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Do Push-ups Build Muscle?

    A symbol of strength and fitness, the push-up is one of the most popular upper body exercises. Why? Because it’s easy to learn and you can perform it anywhere you want. But now, you may be wondering whether you can build muscle by doing only push-ups.

    Push-ups do build muscle if done properly. Factors like age, gender, diet, and recovery have an impact on muscle building. You should also progress and push your muscles by increasing your reps or doing different push-up variations to continue growing muscle mass.

    Read on to see how you can build muscle with push-ups and what muscles push-ups engage. You would also get to know some of the common push-up variations, their benefits, and how to do them.

    Can You Build Muscle by Doing Only Push-ups?

    You can build muscle by doing only push-ups. Actually, a study comparing push-ups and bench presses showed that these two exercises are similar in muscle activation. But you should pay attention to your form, diet, progression, and other factors that influence muscle growth.

    Now, let’s see how you should do push-ups to build muscle.

    How To Build Muscle With Push-ups

    Besides training attributes (such as duration, frequency, and recovery), other factors like gender, age, diet, and hormones impact muscle building.

    We can’t change some of these factors like age and gender. But we can control other facets, including training and diet.

    So how you do push-ups is critical in how much you grow muscle.

    How To Do Push-ups To Build More Muscle

    To build more muscle doing push-ups, you should follow these principles:

    1. Adopt the Correct Form

    Maintaining a correct form in push-ups helps you build more lean muscle and prevents you from injuring yourself.

    But what does the correct form mean? 

    • Your hands should be slightly more apart than your shoulder width.
    • The distance between your feet depends on where you’re most comfortable and in balance.
    • Your whole body should be in a straight line when you do push-ups.
    • You should bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle or less.

    You can record a video of yourself or ask a friend to watch you in action to see whether your form is correct.

    2. Choose an Appropriate Push-up Variation

    When your goal is to build muscle, you should go for a push-up variation that’s neither too easy nor too hard for you. As a rule of thumb, you should choose a variation that you can complete at least 6 and at most 12 reps. So, if you can do a variation of push-ups of fewer than 6 reps or more than 12 reps at once, you probably won’t get any muscle building benefits

    3. Progress Over Time

    You should also change or modify your push-up variation as you grow stronger to continue building muscle. As a beginner, you may even have difficulty doing the standard push-up. So, you can start with variations like off the wall or off the table push-up.

    But over time, you get stronger and simpler variations can’t challenge your body enough to build muscle. Then, you can turn to more advanced variations like one-leg or one-arm push-ups. You could also try doing push-ups with a weighted vest.

    4. Have a Diet for Building Muscle Mass

    Your body needs to consume more energy to build muscle. So, you should increase your calorie intake. You should also eat healthier foods, get sufficient protein and vitamins, and stay hydrated.

    According to Healthline, eggs, salmon, and chicken breast are examples of foods packed with protein that help you build muscle.

    5. Recovery Could Be More Important Than Exercise

    It’s always tempting to constantly push yourself to get to your goals sooner. But more often, this leads to overtraining, which hinders your progress.

    So, set aside enough time for recovery. Sometimes by not doing push-ups for a day or two, you get better results. A regular good night’s sleep (7 to 9 hours) also plays a significant role in your recovery.

    Also Read Push-up Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes

    Here’s a push-up challenge you can try: 

    What Muscles Do Push-ups Work?

    Push-ups are generally considered a workout for upper body muscles like:

    • Pectorals (chest muscles).
    • Deltoids (shoulders).
    • Biceps (front of the upper arm).
    • Triceps (back of the upper arm).
    • Serratus anterior (wing muscles under the armpit).

    But they’re actually a full-body workout. That’s because to keep you in balance, they also work lower body muscles like:

    • Internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, and transversus abdominis (abdominal, or core muscles).
    • Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapeze muscles (upper and middle back muscles).
    • Multifidus, longissimus, spinalis, and quadratus lumborum (lower back muscles).
    • Hamstrings, quadriceps, calf, and shin muscles (leg muscles)
    • Gluteus maximus and medius (the buttocks muscles).

    7 Different Push-up Variations and How To Do Them

    Different push-up variations are suitable for different people with different goals. Some are for beginners just getting to know this exercise, while others are for intermediate or higher level athletes. 

    More than 100 different variations exist, but let’s learn about seven more common ones to add some spice to your workouts.

    1. Wall Push-up

    The wall push-up is a good starting point if doing standard push-ups is too hard for you. It’s a basic variation preparing you to do more challenging ones.

    How To Do a Wall Push-up?

    Stand in front of a wall, put your palms against the wall. Open your feet just slightly more than your shoulder width. Lean on the wall with your body. Return to a standing position by pushing back with your hands. Then do it again.

