Push Ups: Information


Commonly used in boot camp classes, body-building workouts and military training, the push-up perseveres as an effective fitness tool. Push-ups activate multiple muscle groups and require no equipment and little coordination. Learn to love the push-up for all the benefits it provides your body.


The classic push-up is performed from a plank position, meaning your body is supported on your palms and toes. Place your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and bend your elbows to lower your face to the floor, then return to starting position. When properly executed, the back remains rigid without sagging shoulders or hips. Depending on your fitness level, a set is between eight and 20 push-ups. Work your way up to three sets, with 60- to 90-second breaks in between.


The push-up activates most major muscle group of the body. The classic push-up primarily uses the chest, the fronts of the shoulders and triceps. To preserve form, however, many other muscle groups act as stabilizers. The American Council on Exercise notes these muscle groups include those of the upper back, spine, shoulders, abdominal and fronts and backs of the legs.


There are dozens of push-up variations. You can start with your hands on a higher surface to create an incline that puts greater emphasis on your lower chest, or put your feet higher for a decline push-up that creates more stress on your upper chest and fronts of your shoulders. You can place your hands on a medicine ball to obtain greater recruitment of abdominal and triceps muscles, or you can have a spotter put a weight plate on your back to increase the load and make the push-up more challenging.


Those with wrist or shoulder injuries might find push-ups aggravating. To help with wrist problems, try supporting your upper body by gripping a dumbbell in each hand to neutralize the wrist angle. Place the dumbbells as you would your palms–on the floor, slightly wider than your shoulders–and wrap your hands around the shafts. Prop yourself in a rigid line to your toes and bend your elbows to perform the push-up. If shoulder injuries prevent you from doing push-ups, or the dumbbell option does not alleviate your wrist irritation, try a dumbbell chest press instead.


Push-ups are not a “man’s” exercise. If you do not have the strength to complete many full push-ups, try a modification. Instead of resting in plank position on your toes, place your knees on the ground to do the push-up and work your way up to the full plank version. You also can try performing a push-up against the wall. Put your palms on the wall, slightly wider than your shoulders and extend your arms. Bend your elbows and lower your body into the wall, resisting the movement as you return to start.

About this Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.