Pushups are the most common and popular bodyweight exercises for the upper body. Pushups work the pectoralis major muscles of your chest and the triceps brachii of your rear upper arm. In addition, pushups also work your anterior deltoids or front shoulder muscles. Pushups can be used to develop numerous aspects of your fitness including strength, power, muscular endurance and muscle size.
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Making your Muscles Bigger
Making your muscles bigger is a process called hypertrophy. Hypertrophy describes how muscle proteins called actin and myosin thicken in response to exercise. Hypertrophy can only occur is there is sufficient training stimulus applied to your muscles and you are consuming enough of the right kinds of foods to supply all the necessary muscle-building nutrients. If your diet contains adequate energy and protein and you are training hard enough, pushups can result in significant hypertrophy of your chest, front shoulders and rear upper arms.
Training for Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy occurs when you challenge your muscles to perform more work than they are used to. Experts such as Tudor Bompa, author of “Serious Strength,” and Robert Kennedy, author of “The Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding,” agree that to achieve hypertrophy you should perform multiple sets of eight to 12 repetitions of your chosen exercises. This may mean that, once you have become proficient at performing regular pushups, you will need to find ways to make this exercise more challenging. While performing more than 12 repetitions of pushups will increase your muscular endurance, it will do little to make your muscles bigger.
Proper Pushup Performance
To get the best results from your pushup training, you should endeavor to perform your pushups using correct form. Place your hands on the floor one and a half shoulder-widths apart with your fingers pointing straight ahead. With your arms straight, walk your feet back until your heels, hips and shoulders are aligned. Keep your neck long and your chin tucked in. Contract your abdominal muscles to help stabilize your spine. Inhale and bend your arms to lower your chest to within one inch of the floor. Exhale and push back up to arms length. Ensure your lower back does not sag during your performance of the exercise.
Making Pushups More Challenging
Once you can perform more than 12 repetitions you should look for ways to make pushups more demanding. One way to do this is to elevate your feet. Raising your feet by placing them on a bench or step places more load on your arms. Another way to make pushups more effective for hypertrophy is by placing your hands on bricks or by using specially designed pushup handles. This increases the range of motion possible at your shoulder joint and increases the demand on your chest muscles. You can also perform pushups while wearing a weighted vest or back pack. You can gradually increase the weight in your vest or pack to make pushups much more challenging. Start off with around 10 percent of your bodyweight and progress from there.
Developing Greater Hypertrophy
As effective as pushups are for developing upper body hypertrophy, most bodybuilders use a variety of exercises such as bench presses, dumbbell flies and dips to fully develop their chest muscles. Bodybuilders believe it is necessary to use a number of different exercises to achieve maximum hypertrophy. Once you have mastered the pushup and made performing this exercise as challenging as possible, you will benefit from progressing onto more demanding and advanced exercises to promote greater muscular hypertrophy.
- Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, Ninth Edition; Sandra R. Grabowski, et al.
- Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding: The Complete A-Z Book on Muscle Building; Robert Kennedy
- Serious Strength Training; Tudor Bompa, et al.