeting your:
Diamond pushup tweaks for beginners: Start on your knees before advancing to a full plank.
Advanced diamond pushup tweaks: Diamond pushups are already fairly advanced, but you can make it even more challenging by holding your position on the decline for a few seconds before pushing back up. For a real isolation challenge, try one-armed pushups!
Muscles worked by incline pushups
Incline pushups are performed by bracing your arms on an elevated surface like a workout bench or exercise box. The muscles most specifically targeted by incline pushups include:
Incline pushup tweaks for beginners: Start on your knees, or use a moderate incline, like a smaller exercise box, before progressing to higher elevations.
Incline pushup tweaks for advanced exercisers: Bring your arms closer together beneath your chest to engage your triceps. You can also brace your hands on a stability ball to challenge your core muscles.
Muscles worked by decline pushups
Decline pushups involve bracing your hands against a lower surface than the rest of your body (i.e. your hands are on the ground, but your feet are on a bench). The muscles worked by decline pushups include:
Decline pushup tweaks for beginners: Decline pushups are an advanced exercise, so it’s important to master your regular pushup form to make sure you can keep your back straight throughout the exercise. When you’re ready to add a decline variation into your routine, start with a slight decline like a low box, or brace your shins against the elevated surface rather than your feet.
Decline pushup tweaks for advanced exercisers: Try bracing only one leg on your elevated surface to get your core even more involved.
Muscles worked by pike pushups
The pike involves raising your hips rather than staying horizontal, similar to the Downward-Facing Dog yoga position. Pike pushups are especially challenging for your:
Pike pushups for beginners: Start by perfecting your regular pushups, putting extra emphasis on your shoulders to ensure that they are strong enough to carry the weight during the pike. You can also prep by practicing Downward-Facing Dog and Dolphin Pose yoga moves.
Advanced pike pushups: Combine the pike with a decline pushup by placing your feet on an elevated surface.
Pushups for specific goals
If you prefer to target specific muscle groups on different days, you can easily perform several pushup variations each day.
For example, you might add military pushups to your workout routine on back-day since they require you to keep your elbows closer to your body and put more emphasis on your triceps. On the other hand, you might incorporate Mike Tyson pushups into a shoulder-focused day since they involve a slight forward horizontal movement and are, therefore, more challenging for your shoulders than some other variations.
Some of the best pushup variations for each muscle group include:
- For chest. Incline pushups, decline pushups, wall pushups, clap pushups;
- For shoulders. Pike pushups, wall pushups, Mike Tyson pushups;
- For biceps and triceps. Diamond pushups, regular pushups, military pushups;
- For back. Regular pushups, reverse pushups, dumbbell pushups.
Benefits of pushups
Pushups come with a huge array of benefits especially considering that most variations require minimal to zero equipment to perform properly.
Improved upper body strength
Performing a pushup requires the use of several major muscle groups in your upper body, all while resisting gravity and pushing against your body weight. This makes it a naturally effective resistance-training exercise that can increase your upper body strength and be applied in real life and in the gym for load-bearing upper-body exercises like the bench press.
Improved cardiovascular health
Because so many of your major muscle groups are engaged during a pushup, pushups can be part of an effective cardiovascular routine, especially when cycled with other higher-intensity workouts that make your heart work hard. The ability to perform pushups is, therefore, an excellent predictor of your heart health. In fact, researchers have even found that the ability to do more than 40 pushups was linked to lower cardiovascular risks among active men.
Even though pushups are an excellent cardiovascular workout, they’re also lower-impact than other workouts like running and sprinting, which can jostle your joints and other soft tissues. Performing pushups regularly can also strengthen the joints in your elbows and shoulders over time, leading to an overall healthier upper body.
Engages your back and core muscles
Finally, pushups require both your back and core muscles to perform with the correct form, which ultimately helps strengthen both. This can help improve posture and prevent back pain down the line as long as you are performing the workouts correctly. Finally, pushups require both your back and core muscles to perform with the correct form, which ultimately helps strengthen both. This can help improve posture and prevent back pain down the line as long as you are performing the workouts correctly.
How many pushups should I do a day?
The number of pushups you perform every day depends on a variety of factors, including your current fitness level and your health goals. If you are new to exercise, the American Council on Exercise suggests starting by perfecting your form until you can perform two sets of 10–12 repetitions.
Can pushups reduce belly fat?
No, there are no exercises that specifically target belly fat. Fat loss occurs when someone is burning more calories than they use per day, which causes them to “burn” the stored fat for energy, and this fat loss happens throughout the entire body. However, pushups can be used effectively in a cardio circuit that can contribute to a calorie deficit when paired with the right diet.
Do pushups make you bigger?
Pushups are resistance exercises that use your own body weight and gravity to challenge your muscles. They can therefore strengthen your upper body muscles and make them bigger when paired with a protein-heavy diet that helps to rebuild your muscles. However, if your goal is to maximize your muscle gain, you should also add other weight-bearing exercises to your workout routine.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise.
- Journal of Human Kinetics. Push-Ups are Able to Predict the Bench Press 1-RM and Constitute an Alternative for Measuring Maximum Upper Body Strength Based on Load-Velocity Relationships.
- JAMA Network. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men.
- Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss.