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What Kind of Pushups Work the Upper Chest?

author image Rick Rockwell
Rick Rockwell is a self-employed personal trainer and experienced freelance writer. His articles have been published throughout the Internet. He has more than eight years of experience as a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle coach. His company, Rockwell Fitness, is dedicated to educating and empowering others to live healthy lifestyles.
Medically Reviewed by
Kenneth R. Hirsch
What Kind of Pushups Work the Upper Chest?
Woman doing pushups at a gym. Photo Credit Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Pushups are an effective bodyweight exercise that directly target your chest muscles, commonly referred to as the pecs. A pushup can be done virtually anywhere, from the gym to your home. Although pushups directly target the pecs, other muscles assist in the movement, including the triceps and the deltoids, while your core muscles keep your body in position. You can also modify pushups to target specific portions of the pecs like the upper chest.

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major is located on the anterior side of your torso above the stomach and below the neckline. There is one on each side of the chest, and this fan-shaped muscle makes up the bulk of your chest muscles. This muscle consists of two heads; that is, two places of attachment. The clavicular head, also known as the upper chest, is where the pectoralis major attaches to your collarbone. The sternal head is where the muscle attaches to your sternum. This muscle is responsible for various shoulder movements like shoulder abduction, adduction, flexion and internal rotation. In the pushup, the upper chest plays the role of a synergist. In a decline pushup, however, the upper chest is directly targeted.

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Synergist Muscles

Muscles that assist in the exercise movement without being directly targeted are known as synergist muscles. In a traditional pushup, the clavicular head of the pectoralis major plays the role of a synergist muscle as the traditional pushup directly targets the sternal head of the pectoralis major. The triceps brachii — located on the rear side of your arm, above the elbow and below the shoulder joints — and the anterior head of the deltoid also assist in both the traditional pushup and the decline pushup exercises.

Traditional Pushup

In a traditional pushup, you lie flat on the ground with your hands shoulder-width apart. Legs are fully extended and positioned side by side. To begin, push up on your hands and your toes. Keep your back, hips and buttocks straight at all times. Lower yourself until your chest almost touches the ground and push back up. Fully extend your arms as you push up, but do not lock the elbows. Perform this exercise for three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions each. To increase difficulty, you can add weight, in the form of a weighted vest, for example. You can also increase the number of pushups in each set as the sets become easier for you. An increase of weight, however, will not change the role of the upper chest in this exercise.

Decline Pushup

To target the upper chest, or clavicular head, when doing a pushup, you must place your feet up on a bench or stool at roughly a 45-degree angle. The exercise is performed in the same manner as a traditional pushup by placing your hands outside of shoulder widths, keeping body straight at all times, and not locking out the elbows. To change the difficulty of this exercise, you can raise or lower the height of your feet or place your feet on an exercise ball instead of a bench. Perform this exercise for three sets of 10 to 12 reps each. Again, increase the number of reps in each set as you become better at this exercise.

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