Does a Push-Up-Only Workout Really Work?

Photo of a woman doing pushups in a gym withe her personal trainer
Push-ups are a beneficial exercise, but shouldn't be the only one you do. (Image: BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images)

In an ideal world, you'd eke out a few sets of push-ups each day and be rewarded with a strong, fit body. In reality, it doesn't work like that. Push-ups will do quite a bit for your upper body, particularly your chest, shoulders and triceps, as well as your core, but they're not a complete workout all on their own. To earn a truly strong body, you must incorporate those push-ups into a full-body workout.

The Benefits of Push-Ups

Though push-ups might not constitute a workout on their own, the classic move does offer a number of benefits. Of course, push-ups strengthen your upper-body, but a regular push-up routine can also help lesser back pain because it strengthens your core.

Push-ups also strengthen your shoulder's stabilizer muscles, which can reduce the chance of upper-body injuries. And, although you won't burn a ton of calories while doing push-ups, it is a compound movement -- that means it uses multiple muscle groups at once -- so it will make you feel the burn through your whole body and, perhaps, get you breathing a little more heavily.

Push-ups also have a convenience factor. They can be done nearly anywhere at anytime, using just your body for resistance. If you're in a place that you don't feel comfortable getting down on the floor, you can lean against a wall for a modified push-up routine.

Fit young people doing pullups looking determined, working out in a gym
Counter a push-up routine with regular pull-ups. (Image: UberImages/iStock/Getty Images)

Push-Ups as Part of a Full-Body Workout

Feel free to do push-ups frequently -- even daily. Do as many as you can with good form, and then work on increasing that number.

However, you should counter those push-ups with an exercise that mimics pulling. While pushups train your chest, shoulders and triceps, a pulling exercise, such as a pull-up, engages your back, lats, deltoids, biceps and forearms. Between the two, you pretty much have your upper-body workout covered.

Don't forget about your lower body, though, as a workout plan that gives real results will also train your legs, glutes and hips. Thankfully, there are plenty of simple body weight exercises that you can do almost anywhere. Add squats -- both standard and goblet, to target different muscles -- lunges and glute bridges for a short workout that targets major muscle groups.

Finally, finish up your workout routine with regular cardio -- at least 150 minutes a week -- to burn fat while you're building muscle in your strength routine. Jogging, biking, swimming and dancing all fit into the category of cardiovascular exercise, so choose the exercise that you enjoy most.

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