Can You Get Strong by Only Doing Pushups?

The pushup is a simple and time-honored exercise and measure of fitness. It can be done almost anywhere as long as there is room to move. Using pushups to get strong can be accomplished -- but it requires some knowledge of form and how the body works.

A man doing pushups on a track. (Image: StockRocket/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscles Worked

The typical pushup works a broad spectrum of muscles. The primary muscles associated with this workout are the anterior and medial deltoids, triceps and pectorals -- which are the muscles of the arms and chest respectively. Also, muscles of the back, abdomen, hips and buttock get worked when doing pushups. When doing variations such as a pushup done at an angle, it will further target specific muscles as well as incorporate some other lesser-used muscle groups.

Proper Form

A key component to getting the most benefit from doing pushups is having proper form. This will not only allow pushups to build more muscle and allow you to get stronger, but it will prevent injury. In a basic pushup, begin by laying flat on the ground with your arms to the side of the shoulders at the level of your head. The palms should be flat on the ground with the tips of your fingers facing forward -- the palms should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Both feet are together and the toes are flexed so the bottom of the toes are touching the ground. Flexing the abdomen and buttocks and keeping your body and back stiff, push yourself up until the elbows are almost straight. When you reach this position, hold it for a moment, and then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat the basic pushup for 8 to 12 repetitions. As you become stronger, build up the number of reps and sets you perform.

Different Types

In addition to the basic pushup, there are several variations that can work slightly different muscle groups. If you're just beginning, bending at the knees and using them as a pivot point can slowly build up strength if you are having problems with a standard pushup. Doing a pushup at an incline or decline by either elevating the feet or hands will work different parts of muscles. If you elevate your feet on a bench and have your chest closer to the ground, this will work the upper part of your chest. If you place your hands on the bench and have your feet closer to the ground, doing a pushup will build the lower part of your chest. Pointing your fingers slightly inward in the basic pushup form will work your triceps more. Even when doing a variation, remember to keep your back straight and your abdomen flexed.

Once you are able to do several sets of regular pushups, you can then add extra weight to your body. This can be done by having someone hold a weight on top of you or with a special strap that safely holds the weights on you.


Pushups are a great source of exercise. They require little in the way of external equipment, and they are beneficial to the many parts of your body, especially in creating and maintaining upper body strength. According to a 2008 article in the "New York Times," the benefit is especially good as you age. The ability to do a pushup correctly is a good indicator of how well you are going to withstand the aging process. Pushups can also provide the strength and muscle memory to reach out and break a fall. If you fall forward, you usually reach out to catch yourself and end in a move that resembles a pushup. Falling can be a real problem as you age, as the muscles and bones deteriorate. But doing pushups will help slow that process and prevent the damage that might have occurred had you not been able to brace yourself in a fall. With proper form and respect for your ability, pushups can build strength for several parts of your body.

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