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Animation of a full push-up (the wide positioning of the hands increases the push-up's use of chest muscles as opposed to arm muscles)
Side view of a push-up
Push-up technique

A push-up (or press-up) is a common calisthenics exercise performed in a prone position by raising and lowering the body using the arms. Push-ups exercise the pectoral muscles, triceps, and anterior deltoids, with ancillary benefits to the rest of the deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis and the midsection as a whole. Push-ups are a basic exercise used in civilian athletic training or physical education and commonly in military physical training. They are also a common form of punishment used in the military, school sport, or in some martial arts disciplines.

In the past this movement was called a floor dip.[1]


The American English term push-up was first used between 1905 and 1910,[2] while the British press-up was first recorded between 1945 and 1950.[3][4]

Muscles worked[edit]

While the push-up primarily targets the muscles of the chest, arms, and shoulders, support required from other muscles results in a wider range of muscles integrated into the exercise.[5]

Military recruits will often perform pushups as part of their physical training. Here, U.S. Marine recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego perform push-ups in May 2005, as a part of their basic recruit training.


The rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis contract continually while performing push-ups to hold the body off the floor and keep the legs and torso aligned. The rectus abdominis spans the front of the abdomen and is the most prominent of the abdominal muscles. The transversus abdominis lies deep within the abdomen, wrapping around the entire abdominal area. Both muscles compress the abdomen, and the rectus abdominis also flexes the spine forward, although it does not execute this function when performing push-ups.


The anterior portion of the deltoid muscle is one of the major shoulder-joint horizontal adductors, moving the upper arms toward the chest during the upward phase of a push-up. It also helps control the speed of movement during the downward phase. The deltoid attaches to parts of the clavicle and scapula, just above the shoulder joint on one end, and to the outside of the humerus bone on the other. Along with horizontal adduction, the anterior deltoid assists with flexion and internal rotation of the humerus within the shoulder socket.

Chest Muscles[edit]

The push-up excercise requires many muscle groups, but the primary muscle group has to be the chest muscles. the chest includes the pectoralis major and minor. These are the 2 large chest muscles and mainly the pushing muscle group of the upper body. As you are pushing and lowering your body during a push up, the pectoralis major is doing most of the work. As a result, these 2 muscles become very strong and can become defined lean muscle after doing push-ups regularly.

Stabilizers: back body[edit]

The push-up depends on stabilizer muscles as you push and lower the body. The erector spinae is the main stabilizer muscle in the back. Made up of 3 muscles including the spinalis, longissmus and iliocostalis. spinalis runs adjacent to the spine, the longissimus runs adjacent to the spinalis and the iliocostalis runs adjacent to the longissimus and over the ribs. 2 muscles called the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus stabilize the upper leg. The medius and minimus sit under the largest butt muscle, the gluteus maximus.

Triceps brachii[edit]

While the anterior deltoids and pectoralis major muscles work to horizontally adduct the upper arms during the upward phase of a push-up, the triceps brachii muscles, or triceps for short, are also hard at work extending the elbow joints so the arms can be fully extended. The triceps also control the speed of elbow-joint flexion during the downward phase of the exercise. The closer together the hands are placed during a push-up, the harder the triceps work. The muscle is divided into three heads — the lateral head, long head and medial head. The lateral and medial heads attach to the back of the humerus bone, and the long head attaches just behind the shoulder socket on one end; all three heads combine and attach to the back of the elbow on the other.[6] There is a special sub-set of the diamond pushup (so named for the diamond shaped space between the hands when the thumb and forefinger of the left hand is placed on the floor up against the thumb and forefinger of the right hand.) The special version of this pushup is when the diamond is placed directly below the nose instead of the solar plexus. The nose must almost touch the floor in the center of the diamond. This special diamond pushup is done by the United States Marine Corps. The lips must come within 1 inch of the floor while keeping the neck in line with the straight spine to qualify as a valid pushup. This can be verified by placing a 1 inch foam disposable earplug on the floor in the center of the diamond and picking it up with the lips.


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.


