What muscles does the push-up work?

Written by nikola goddard
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What muscles does the push-up work?
Push-ups target many muscles in the upper body. (push ups image by Steve Lovegrove from Fotolia.com)

Push-ups are one of the most well known exercises that you can perform without weights. Many people include push-ups in their exercise regime due to their simplicity and the effects they have on the body. Be aware of which muscles the exercise targets so you can incorporate it into a workout to target the desired areas and tell if you are performing the exercise correctly.

Pectoralis Major

The sternal head, or main bulk, of the pectoralis major is the primary muscle push-ups target. It is located in the chest, running from the region of the underarm to the sternum along the centre of your ribcage and can be seen clearly on men with muscular physiques. The clavicular head of the pectoralis major also acts as a synergist, or assisting muscle during the exercise. This is located just above the sternal head, running from the underarms to the collarbone.

Triceps Brachii

The triceps brachii act as synergists as you perform a push-up. They are located at the back of the arm, from behind the shoulder to the back of the elbow, and help to lower and raise the body by maintaining strength and stability in the upper arm.


The anterior, or frontal head of the deltoid also acts as a synergist during a push-up. It is located at the front of the shoulder and runs from the collarbone down to a central point on the humerus--the bone of the upper arm. This muscle helps to stabilise the shoulder throughout the exercise and assists the triceps brachii in pushing the torso back up to the starting position.

Biceps Brachii

The biceps brachii is a strong muscle of the upper arm. It runs from the underarm to the elbow crease along the top of your arm and is the muscle that tenses and stands out when you clench your fist and bring it up to your shoulder. This muscle actively stabilises the arm during both the lowering and pushing phases of a push-up.

Core Muscles

During a push-up, the core muscles of your stomach and upper legs hold your body in a stable plank position throughout the exercise. These muscles include the rectus abdominis, or "six pack" muscle, in the stomach, the obliques, which run down the sides of your waist, and the quadriceps, which run down the front of your upper leg and help to stabilise the hip and knee joints.

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