The health benefits of push-ups and how to do them correctly to get the most out of your workout

Judith J. Mercado

The health benefits of push-ups are extensive, and they are one of the best exercises to build muscle. Westend61/Getty Images The benefits of push-ups include strengthening a wide range of muscles and improving your cardiovascular health.  In addition, there are many ways to modify your push-up form to further target […]

The health benefits of push-ups are extensive, and they are one of the best exercises to build muscle.
The health benefits of push-ups are extensive, and they are one of the best exercises to build muscle.

Westend61/Getty Images

  • The benefits of push-ups include strengthening a wide range of muscles and improving your cardiovascular health. 

  • In addition, there are many ways to modify your push-up form to further target specific muscle groups. 

  • Here’s how to do push-ups effectively for their health benefits, whether you’re a beginner or an expert.  

  • This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.

  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Push-ups are an effective workout that can target multiple muscle groups, providing many health benefits with few serious risks. 

“Push-ups will improve your health by building muscle, raising your metabolism to burn fat, and providing a cardiovascular benefit,” says Robert S. Herbst, a personal trainer and former world champion powerlifter. “They enable you to get a full body workout with no equipment.”

Here’s what you should know about the health benefits of push-ups, and how to get the most out of them whether you’re a beginner or an expert. 

Push-ups can strengthen a wide range of muscles 

While most people think about push-ups for their chest, they are an effective whole-body exercise, Herbst says. 

They are particularly good at working out the following muscle groups:

Push-ups can also help with that elusive six-pack, as long as you do them correctly. 

“They are also very good for your core if you do them with your butt down and waist locked because they act like a better version of a plank,” Herbst says. “They are better than a standard plank because your abs are working in different ways to stabilize your body through shifting angles of effort.” 

In fact, there are many different ways to modify your push up positions, which can help you work specific muscle groups. According to Herbst, here are a few common types of push ups, and the muscle groups that they target:

Incline push-ups 

Incline push-ups raise your arms off the ground.
Incline push-ups raise your arms off the ground.

rez-art/Getty Images

When you elevate your arms using a bench or stairs, the exercise targets your upper chest muscles more. These are a good push-up for beginners because they are easier to do.

Decline push-ups

Decline push-ups raise your legs off the ground.
Decline push-ups raise your legs off the ground.

Westend61/Getty Images

When you elevate your legs using a bench or stairs, the exercise targets your lower chest muscles more.

Clapping push-ups

Clapping push-ups require an airborne hand clap each time.
Clapping push-ups require an airborne hand clap each time.

aywan88/Getty Images

These advanced push ups use explosive motion to move your hands off the ground, giving your chest muscles a top-notch workout. 

Diamond push-ups 

Diamond push-ups bring your hands closer together.
Diamond push-ups bring your hands closer together.

diego_cervo/Getty Images

Bringing your hands together so that your thumbs and index fingers form a diamond is a particularly effective way to target your triceps with push-ups. 

Overall, doing push-ups with your arms far apart will target the chest muscles, while doing them with your arms close to your body will target your triceps. 

Push-ups can improve heart health 

While most people think of push-ups as a strength exercise, they can also be a great cardiovascular workout, says Dannah Bollig, a certified personal trainer and founder of the DE Method, a body-weight focused workout routine. 

“What many people don’t know is that push ups actually enhance your cardiovascular health,” Bollig says. “When you work large muscle groups simultaneously, it causes the heart to work harder to pump blood to muscle tissue.” 

For example, a 2019 study published in JAMA Open Network found that being able to do more push-ups is associated with lower risk for heart disease.

“The better cardiovascular shape you’re in, the less likely you are to suffer from serious heart problems,” Bollig says.

For more information, read about the best exercises for heart health.  

Risks of push-ups 

As with any exercise, push-ups can have health risks, especially if you do them in large numbers. 

“When you workout, you are actually breaking down muscle fibers,” Bollig says. “Your body then needs time to repair those fibers.” That’s actually what causes sore muscles after a workout. 

Even people who are experienced with push-ups should only integrate them into workouts about 3 times per week to allow adequate time for recovery, says Sergio Pedemonte, personal trainer and founder of Your House Fitness, a home-based personal training service. 

Push-ups can also be difficult or painful for people with wrist concerns like carpal tunnel, so if you have any wrist injuries, you should talk to their doctor or personal trainer before starting push-ups. 

But overall, Pedemonte says push-ups are considered safer than other strength exercises like bench pressing, which work the same groups of muscles, but are a less natural movement — something you’re not likely to do in your day-to-day activity outside the gym. Push-ups, on the other hand, are considered a natural and more functional movement. 

“This means you’re engaging your muscles in a more natural form, which helps prevent strain and injury and improves your body’s range of motion,” he says. 

Additionally, doing push-ups with proper form — like holding your body in a steady plank position — is important to avoid injury. That’s why beginners may want to start with an inclined push-up, so that they don’t let their core sag. 

How to do push-ups, for beginners 

To do an effective push-up, you must first have the right technique.

1. Hold your body in a plank position, with your spine and arms straight. 

2. As you push up and down, have a good range of motion, bending your elbows to 90 degrees each time. 

Most people can benefit from incorporating push ups into their fitness routine. If you’re just getting started with push-ups, follow these tips from Pedemonte: 

Start slow

Do 2 sets of push-ups 2 to 3 times per week. Women should aim for 4 to 8 reps per set, while men should aim for 10 to 15 push-ups per set. 

“Just two to three sessions like this over a few weeks will show results,” Pedemonte says, especially as part of an overall fitness routine including cardio and other strength exercises. 

Skip the knee push-ups 

“A lot of people either sag or elevate their midsection too high when performing a knee push up, which puts an awkward amount of weight on your knees and imbalances the whole thing,” Pedemonte says. 

If you’re not able to do the recommended amount of regular push-ups, start with an incline for your hands, using stairs, your bed, the counter, or even a wall. The more vertical your body is, the easier the exercise will be. 

“This tilts your entire body upwards while you perform the move as usual, alleviating a little of the work on your upper body. It’s a great beginner’s variation,” Pedemonte says. 

Advanced push-up exercises 

More advanced fitness enthusiasts can also benefit from push-ups. If you’re already a pro, try these push-up challenges:

  • Go for speed. See how many push-ups you can do in a minute, Pedemonte recommends. 

  • Play cards. To shake up the monotony of push-ups, use a deck of playing cards. Draw a card and do that number of push-ups — doing 10 for face cards. You can pull a set number of cards, or go through the whole deck. “There are 448 push-ups in a deck,” Herbst says. “It is the one time in life you do not want a Royal Flush!” 

  • Play catch. If you can already do clapping push-ups, give yourself an added challenge by tossing a small ball or coin between your hand with each push-up,” Herbst says. 

Takeaways 

Push-ups are one of the best exercises for building muscle and improving cardiovascular health. There are many different ways to do a push-up, and whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you should try incorporating some of these push-up techniques into your workout to receive their health benefits. 

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