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The pushup (also known as the pressup in UK, also note that it may be spelled with a space or dash before the 'u') is a calisthenic upperbody exercise that works the pectoral, deltoid, and tricep muscles, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, as well as the midsection. It is considered the gold standard for working the chest (for bodyweight). The pushup position, called the front-leaning rest in most military units, consists of a prone position--lying face-down horizontally with the back and legs straight and functioning as one unit, supported by the arms.

Video Sample[]

Below is a video of planche pushups: <videoflash>avGodUxHYks</videoflash>


While it is unclear as to the exact origins of this exercise, known variations have been in existence for centuries. For instance, the dand, or hindu pushup, is thought to owe its origin to the Zoroastrian practice of genuflecting to the sun, the supreme flame.[1] It could also be considered an amaglgamation of two popular yoga poses (asana), the downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and the upward dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Yoga's roots can be traced back at least 3000 years.[2]

  • Origin: 1905–10; n. use of v. American English phrase push up.[3]
  • Origin: 1945–50; n. use of v.  English phrase press up.[4]

Muscle activation[]

The pushup primarily utilizes the pectorals and the triceps, though other muscles that are involved are the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, subscapularis, and the coracobrachialis. These work dynamically, shortening to push the person away from the ground, and eccentrically as they lengthen in response to tension in their antagonists to lower to the ground.

Stabilizers include wrist and forearm muscles, the knee extensors, and the hip/spine flexors which all work isometrically to maintain a proper plank position in the standard prone pushup.

Pushups are closed-chain exercises: one's extremity (the hand) stays in a fixed position (in cases like rings where it moves, this is undesirable and meant to be avoided through stabilizing). The body moves through space.

Movements which mirror push ups in terms of muscular use are open-chain free weight movements, such as the overhead press (which mirrors handstand push ups) and the bench press, which mirrors a flat push up, except that the weight on the scapulae limits their movement and bench pressers tend to retract/adduct rather than protract/abduct their scapulae. As a result, it works very different muscles in that regard and does not allow as much of a peak shortening of the pectoralis major.

Form variations[]

Conflicting views on what constitutes proper form on this exercise are everywhere. This article details the strictest view.

Most variations can be combined to create many options in terms of altering muscles used, the range of motion in which they are used, the stability, and the load placed on the working muscles as well as location of compression or friction.


Push ups are normally done with a flat palm. They can also be done on the knuckle, fingerpads, fingertips, or with a close fist on the fingernails.

Hand placement[]


In the standard grip, the hands are at or near shoulder-width apart. With the wide grip, the hands are placed outside this range. This works the pectorals more than the standard grip; some find this the easiest pushup to do, as the total range of motion is the shortest.

Close (diamond pushups)[]

For close-grip pushups, the hands are brought together in the center and either placed right next to each other so as to form a "diamond" shape between the connecting thumbs and forefingers, or the hands are over-lapping.


For these pushups, rather than having the hands in line with each other, perpendicular to the torso and legs, the hands are placed with one farther forward and the other farther back. This alters the stress on each arm, giving a new stimulus.


A plyometric pushup--one that seeks to increase power--is done by exploding from the bottom of the movement as hard as possible so that the hands are lifted off the ground at the top of the movement. Many people call these clapping pushups. The clap is optional. A small amount of controversy surrounds whether or not these are actually plyometric, however the very definition of plyometric explains that they would fall into that category.

Another variation is the drop push, where two platforms are placed on either side of the subject. The exercise begins with the hands on either platform supporting the body. The subject then drops to the ground and explosively rebounds with a push up, extending the torso and arms completely off the ground and resetting the hands to the starting position, with both hands on the platforms.

Altered angle (incline/decline)[]

Many people increase the challenge of the conventional pushup by propping their feet up on something. This makes the pushup more difficult. The opposite of this is to elevate the hands which makes them easier.

Foot elevation alters the angle and shifts emphasis from the lower pectoralis major to the upper clavicular fibers of the pec as well as the anterior deltoid. It also shifts more overall weight onto the hands, resulting in greater elbow extensor work.

In addition to putting the hands or feet on a raised platform to switch the angle, either of them can be placed against a wall.

It is possible to mimic the change in angle without shifting more weight onto the hands via foot elevation, via raising the hips and scooting the feet in closer.


This most difficult variation shifts 100% of the body's weight onto the hands. The scapular movement changes from protraction to upward rotation and elevation. The shoulder movement changes from transverse flexion/adduction to abduction/flexion. With perfect form, the pectoral muscles are barely utilizes as the predominant brunt across the glenohumeral joint is taken by the anterior deltoid muscles and somewhat by the medial deltoid and clavicular portion of the upper pectoral.

