What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work? (2023)

Since the inception of modern strength training, the push-up has remained one of the top bodyweight exercises for targeting muscles of the upper body.

This essential movement continues to be a staple in the exercise programs of athletes, recreational gym-goers, bodybuilders, and even those recovering from certain injuries.

While most people are familiar with the push-up, some may be unsure of exactly which muscles the exercise works.

This article details which muscles push-ups work, how to perform them, their benefits, common mistakes, and popular variations.

What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work? (1)Share on Pinterest

While often referred to as a chest exercise, the other muscles that push-ups work should not go overlooked.

In fact, the push-up is categorized as a compound bodyweight exercise, meaning that it targets several muscles of the upper body.

Here are the muscles you’ll target when performing a standard push-up.

Pectoralis major

The pectoralis major is the largest of the chest muscles. It’s thick, fan-shaped, and found just under the breast tissue. It serves as the prime mover when performing a push-up.

The muscle consists of two heads. One is the clavicular head, which originates from the medial part of the clavicle. The other is the sternocostal head, which originates from the sternum and upper ribs.

While these heads originate from separate locations, both insert on the upper part of the humerus, or upper arm bone.

During the push-up, this muscle controls the descent of your torso towards the floor and pushes the body back up to the starting position.

Pectoralis minor

The pectoralis minor is a lesser-known muscle of the chest. It’s significantly smaller in size and lies under the pectoralis major.

This small triangle-shaped muscle originates from the front third through fifth ribs. It inserts onto the coracoid process, a small hook-like structure on the front part of the scapula.

When performing the push-up, the pectoralis minor keeps the scapulae, your shoulder blades, in position. This allows for the correct posture of the shoulders and upper back.


The triceps, formally known as the triceps brachii, is a large, thick muscle located on the back of your upper arm.

The prefix “tri” refers to the three heads that form this important pushing muscle. These are referred to as the medial, lateral, and long heads.

Each head has a unique origination point. The medial and lateral heads originate from the back of the humerus, your upper arm bone. The long head originates from the upper part of the scapula below your shoulder joint.

All three heads insert onto the olecranon process, which is the pointed bone on the back of your elbow joint.

(Video) What Muscles Do a Push Up Use?

During the first half of the push-up, when your chest is nearly touching the floor, the triceps helps stabilize the torso. During the second half, the triceps is the primary mover as you extend the arms.

Anterior deltoids

The deltoids are the large, triangular-shaped muscles located on top of the shoulder joints.

Like the triceps, these powerful muscles are made up of three distinct heads — the anterior, lateral, and posterior heads.

While all heads are active during the push-up, the anterior head is targeted the most due to its location on the front of the shoulder joint.

This head originates from the frontal part of the clavicle bone and inserts onto the outer part of the humerus of your upper arm.

During the upward phase of the push-up, the anterior deltoids help adduct the shoulder joint, meaning they help bring the arms inward towards the chest. They also help stabilize the shoulders during the downward phase.

Core muscles

While push-ups largely stimulate the chest muscles, other muscle groups support the movement.

One such group is the muscles of the core — specifically, the abdominals.

The abdominals are made up of five main muscles called the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and the pyramidalis.

Additionally, the deep core muscles of the back help keep the torso erect. Particularly, the erector spinae and multifidus assist with this.

Working in unison, these core muscles help keep your spine straight to allow for good form when performing the push-up.


While the push-up largely targets the muscles of the chest, the pectoralis major and minor, several other muscle groups contribute. Namely, these include the triceps, anterior deltoids, and the core muscles.

The push-up is a tried and true bodyweight exercise known to provide several potential benefits. Here are the top benefits of regularly performing push-ups.

Builds upper body strength

Considering that the push-up is a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups simultaneously, it has great potential to build upper body strength.

When incorporating push-ups as a part of a well-balanced training program, they can build significant strength in the pectoralis, tricep, and anterior deltoid muscles.

In addition, research suggests that weighted push-ups can provide similar muscle activation as the bench press, another well-known upper body exercise (1).

Though push-ups predominantly target muscles of the upper body, performing them with good form can also strengthen muscles of the core, specifically the abdominal muscles and lower back.

May reduce the risk of cardiac events

Research suggests that being able to perform push-ups and being physically fit lowers your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

For instance, a well-known 2019 study in male firefighters found that being able to perform more push-ups was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke (2).

(Video) What Happens To Your Body After 100 Push-Ups a Day For 30 Days

Those who could perform more than 40 push-ups had a lower risk of cardiovascular events than those who could perform fewer than 10.

This indicates that push-up ability could be used as a marker of physical fitness and that being able to perform more push-ups could indicate better heart health.

Yet, it’s important to note that this study didn’t take into account influential lifestyle factors like diet. Further, it remains unclear if the findings translate to other population groups than adult men.

May improve body composition

Anyone who has done more than just a few push-ups knows they can get your heart pumping.

Adding strength exercises like push-ups to an aerobic exercise program can increase energy metabolism, resulting in more calories burned. This could lead to benefits like increased fat loss (3).

Thus, adding push-ups to a well-balanced workout regimen alongside a suitable diet can lead to long-term improvements in body composition.


