Much like ice cream flavors, there’s a push-up variation for every mood. Besides the classic version—which hits your chest, shoulders, triceps and core—there are a variety of twists to the exercise to target practically every part of your body. So if you’re wondering about the muscles worked in push-ups, depending on which type you choose, the answer is really “all of them.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find an upper body workout that doesn’t include some sort of twist on the push-up, since it requires zero equipment, and is easy to figure out how to do in proper form. So it’s no wonder that over the years, trainers have gotten creative and concocted push-ups of all types—that work as strength training for every inch of your arms and abs. To turn the classic push-up into a full-body workout routine, keep scrolling to see which ones hit which muscles… and then drop down and get to sweating.
The muscles worked in push-ups of 8 different variations
1. Standard push-up: chest, shoulders, triceps, core
With the standard push-up, you’ll hit these staple muscle groups in the moving plank position. “The regular push-up provides the most amount of stability and the greatest opportunity to train strength in your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core with your legs extended,” says Ben Lauder-Dykes, Fhitting Room trainer.
2. Tricep push-up: triceps
By simply tucking your elbows into your sides during a push-up, you’ll get an extra burn in your triceps. The setup is the same, but your elbows and arms remain squeezed toward your ribs the entire time you push down and up.
3. Plyometric push-ups: chest muscles plus a cardio burst
Corey Lewis, CEO of 1AND1 Life and certified personal trainer, recommends trying a plyometric push-up to hit your fast-twitch muscle fibers. “Due to the utilization of more muscle fibers with this exercise, you’re able to maximize the workout effect on your chest muscles,” he says, adding that it’s also great for building the functional explosiveness of your upper body (which helps with everyday movements by spiking your heart rate). From a high plank position, engage your abs and keep your body in a straight line with your hands underneath your shoulders. Lower until your chest is almost touching the floor, then generate power to pop off of the ground completely.
4. Spiderman push-up: obliques
For a challenging upgrade that turns the push-up into an ab burner, try the Spiderman push-up. Set yourself up for a standard push-up, but as you lower down, bring your leg toward the elbow on the same side, squeezing your obliques. Return to start and alternate sides.
5. Sphinx push-up: triceps and core
Emulating a Sphinx in this push-up variation works your arms, shoulders, and particularly your triceps, since your hands are out in front of your head throughout the move. As an added bonus, you’re also getting a big-time stretch throughout the back of your arms.
6. Iranian half-moon push-up: obliques
This move blends a downward dog, chaturanga, standard push-up, and plank into a single rep. Though you’re strengthening your upper body muscles in the exercise, you’ll feel the most burn in your obliques, which are in charge of winding and twisting your body throughout the move.
7. Russian push-up: core
The Russian push-up recruits all of your upper body muscles and your entire core as you flow between a forearm plank and full push-up.
8. Incline push-up: shoulders and chest
Though doing a traditional push-up on an incline—with a bench, box, or another elevated surface—makes the move easier, it’s hitting your chest muscles and shoulders more than when you’re doing it flat on the ground.
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