Push-ups are a great all-around exercise, activating muscle groups not just in the chest, shoulders and arms, but in the neck, back and torso too. But will they help to flatten your stomach? Although it's safe to say that push-ups alone aren't necessarily the fast track to six-pack abs, they may indeed contribute to a trimmer profile in a number of ways.
Meet Your Transverse Abdominus
The focus of most abdominal work is the rectus abdominus, the sheath of muscle that may reveal itself as the vaunted six-pack abs -- at least in those who are trim, toned and genetically configured in the right way. Push-ups do activate that muscle to some extent. It is, however, quite possible to have totally a totally ripped rectus abdominus and not much true core strength or stability. The beauty of push-ups is that, done right, they will work the deeper abdominal muscles.
Have you met your transverse abdominus? Otherwise known as the TVA, it's the deepest and innermost layer of all the ab muscles, lying beneath the rectus abdominus, wrapping around the abdomen rather like a waist band. While the TVA isn't visible, it serves the important function of tucking in your internal organs and thus taking some of the load of the rectus abdominus. It also stabilizes the pelvis and lower back and is key in helping you maintain a balanced gait and an upright posture.
Crunches don't work the TVA, but push-ups -- especially if you do them with extra mindfulness of your core -- can accomplish what other dedicated ab exercise like crunches and sit-ups won't. In the "up" position, a push-up is a prone plank, which is the perfect position to practice an exercise called "abdominal bracing. " Bracing is when you tighten your stomach as if you're preparing yourself for a punch in the gut.
While clenching your stomach muscles is something you tend to do naturally with push-ups, extra awareness of its effect can boost effectiveness. A study in the September 2013 Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found abdominal bracing to be one of the most effective exercises for working the deep abdominal muscles. In addition to the TVA, this included the internal obliques, which also aid in compressing the abdominal area. Combine these benefits with the ability of push-ups to straighten posture by pulling your upper body into alignment, and you may find people remarking that you've lost weight even if you haven't.
Fat Ain't Flat
If you want a flat stomach and you're carrying any significant amount of excess weight, exercise alone won't get you there, though. You can have the most chiseled abs, but if they're covered with a cushy layer of fat, nobody's going to go into a swoon over your god- or goddess-like physique. Diet and exercise are the two wings of that elusive bird called weight loss.
That means burning more calories than you consume. The best diet is one you can stick to, but in the end it comes down mostly to calories. To lose a pound of fat, you've got to burn 3500 calories more than you take in. So after you do those push-ups -- and crunches, leg-lifts and other exercises -- you might want to think about getting on that treadmill.