Pushups may be one of the oldest and most basic exercises around, but they are super effective. The great thing about pushups is that they work a range of muscle groups, engaging your arms, shoulders and chest. In addition to training your upper-body muscles, they also contribute to your overall core strength, including your abdominals and lower back, which help stabilize your body. Pushups primarily work the triceps muscle on the back of your upper arm.
Benefits for Women
Many women lack upper-body strength, but pushups are a fast and effective way to build up strength. In addition to muscle strength, you also get bone-building effects. Any time you do weight-training exercise, your muscles pull against your bones by way of tendons. This in turn strengthens your bones and increases bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Your arms contain two large muscle groups. The biceps are on the front and the triceps are on the back. Pushups predominantly target the triceps. During a pushup, your triceps bend the elbow and lengthen and extend your arms. Over time, pushups will help define and tone your upper arms, and your triceps will get stronger.
The key to success with pushups is correct form. Developing proper technique will enable you to complete this exercise both safely and effectively. Properly performed pushups involve careful body positioning and controlled movement throughout. Your arms should lift your body weight, and you should not use your butt, stomach or the lower half of your body to pull you up.
With pushups it is important to select a variation that is best suited for your current ability level. For beginners, wall pushups or bent knee pushups help you develop correct form. Once you feel comfortable at this level, you can move on to full pushups. If you are advanced, you can try one-legged or medicine ball pushups. To target your triceps further, perform triangle pushups. This variation involves placing the thumbs and forefingers together to form a triangle shape right under your chest. The closer together you place your hands during a pushup, the harder the triceps work.
Donna Ricketts is a public health educator based in Oakland. She holds a master’s degree in public health from San Francisco State University, as well as a bachelor's degree in exercise, nutrition and wellness from California State University, East Bay.