The pushup is definitely up there as one of the best full-body exercises. It can be done virtually anywhere and its variability makes it one of the most versatile exercises. Our question today, however is if they also help you with your six-pack. Are the before-and-after montages in prison movies just another Tinsel town ruse?
Push-ups are good for abdominal muscles because they keep the core engaged. Keeping the back straight in standard pushups requires the individual to tighten their core, which strengthens and tones it over time. Some pushup variations are more targeted at abs specifically.
Clap push ups muscles worked | Credit: streetbarz.com
Want to know if pushups are the key to your banging beach-body? Stick around as we discuss exactly why pushups help your abs. We will also examine some of the best pushup variations for abs, as well as the number of reps you need to do before you start looking like Cristiano Ronaldo.
Are pushups good for abs?
It has been proven that standard push-ups, when done with the correct form, force the whole core region to engage and form a basis for stability. The core region, of course, includes the abdominals. These muscles stay tight to help keep your back straight during movements. The core is engaged in the same way as it would be during plank exercises and, over time, it will develop and become more toned and pronounced.
Push up elbow position
If you do pushups without properly tightening your core, you will notice your hips being too high when you descend, and too low when you come up. The major central part of the abdominals, the rectus abdominis, tenses up and supports your middle so you can keep straight. The transverse abdominals, which form the base of the obliques, help you maintain your side-to-side balance.
To get the most from your abs, or any muscle really, you need to execute steadily-paced and controlled movements. Do not rush through any exercise, as you want the muscles to be fully engaged for as long as possible. Full range of motion is also a must if you want the best results. In the case of pushups, you should go all the way down and up, or whatever direction the pushup variation entails.
Get an experienced friend or personal trainer to help you with your form, tempo, and range of motion. Slacking in any one of those areas is short changing yourself because your abs, and other target muscles, won’t be doing the full work they should be. This will cost your results.
You must have your core engaged the whole time you are doing standard or knees-on-the-ground pushups. This is the only surefire way to guarantee proper form during this exercise. When standard push-ups become too easy, it might be time to add a degree of difficulty. Move onto pushups where your feet or hands are placed upon a balancing ball. The uneasy balance will automatically call upon more stabilizer muscles in your core, which works them out further.
If the stabilizer ball pushups get too easy as well, you can introduce shoulder taps. FYI, it is much safer for you to do this if your feet are on the ball rather than your hands. With taps, what you do is perform a push up then once you come back to the top, you tap one shoulder with the opposite hand. In other words, your left-hand taps your right shoulder, and your right-hand taps your left shoulder. One tap per pushup.
As good as the standard pushup is for the abdominal region, there is only so far you can go with it. In 2014, the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine carried out a study that compared the levels of muscle activation during pushups with different suspension training systems (TRX suspension trainer, Jungle Gym XT, flying suspension trainer, and AirFit Trainer Pro). Standard floor pushups were used as the control. The results showed that while standard pushups are the best for activating the pectoral muscles and deltoids, they are not as effective at engaging the abs as suspended pushups.
Best pushups for abs
You’ve got to start with the basics. Normal pushup position involves holding a high plank position, hands flat on the ground, and elbows shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and, crucially, keep your core engaged.
To go down, slowly bend your elbows outward at a 45-degree angle. Flaring your elbows out too widely can lead to wrist, elbow, or even shoulder injuries. Keep descending until your chest is almost touching the floor. If you are keeping your core tight and your back straight, you should be parallel to the ground at this point. You then use all of your strength to push yourself back up (back still straight, the core still engaged). That’s one push up.
Try to do 2-3 sets of 10 properly. With pushups, the form is everything so it is important to get it right. Beginners, focus on quality over quantity so that you can grow with the right habits that will help you avoid serious injuries or sub-standard results.
If normal push-ups are too difficult for you, you should try kneeling pushups, incline pushups, or wall pushups. Whichever one you choose, try to make sure you engage your core and the other form requirements of standard pushups.
Running man pushups
This is a good workout for squeezing your core a little bit tighter than you would in a standard pushup.
While in the pushup position, do a pushup. When you are back in the starting position, bring your left hand and right foot towards each other so they may meet in the middle when they touch. That counts as one. Do another pushup and do the same thing for your right hand and left foot. That’s two.
Try to do 2-3 sets of 10 running man pushups and, after some time, you will definitely start feeling your core getting stronger.
Pushups with mountain-climbers
A great way to combine pushups with an exercise that is a certified gut-buster. Mountain climbers are great because they are a power cardio move that really gets the blood pumping. If you’ve never done them before, trust me when I say that they are significantly more difficult than they look, particularly in multiple sets. However, it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of them, and they are a really fun activity once you do.
I would recommend that you do one pushup, then do one mountain climber and count that as “one”. Repeat this 8-10 times for one set. All in all, try to do 3 sets of these and you’ll be on your way to a glorious set of abs.
Pushups with tucks
Another fun, but pretty demanding workout. Find some fitness discs (or paper plates) and place your feet on them while you are in a pushup position. You then perform one push up as normal. However, when you return to the high pushup position, slide both your feet towards your upper body at the same time. Essentially “tucking” your knees towards your torso. That’s one tuck pushup.
Try to do as many of these as you can, if you are a beginner. Once accustomed, try to regularly do 2-3 sets of 10. Abs guaranteed.
How many pushups should I do to get abs?
There is no precise answer to this question because of several reasons. The first reason is that there is no workout that “gets” your abs. Everyone has abdominal muscles from birth; however, some people cannot see theirs because they are undertrained or hidden under a layer of fat. Therefore, the correct question to ask is “how many pushups until my abs are visible?”
Factors surrounding the development and toning of abdominal muscles vary. No one push-up will get you over the edge into having abs. Having a six, eight, or even ten pack is the result of a largely disciplined and regimented lifestyle. Exercise, diet, and sleep are all major contributing factors, for example.
With regards to exercise, weight training must be combined with cardio if you want your abs, and other muscles, to be more visible. Weight training alone will still build muscle, but you also need the fat-burning benefits of some good consistent cardio. This is especially true for abs. You could do sit-ups and Russian twists for years and years, but without burning fat, your abs will remain hidden. If you are in a similar scenario, then you probably have a killer six-pack lying underneath your belly fat.
Many people still have the misconception that doing strength training in one area also burns fat there i.e. the belief that doing ab exercises reduces belly fat. This is wildly off the mark because you cannot spot reduce fat wherever you don’t want it. You have to drop your overall body fat percentage. For abs to be visible on a man, he needs to have a body fat percentage of 14% and below. For ladies, that number is anywhere between 14% and 20%.
Ultimately, the number of pushups one needs to do to start seeing their abs is the number that, alongside other exercise and lifestyle factors, will help them get to the relevant body fat percentage range.