During the push-up exercise, the short head of the biceps brachii muscle acts as a dynamic stabilizer. This means the muscle activates at both ends -- the elbow and the shoulder -- to help stabilize the joints.


In the "full push-up", the back and legs are straight and off the floor. There are several variations besides the common push-up. These include bringing the thumbs and index fingers of both hands together (a "diamond pushup") as well as having the elbows pointed towards the knees. These variations are intended to put greater emphasis on the triceps or shoulders, rather than the chest muscles. When both hands are unbalanced or on uneven surfaces, this exercise works the body core. Raising the feet or hands onto elevated surfaces during the exercise emphasizes the upper (minor) or lower (major) pectorals, respectively. Raising the hands with the aid of push-up bars or a dumbbell allows for greater ROM (range of motion), providing further stress for the muscles. In most push-up variations, a person will be lifting about 65% of his or her body weight.

Planche push-ups[edit]

An extremely difficult variation is to perform a push-up using only hands, without resting the feet on the floor, i.e. starting from and returning to the planche position. These are known as "planche push-ups". To do this variation, the body's center of gravity must be kept over the hands while performing the push-up by leaning forward while the legs are elevated in the air, which requires great strength and a high level of balance. The entire body weight is lifted in this variation.

Knuckle push-ups[edit]

Another variation is to perform pushups on the knuckles of the fist, rather than with palms of the hands on the floor. This method is also commonly used in martial arts, such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do, and may be used in boxing training while wearing boxing gloves.

The intent, in addition to building strength and conditioning, is to toughen the knuckles, wrist, and forearm in the punching position. This variation also reduces the amount of strain in the wrist, compared to the typical "palms on floor" approach, and so it is sometimes used by those with wrist injuries. Such practitioners will usually perform their knuckle pushups on a padded floor or a rolled-up towel, unlike martial artists, who may do bare-knuckle pushups on hard floors.

The most knuckle push-ups in one minute is 84 by Roy Berger (Canada) on June 2016..[7]

Maltese push-ups[edit]

"Maltese push-ups" are a gymnastic variation of the push-up, in which the hands are positioned further down towards the hips (as opposed to roughly alongside the pectorals), but with a wide distance between them.

Guillotine push-up[edit]

The guillotine push-up is a form of push-up exercise done from an elevated position (either hands on elevated platforms or traditionally medicine balls) where in the practitioner lowers the chest, head, and neck (thus the name) past the plane of the hands. The goal is to stretch the shoulders and put extra emphasis on the muscles there.

Backhanded push-up[edit]

The backhanded push-up is a form of push-ups performed using the back of the hands, rather than the palms. Currently the record holder of the backhanded push-ups is Bill Kathan who broke the world record in 2010, by performing 2,396 on Valentine's Day.[8]

One arm versions[edit]

A U.S. Army employee demonstrates a one-arm push-up in an extended position.

Many of the push-up variations can be done using one arm instead of two. This will further increase the resistance put upon the trainee. The world record for the most one handed push ups in an hour was 1,705 and was set by Paddy Doyle from the United Kingdom. It was recorded in Munster Arms Hotel, Sparkbrook, United Kingdom on the 27 November 1993.[9]

Single-leg push-up[edit]

Lift one leg up off the ground and do a set. Switch legs on the next set.

Narrow-grip push-up[edit]

Do normal a normal push-up with your hands just a few inches apart from each other underneath the chest.

Clap push-up[edit]

At the peak of the push-up, push yourself up off the ground and quickly clap in midair. The fast jolting force of clap push-ups will help develop explosive power while also bulking up the pecs for a superhero chest.

Spiderman push-up[edit]

Do a normal push-up but raise one knee toward the elbow of the same side as you rise. Switch knees with each rep.

Other versions[edit]

There are some less difficult versions, which reduce the effort by supporting some of the body weight in some way. One can move on to the standard push-up after progress is made.

"Wall" push-ups are performed by standing close to a wall and pushing away from the wall with the arms; one can increase the difficulty by moving one's feet farther from the wall.

