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Do Push Ups Work? - Benefits And Muscles Worked

Updated on October 4, 2014

I started doing push ups when I was in high school. You gotta be tough to survive high school where I come from. No bully bothers you when they know you can kick their ass.

The only push up variations I knew were the incline push up, and the clap push up. I didn't have access to the internet at the time or I would have learned more about this magnificent exercise; more variations, better technique, etc.

The push up is the best upper body exercise out there. It beats the bench press when it comes to safety of joints as well as preventing shoulder injury. That is why it’s the favored exercise of the military, and the navy seals.

The bench press can cause rotator cuff injury, and weaken your joints, but, if done correctly, it can also be a safe and effective way to build upper body strength and muscle. Sadly, most of the trainees use terrible form when performing the bench press, and when you do that with enormous weights over your head, you’ll end up tearing something. You can switch the bench press with the overhead press, which is an awesome but underrated upper body lift. As for building huge pecs, there is no better exercise for it than the push up.

Benefits of push ups

  1. Builds huge pectoral (chest) muscles.
  2. Builds big triceps.
  3. Works the deltoids (shoulder).
  4. Builds functional upper body strength.
  5. Works your core hard.
  6. Protects and develops stronger joints.
  7. Works the lats.
  8. Can be done anywhere.
  9. No need of equipments (except for weighted pushups).
  10. Safe to perform.
  11. Easier on rotator cuff muscles.
  12. There are many variation that you can perform.
  13. Keeps your wrists safe.

How many pushups can you do in a single set?

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Muscles it works

Push ups work the pressing muscle in the upper body hard. The primary muscles it works are: pectoral major, pectoral minor, deltoids, and triceps. The secondary muscles it works are: abs, glutes, lats, core, hips, and the spinal muscles. All these muscles work in co-ordination to perform the movement in a full range of motion.

When done is correct form, they strengthen the joints and tendons, and keeps them healthy and pain free. Sadly, I can't say this about our beloved bench press.

Those who work out with weights are advised to add push ups into their workout. They lubricate the joints and prevent joint injuries that come with weight training.

They strengthen rotator cuff muscles, and prevent injury. This is important as most of the weight trainees today, at some point in their training, suffer shoulder injuries.

Bruce Lee performing his legendary 2 finger push up
Bruce Lee performing his legendary 2 finger push up

Bruce Lee could perform two-finger push-ups (using the thumb and the index finger of one hand). He demonstrated this feat in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships. He also performed his legendary one inch punch and amazed the black belt audience. These feats were so incredible that people couldn't tell if it was real or fake.

Bruce's excellence in martial arts has a lot to do with his physical training, and before he started lifting weights he trained with calisthenics to get as strong as he was. Who says you can't get strong with push ups?

Here is my article on Bruce Lee's workout routine.

Which one of the following is your favorite exercise?

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Push up variations

A regular push up is not going to build muscle for you forever. To keep making more progress, you will have to make the exercise harder somehow.

Adding weights is one way to add resistance, but it’s not the only way; you can increase resistance by changing the leverage. Placing your feet on a higher surface in decline push up, shifts your weight to the front, making it a harder variation. You get the point?

Here are some push up variations you can try:

  1. Kneeling push ups.
  2. Incline push ups.
  3. Half push ups.
  4. Close push ups.
  5. Lever push ups.
  6. Incline one arm push ups.
  7. Uneven one arm push ups.
  8. One arm push ups.
  9. Dive-bomber push ups.
  10. Jackknife push ups.
  11. Handstand push ups.
  12. Superman Push ups.
  13. Gecko push ups.
  14. Clapping push ups.
  15. Tiger push ups.
  16. Ring push ups.

Insight on "perfect" technique

In this section I am not going to tell you the perfect push up technique. Rather, I will give you some pointers on finding a perfect technique for you. Try different techniques and see which one feels most comfortable to you. Following is the list of some general rules to follow while performing push ups.

  1. Keep your torso, hips, and legs aligned throughout the movement. Contract your abs and glutes hard to prevent your hips from sinking.
  2. Exhale on the way up, and inhale on the way down.
  3. Keep the elbows close to the body.
  4. Perform a full range of motion, but don't lock your elbows at the top; keep them a little loose.
  5. Except for plyometric or other explosive variations, push ups should be performed at a slow pace. Momentum kills strength gains, so for better gains in strength and muscle, do them slowly. Also, elbows tend to jerk while doing explosive movements under high tension, and that puts stress on your joints. To prevent this avoid explosive movements until the slower version feels too easy.

Thank you for reading!

Thanks for reading this article. I hope you have learned something. If you have any doubts, please feel free ask.

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

- Bruce Lee

Good luck!


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