    2. Bent Knee Push-up

    Bent knee push-up is another level before standard push-up. The only difference between this and the standard type is that it requires less strength. Other than that, it targets the same muscles. So, don’t listen to critics calling it too easy or saying it’s terrible for your kneecaps.

    How To Do a Bent Knee Push-up?

    It’s easy; it’s just a standard push-up with your knees on the ground. I don’t think you need more instruction than that. But remember to do them on a mat to protect your knees.

    If you don’t have a mat, this yoga mat from Amazon is an excellent choice. It’s very durable, easy to carry and clean, extra-thick, and yet very soft.

    Gaiam Essentials Premium Yoga Mat With Yoga Mat Carrier Sling (72 InchL X 24 InchW X 1/4 Inch Thick)
    • CLASSIC YOGA MAT: These durable, yet lightweight exercise yoga mats are extra thick (1/4 Inch) for the additional cushioning your joints need during any yoga or fitness routine
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    3. Wide-grip Push-up

    After doing standard push-ups for some time, your muscles stop growing unless you challenge your body in a different way. A wide or narrow grip push-up is one way to do this. This variation engages the chest, shoulders, and serratus anterior muscles.

    How To Do a Wide-grip Push-up?

    With this variation, you should just put your hands further apart than your shoulder width. The wider you go, the more difficult it gets. Other instructions are the same as a standard push-up.

    4. Narrow-grip push-up

    This variation engages the triceps and stabilizer muscles in your midsection more. By working these muscles, narrow-grip push-ups also improve your posture.

    How To Do a Narrow-grip Push-up?

    When doing narrow-grip push-ups, you should place your hands directly under your shoulders.

    There’s a similar variation called diamond push-up, which you can do by bringing your hands near each other such that your index fingers and thumbs touch and form a diamond shape. 

    Note that this variation can put your shoulder health at risk without any real extra benefit. So, avoid this and stick to the narrow grip.

    5. Weighted Vest Push-up

    Another way to push your muscle into gaining mass is by putting on a weighted vest. 

    Remember that the vest should be both tight and comfortable to prevent it from hindering your movements.

    This weighted vest, available on Amazon, has an adjustable strap and a range of different sizes. So, it can be suitable for almost everyone. It’s also made of soft and comfortable materials. Evenly distributing weight is another advantage of this vest.

    Henkelion Weighted Vest Weight Vest for Men Women Kids Weights Included, Body Weight Vests Adjustable for Running, Training Workout, Jogging, Walking - Black - 8 Lbs
    • ATTENTION - The elastic of this vest should be at the waist. Please look carefully at the direction of wear on the pictures
    • IRON PELLETS & METAL ROCK - Henkelion weighted vest is filled with premium iron pellets and metal rock rather than using cheap river sand

    As an alternative, you can also use a weighted backpack. You can fill it with any heavy object available. The weight should not be more than

    20% of your body weight since it could overload your body and lead to injury.

    6. Medicine Ball Push-up

    Medicine ball push-ups can engage all your body and help you build muscle throughout your entire body. They’re also an excellent exercise for improving your balance.

    How To Do a Medicine Ball Push-up?

    You can do this type of push-up with both hands on the ball or just one hand. In the one-hand variation, you get into a standard push-up position and put one hand on the ball and the other on the floor. You can do one set with one hand and one with the other. Or you can change the ball position between each push-up.

    If you’re looking to buy a medicine ball, choose this product from Amazon. This high-quality medicine ball with a lightly textured surface is very easy to grip. It’s also available in various sizes serving different purposes.

    Amazon Basics Workout Fitness Exercise Weighted Medicine Ball - 10 Pounds, Blue/Black
    • 10-pound weighted medicine ball for upper, lower and full body exercises
    • Ideal for classic medicine ball workouts; ball toss, weighted twists, squats, sit ups and more

    7. One-arm Push-up

    By doubling the weight on a single arm, one-arm push-up forces the chest into an unbalanced state and forces the core to maintain stability.

    How To Do a One-arm Push-up?

    Start with the standard push-up position. Move your hands slightly closer and your feet considerably further apart. Keep one arm on the ground and move the other behind your back. Now start doing push-ups.

    Bottom Line

    Doing push-ups can be an excellent way to build muscle. However, you should follow a few principles to keep building muscle. Some of these principles include adopting the correct form, not stagnating, boasting a suitable diet, and giving your body enough time to recover.

    Choosing a suitable variation is another crucial factor. You can start with a standard push-up or, if you don’t have enough strength, with a simpler variation like a wall push-up. 

    However, as you get stronger, you have to switch to more challenging types like a weighted vest or one-arm push-up so that your muscles continue to gain mass. 

    Last update on 2024-05-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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