"Table" or "chair" push-ups are performed by pushing away from a table, chair, or other object. The lower the object, the more difficult the push-up. One should be sure that the object is securely stationary before attempting to push up from it.

"Modified" or "knee" push-ups are performed by supporting the lower body on the knees instead of the toes, which reduces the difficulty. This is useful for warm ups/downs, pyramids/drop sets, endurance training and rehab. It can also be used to train in a more explosive plyometric manner (like clapping pushups) when one can't perform them with the feet. It can also be used with the 1-arm variations as a transition.

"Three phase" push-ups involve simply breaking a standard push up into three components and doing each one slowly and deliberately. Participants usually start face down on the floor with hands outstretched either perpendicular or parallel to the body. The first phase involves the arms being brought palms down on a 90 degree angle at the elbows. The second phase involves the body being pushed into the up position. The third phase is returning to the starting position. This technique is commonly used after a large block of regular push ups, as it poses less stress and requires less effort.

"Diamond" or "Triceps" push-ups are done by placing both palms on the ground and touching together both thumbs and pointer fingers. This technique requires stronger triceps muscles than regular push-ups due to the fact that, at the bottom of the stroke, the forearm is nearly parallel to the ground and the elbow is almost completely flexed, resulting in much higher mechanical load on the triceps.

"Hollow-Body" push-ups are performed in the position gymnasts call the "hollow body". In the plank version of the hollow body, the shoulders are protracted into a pronounced curve in the upper back while the abdominal muscles are tightened and the legs are locked and squeezed together. This variation requires full-body tension to execute and results in greater integration of the hips, shoulders, and core.


Two platforms are placed beside the trainee, one on either side. The exercise begins with the hands on either platform supporting the body, then the subject drops to the ground and explosively rebounds with a push-up, extending the torso and arms completely off the ground and returning the hands to the platforms.

Another is simply an explosive push-up where a person attempts to push quickly and with enough force to raise his or her hands several centimeters off the ground, with the body completely suspended on the feet for a moment, a variation of the drop push. This is necessary for performing 'clap push ups' - i.e. clapping the hands while in the air.

Aztec push-ups

The Aztec push-up is one of the most difficult plyometric push-ups. A person performs an Aztec push-up by beginning in the normal push-up starting position and exploding upward with both the hands and feet, driving the entire body into the air. While in the air, the body is bent at the waist and the hands quickly touch the toes. The body is then quickly straightened and the hands and feet break the fall, returning the body to the normal push-up position for another repetition.[10]

The most Aztec push ups in one minute is 50 and was achieved by Jason Shen (USA) on January 2014.[11]

360 push ups

The 360 push-up is a variation of the superman push-up where one rotates 360 degrees while in the air.[12]

Falling and explosive rebound push ups
Here one falls to the ground from standing position and then using an explosive push-up gets back to standing position.[13]

With push-ups, many possibilities for customization and increased intensity are possible. Some examples are: One hand can be set on a higher platform than the other or be farther away from the other to give more weight to the opposite arm/side of the body and also exercise many diverse muscles. One can perform push-ups by using only the tips of the fingers and thumb. For increased difficulty, push-ups can be performed on one arm or using weights.

Push-ups between chairs form an integral part of the "Dynamic Tension" Course devised by Charles Atlas, and similar systems.


Push up bars

They are also commonly used as a fitness test or as a mild physical punishment on the spot (while benefiting the punished), to show off physically or as demonstration of submission.

In a competitive or disciplinary context especially, it is not rare to use more difficult or unpleasant variations, e.g., in mud, gravel, snow or dirt, hot ground, divested, and/or to make it physically harder, as by putting one's foot or a weight on the performer's back (possibly with sanctions if equilibrium is lost, such as spilling a glass) or to do the exercise resting on the knuckles or not use all fingers (not counting the thumb).