Regularly performing push-ups comes with several potential benefits, including building upper body strength, reducing the risk of cardiac events, and improving body composition.

While the push-up requires no equipment and is fairly easy to perform, there are some subtle cues to keep in mind when performing them.

By following the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to performing the perfect push-up.

  1. Start in a high plank position with your arms extended and palms positioned on the floor at shoulder width. Plant your toes on the floor in line with your legs.
  2. Engage your core muscles, glutes, and legs to align your spine.
  3. Maintaining a straight back and keeping your gaze just a few feet in front of you, bend your elbows to descend in a gradual, controlled motion, just until your chest grazes the floor. Keep your elbows tucked close to your sides throughout the movement.
  4. While exhaling, push your palms towards the floor to return yourself to the starting position. Focus on contracting the chest and tricep muscles while keeping your core tight.
  5. Repeat for the desired amount of reps and sets.

You may want to experiment with different reps ranges. The table below outlines the ideal number of push-up sets and reps based on your level of experience:


Start in a high plank position with your palms on the floor at shoulder width. Keeping a tight core, bend your elbows, descending until your chest grazes the floor. Push yourself back up while exhaling, maintaining a straight back.

While the standard push-up is most common, there are many variations you can utilize to make the movement easier, harder, or slightly targeted towards different muscles.

Here are some of the top variations for you to try.

1. Knee push-ups

This variation is excellent for beginners who are still developing the upper body strength required to do a regular push-up.

(Video) How 15 Push Ups Every Day Will Completely Transform Your Body

Doing push-ups on your knees reduces the resistance, making the movement easier to perform.

To perform a knee push-up, start in a modified high plank position. Instead of planting your toes on the floor, hold yourself up on your knees.

From there, perform the movement just like a standard push-up. Ensure your back remains straight and keep your elbows slightly tucked on the upward portion.

2. Wall push-ups

The wall push-up is another variation that decreases the intensity. This makes it a great option for those just starting out.

Performing a push-up vertically against a wall instead of the floor decreases the resistance of the movement, making it less difficult. The closer you stand to the wall, the easier the movement.

Your feet should remain flat on the floor while you position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Descend towards the wall until your head touches slightly, then push off the wall to return to the starting position.

3. Incline push-up

The incline push-up is a variation where your hands are slightly elevated on a weight bench, step-up platform, park bench, or similar.

This reduces the resistance slightly, making the exercise easier.

Complete the movement just as you would with a standard push-up.

4. Decline-push up

Contrary to the incline push-up, the decline variation includes elevated feet instead of hands.

This creates more tension for the muscles of the chest, making the movement slightly harder.

In addition, this variation targets the upper pecs, known as the pectoralis, more than a standard push-up.

5. Weighted push-up

Another way to increase the difficulty is to add resistance.

You can do so by wearing a weighted vest or having a partner place a weight plate on your back.

From there, perform a standard push-up, paying close attention to maintaining proper form.

6. One-arm push-up

The one-arm push-up represents the pinnacle of difficulty when it comes to this exercise.

This variation requires you to perform a push-up by raising and lowering your body with just one arm.

You’ll set up just like a traditional push-up. Then, just before you descend, lift one arm behind your back and perform the movement with one arm.

Only the most advanced should try this option as it puts great stress on the working arm. It can result in injury if not performed correctly.


These six push-up variations range in level of difficulty, giving you room to grow as your upper body strength progresses.

Common mistakes

(Video) Muscles used doing pushups!

While the push-up is a simple movement, there are a few common errors to keep in mind.

Don’t let your back sag

One of the most common mistakes associated with push-ups is letting your back sag.

By doing so, you lose out on energy that should be going towards the target muscles. It may also cause stress on certain joints and/or your lower back.

To fix this, engage your core and leg muscles, ensuring that your body is rigid from head to toe, from start to finish.

Don’t flare your arms

Another common mistake is flaring out your arms to create a T shape with your arms and torso.

This makes you lose valuable power that should instead be transferred to the working muscles. It may also strain your shoulder joints.

To fix this, focus on tucking your elbows towards your torso and rotating your palms a little outward.

If you’re still struggling to maintain a proper form throughout the movement, choose an easier push-up variation to practice and build strength before progressing to harder alternatives.

Going too fast

A third common mistake when performing push-ups is descending and/or ascending too fast.

This can cause you to lose tightness in your working muscles, often resulting in form breakdown and movement inefficiency.

To correct this, focus on taking at 3–4 seconds to perform each push-up. You may even go slower than this if preferred.

As your technique improves, you may be able to go slightly faster while still maintaining proper form.


Some common errors to be aware of when performing push-ups include letting your back sag, flaring out your arms, or going too fast.

The push-up is a staple upper body movement in the training programs of athletes, recreational gym-goers, bodybuilders, and those recovering from certain injuries.

While it’s often thought of as a chest exercise, it also works the triceps, anterior deltoids, and core muscles, as well as the pectoralis major and minor.

Notable benefits of performing push-ups include building upper body strength, reducing the risk of cardiac events, and improving body composition.

