What Do Push-Ups Do to Your Body?

What should you do when you want to strength train, but have no weights? Try out push-ups, which do more than just stimulate your chest muscles—they provide a workout for your upper body, your core and, to a lesser extent, your lower body as well. With a push-up, you use your own bodyweight as the resistance, lifting between 50 percent and 75 percent of that weight, depending on your body shape and weight. This helps create a stronger body overall that's more resistant to injury.

Push-ups strengthen your upper body and core muscles. (Image: Crdjan/iStock/Getty Images)

Benefit to Muscles

You might think of push-ups as strictly an arm movement, but they actually engage your body much more than that. As a compound exercise – meaning, it works multiple muscle groups at once – a push-up works your arms, chest, core, hips and legs. You can modify which muscles it works by adjusting your position; for example, moving your hands to a wider stance places a greater emphasis on your chest. When you move them closer toward the body, your triceps get a harder workout.

Benefit to Posture

Because a pushup works your core so thoroughly – you have to keep your abs engaged, hips and glutes raised and back strong throughout the movement – your posture benefits. Proper posture relies on a strong core muscle group, which a push-up helps you achieve. Good posture helps you avoid neck and shoulder tension, lower back pain or injury and instability.

An incline push-up works your body, but is slightly easier than a full-position push-up. (Image: kissenbo/iStock/Getty Images)

Proper Push-Up Form

You can only reap the benefits of push-ups if you’re doing them properly – even if you’re modifying the move as you begin, such as lowering your knees to the ground. To do a proper pushup:

Step 1

Start in a plank position with your arms extended just below shoulder level and your palms flat on the ground. Keep your feet close together and rest on the balls on your feet. Your back should be straight and your weight evenly distributed.

Step 2

Lower your body until your elbows are at 90 degrees and push back up. That is one rep.

If it’s too difficult to do a push-up on your hands and feet, lower your knees to the ground or do an incline push-up by placing your hands on a counter or wall and leaning forward at a 45-degree angle.

Improve Your Push-Ups

Increase the benefits of a push-up to your body by improving your push-ups overall. Start with whatever number of push-ups you can with good form, and then work on increasing the number of reps you do. If you started with a modified push-up on your hands and knees or on an incline, work your way up to a full push-up position, which will further engage your core.

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