The push-up is a type of calisthenics exercise in which an individual gets in a prone position and lowers his body to the floor. The purpose of a push-up is to induce muscle hypertrophy -- in other words, muscle synthesis -- without special weight-lifting equipment to build tissue density. It may not be as effective as weighted exercises, but it still has a place in a routine.
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A single muscle is composed of long cylindrical fibres that contain contractile protein filaments. When these filaments pull inward, the muscles shorten. Trauma to the muscles caused by physical exertion and repeated contractions is repaired over the following days and weeks. New filaments are also added to facilitate improvements in strength and endurance. This increases the density of the muscle beyond the level of what it was before the workout.
To induce trauma and build muscles, an individual must be training against resistance. Calisthenics generate force through the natural movements of the human body. While performing a push-up, the upper body is sustaining most of the resistance exercise, which builds muscles in that area.
The push-up works four main muscle groups: the deltoids in the shoulders, the pectorals in the chest, the triceps in the upper arm, and because of the way that the body is held up, the lower back.
After a time, the push-up may cease to be effective at building size and strength, though endurance gains may continue. This is because the resistance of push-up training is not sustainable enough to keep building density. One method to remedy this is to wear a backpack with weights. This can simulate other weight-lifting exercises and lead to further muscle hypertrophy.
If you place your hands even with your shoulders during a push-up, you distribute the weight proportionately across the muscles. If your hands are wider than your shoulders, however, you will place greater force on your chest muscles than triceps or shoulders, but the opposite is also true. Placing your hands close together will put more force on the muscles in your shoulders and triceps than in the chest.
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