There are numerous variations of the standard push-up that allow you to increase or decrease the difficulty depending on your level of experience and strength.

Common mistakes to be aware of include letting your back sag, flaring out your arms, or going too fast.

(Video) How to do a Proper Push Up: Watch the muscles in 3D & learn to avoid a common mistake.

If you’re looking for a tried and true exercise to build upper body strength, you may consider adding push-ups to your workout regimen.


What Muscles Do Push-Ups Work? ›

They work the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulders. Using proper form, they can also strengthen the lower back and core by engaging (pulling in) the abdominal muscles. Push-ups are a fast and effective exercise for building strength.

How many pushups should I do a day? ›

Ideally, you should try to do 3 sets of 12 reps each day. This will help you gain muscle strength.

What muscles do push-ups work the most? ›

While the push-up largely targets the muscles of the chest, the pectoralis major and minor, several other muscle groups contribute. Namely, these include the triceps, anterior deltoids, and the core muscles.

Does doing 100 pushups a day build muscle? ›

Pushups are one of the most effective exercises to increase your strength and build up your upper body muscles like the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Some people take this exercise to the extreme and commit to doing 100 pushups a day and seem to get impressive results.

Is 100 pushups a day good? ›

100 push-ups a day isn't too much, especially when you break it up into sets. However, if you can't do 100 push-ups a day yet, training will help you get stronger. But if you're already able to do 100 push-ups, even completing them in a few sets, it won't bring much benefit.

How many pushups a day to get ripped? ›

If your maximum is under 50 push-ups, do 200 a day. If your maximum is above 75, do 300 a day. Repeat the odd/even routine for 10 days. Then take three days off and do no upper-body pushing exercises that work the chest, triceps and shoulders.

What does 20 push-ups a day do? ›

Traditional pushups are beneficial for building upper body strength. They work the triceps, pectoral muscles, and shoulders. When done with proper form, they can also strengthen the lower back and core by engaging (pulling in) the abdominal muscles. Pushups are a fast and effective exercise for building strength.

Do pushups bulk or tone? ›

Pushups can strengthen and tone many of the muscles of the upper body and core. Different variations focus on various sets of muscles.

Do push-ups make you bigger or leaner? ›

Push-ups are a strength training exercise, increasing the stamina and strength of many major muscle groups in the body. Push-ups should be included in your workout regimen for weight loss, but shouldn't be the only exercise to achieve this goal.

How many pushups is impressive? ›

Below average: < 55 push-ups. Average: 55-74 push-ups. Good: 75-99 push-ups. Excellent: 100-110 push-ups.

What happens if I do push-ups everyday? ›

Supports strong bones. Pushups do more than build muscles and challenge your heart. Because they are a weight-bearing move, pushups can also promote good bone health—weight-bearing exercises can help build strong bones and slow bone loss, according to the National Institutes Of Health.

What happens if you do push-ups for 30 days? ›

But if you see 100 pushups a day for 30 days as a challenge, then expect soreness and pain in your chest, back, and shoulders. Oh, and your arms too. You may feel rigid and tired. Third, Injuries can happen and prevent you from working out.

How many pushups should I do by age? ›

20 to 29 year-olds: 17 to 29 push-ups. 30 to 39 year-olds: 13 to 24 push-ups. 40 to 49 year-olds: 11 to 20 push-ups. 50 to 59 year-olds: 9 to 17 push-ups.

How many push-ups can the average man do? ›

Table: push-up test norms for MEN
Above average35-4630-39
Below average11-1810-16
3 more rows

Why push-ups are better than bench press? ›

Bench presses have your shoulder blades pinned down against the bench, whereas on push-ups your shoulder blades are free to move. “This allows the scapula to retract and protract.” A few benefits of this are allowing the serratus anterior to be targeted, it is a more natural way of utilising the shoulders and pressing.

How many pushups should I do a day to see results? ›

A higher training volume—more than 10-20 pushups per day—would probably be required to see results. What is this? Alternatively, more advanced pushup progressions, such as plyometric pushups, decline pushups, diamond pushups, and one-handed push-ups, might be necessary at that low volume (10-20 pushups per day).

Is it OK to do a lot of push-ups everyday? ›

Doing daily pushups can help build muscle tone and strength in the upper body. Other potential benefits include improved cardiovascular health and better support around the shoulder joints. However, practicing pushups every day does come with some risks. These include lower back pain, wrist pain, and elbow injury.

Is 500 pushups every other day good? ›

Yes you actually can build muscle with calisthenics -- and gain weight, too. So these exercises require rest for you to truly grow, especially at the volume you are doing each day. At 500/500/100+ reps a day, you should only do that every other day max.

Is 20 push-ups in a row good? ›

If you can do 40 or more -- which is really hard -- great! If you can do only 15 or 20, not so great. But then again, researchers found that every pushup you can do over the baseline of 10 decreases the risk of heart disease. If you can only do 10 or fewer, you need to get to work.


1. What Happens To Your Body When You Do 100 Push Ups Every Day
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6. The Perfect Push-Up To Build Muscle (AVOID THESE MISTAKES!)
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