Record breakers and attempts[edit]

  • The first record for push-ups was documented by Guinness World Records: 6,006 non-stop push-ups by Charles Linster in 1965, October 5.[14]
  • The record for the most push-ups non-stop was 10,507, set by Minoru Yoshida of Japan in October 1980.[15] Yoshida's record was the last for non-stop push-ups to be published by Guinness World Records. A new category, "Most Push-ups in 24 Hours," has since been introduced.
  • The current world record for most push-ups in 24 hours is by Charles Servizio (USA) who achieved 46,001 push-ups in just 21 hours, 6 minutes on 1993, April 24 to 25.[16]
  • The most push ups in one hour is 3,877 and was achieved by Bijender singh (India) on 20 sept 1988.[citation needed]
  • Doug Pruden (Canada) performed 1,025 one-arm push-ups on the back of the hand on 8 November 2008.[17]
  • The Guinness World Record holder for backhanded push-ups, American John Morrow, completed 123 in one minute in 2006.[18]
  • The flying push up record was set by Ahmed Valentino Kerigo on March 22, 2013, who reached a height of 1.36 meters.[19][20]
  • Paul Lynch (UK) performed 124 consecutive one finger push-ups on 21 April 1992.[21]
  • The most knuckle push ups in one hour is 2,175 and was achieved by Syed Taj Muhammad (Pakistan) on March 2016.[22]
  • The most push ups with claps performed in one minute is 90 by Stephen Buttler (UK) on November 2011.[23]

In the animal kingdom[edit]

There are zoology observations that certain animals emulate a push up action. Most notably various taxa of the fence lizard exhibit this display,[24] primarily involving the male engaging in postures to attract females. The western fence lizard is a particular species that also engages in this behavior.[25] (It may be noted that in Mexican Spanish push-ups are called "lagartijas", which means "lizards".)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1945 Power-Plus Course by Jo Bonomo
  2. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House (2015). "push-up". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press (2006). "press-up". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  4. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House (2015). "press-up". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  5. ^ "Push-up". acefitness.org. American Council on Exercise. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Matthew Schirm. "Which Muscles Does a Push-Up Work?". Live Well - Jillian Michaels. 
  7. ^ "Most knuckle push-ups in one minute". Guinness World Records. 
  8. ^ Whitehurst, Patrick. "Grand Canyon record-breaker does it again - Grand Canyon News - Grand Canyon, Arizona". Grand Canyon News. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  9. ^ "Most one arm push-ups in one hour". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  10. ^ "Bodyweight Exercises Periodic Table with How-To Videos". Strength Stack 52. 
  11. ^ "Most Aztec push ups in one minute". Guinness World Records. 
  12. ^ 19 Variations of Push Up Exercises (The Best Chest Builders Ever!). YouTube. 26 December 2012. 
  13. ^ 10-15 Crazy Extreme Push Ups - Calisthenics Street Workout 2013 (HD). YouTube. 1 June 2013. 
  14. ^ Ralf Laue and Charles Linster. "World Records for Non-Stop Push-Ups - Ulysses Yield". recordholders.org. 
  15. ^ "World Record for Non-Stop Push-Ups". World Records for Push-Ups (Press-Ups). The International World Record Breakers' Club. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  16. ^ "World Records Stop Push-Ups". World Records for Push-Ups (Press-Ups). The International World Record Breakers' Club. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  17. ^ Guinness World Records 2010. Guinness World Records. 2009. ISBN 1-904994-50-4. 
  18. ^ "Back-Handed Record: Ottumwa native Morrow sets world push-ups mark". The Ottumwa Courier. 24 August 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  19. ^ World Record Highest Flying Push Up 1.36m - Ahmed Kerigo. YouTube. 22 March 2013. 
  20. ^ "Highest Flying Push-Up". RecordSetter. 
  21. ^ "Most push-ups (one finger)". Guinness World Records. 
  22. ^ "Most knuckle push ups in one hour". Guinness World Records. 
  23. ^ "Most push ups with claps in one minute". Guinness World Records. 
  24. ^ Maurice Burton and Robert Burton (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopaedia, published by Marshall Cavendish ISBN 0-7614-7272-X
  25. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) "Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)", Globaltwitcher, ed. Nicklas Stromberg

External links[edit]