Beyond the strength requirements, this is a difficult variation to stabilize. Many people tilt their legs against a wall for stability, though this can make pushing up harder due to the friction of moving feet unless someone bends their legs.

It is possible to avoid taking weight off, and even add some, by doing a handstand under a low ceiling. By pressing the feet against the ceiling, one stabilizes and prevents from falling over, and rather than subtracting weight, actually supports some of the ceiling's weight and adds additional difficulty to their hands.


Jackknives are done with hips (and possible spine) flexed to decrease the distance between the hands and feet. It inverts the torso and shifts muscular work towards the front deltoids. This is a lower resistance means of training for things like handstand pushups.


The Hindu pushup (see demo here)is a variation that takes it name from the wide popularity among Indian wrestlers and Indian martial arts styles, such as Pehlwani. Bruce Lee performed these and called them dands. They are widely advocated by Matt Furey.

It utilizes a jack-knifing motion; the starting position consists of the hands and feet spread apart with the body bent at the hip--the buttucks will be in the air. The head and body are then lowered by the arms eccentrically in a means identical to a jackknife pushup.

At this point it differs, because rather than reversing the motion, a second concentric aspect is added. In a swooping motion the back is arched (hyperextended) and the hips are extended until the pelvis is nearly touching the floor. Both the elbow and shoulder joints extend. The head and torso end up in a cobra-like position.

From this point, the elbows remain locked and the shoulders extend and the spine and hips flex until the user returns to the original jackknife position.

By doing this, users avoid the concentric stress (which is more difficult) experienced by people who press up using their arms in either a jackknife or a dive bomber.


A divebomber (see demo here) is the same as a Hindu pushup in all but the final portion. Rather than returning directly to the starting position from the cobra through keeping the arms locked, the movements up until that point are reversed and a second "swoop" is performed to return to the starting position. [5]

Decreased base[]


Another progression of the standard pushup is the single-leg pushup. The foot is raised off the ground. The purpose is to increase the difficulty and also to target the core stabilizers and develop balance. Beyond that added instability (also experienced to a lesser degree by keeping the feet close together or on top of each other), lifting the leg up shifts weight towards the pelvis and thus more load is transferred to the arms this way. Variations include:

  • Lifting straight up, possibly hyperextending at the hip joint, or flexing the knee
  • Lifting externally/laterally/out to the side ([abduction])
  • Curled up behind them, which is also called "scorpion pushups."
  • Externally rotating the hip and flexing the knee to bring the patella to meet the elbow, called a Spider-Man pushup.


Almost considered a badge of honor is the single-arm pushup, due to the amount of difficulty in performing them. They are most often done with the legs spread wider for more support, with one arm tucked behind the back. They can be done with several repetitions on one side before switching, or the easier method, which is alternating arms after each repetition.



Push up handles are used for a neutral grip alignment similar to a knuckle pushup, but with the weight still on the palm of the hand. Some handles are 2-platformed which allow some weight to be porn on a handle as well as knuckle padding. Some handles rotate, allowing pushers to pronate or supinate and (medial) or external (lateral) rotation in the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint.

Dumbbells (generally hexagonal, to avoid rolling) can also be used, often a push up on these is mixed with a dumbbell row to work pushing/pulling muscles on a 2:1 rep ratio. One arm is still using pushing muscles as it remains locked out to stabilize a platform to pull from.

Sometimes kettlebells are also used, though this is more dangerous as the handle is higher off the ground and less stable.


The traditional pushup can be enhanced significantly by using gymnastics rings. Special variations can be performed on the rings such as the jackknife pushup, pseudo-planche pushups, and archer pushups. Due to their forward/back movement they are in some ways comparible to an ab wheel in being able to do this as well as pushing moves.

Medicine Ball[]

One can enhance the traditional pushup with the incorporation of a medicine ball. Most common methods include placing the medicine ball on the floor and performing pushups with one hand on the ball and one on the floor, alternating (see demo here).

Swiss Ball[]

Pushups are also done with the hands on a Swiss Ball, which targets the stabilizers. Other methods include placing the feet on the ball with the hands on the floor. These can also be combined with two swiss balls, much like all sorts of combinations of methods are possible.


  1. InYo: Journal of Alternative Perspectives (2000). A letter from the Indian wrestler.... Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  2. shaynebance (unknown). Yoga History. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  3. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House (2006). push-up. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  4. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House (2006). press-up. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  5. Matt Furey. Hindu Pushups vs. Divebombers. Retrieved on 2008-03-11.