Pushup Review

Ring Pushups

Pushups are a fantastic exercise for performance, injury prevention, and late stage rehabilitation.  There are a huge number of variations of the pushup that can be incorporated into one’s training program.  Today’s article is a review of some of the research out there on this exercise.

English: an exercise of chest and triceps

Youdas, Budach, Ellerbusch, Stucky, Wait, & Hollman (2010). Comparison of muscle-activation patterns during the conventional push-up and perfect·pushup™ exercises. J Strength Cond Res 24(12).
  • “A push-up required considerable muscle activation of the triceps brachii (73-109% MVIC), pectoralis major (95-105% MVIC), SA (67-87% MVIC), and posterior deltoid (11-21% MVIC).”
  • Performing a pushup with a narrow hand position activates the triceps and posterior deltoids more than performing with a wide hand position or shoulder width position.
Howarth, Beach, & Callaghan (2008).  Abdominal muscles dominate contributions to vertebral joint stiffness during the push-up. J Appl Biomech, 24(2).
  • The abdominal muscles provide the majority of vertebral joint rotational stiffness during the pushup.  The TA, multifidi, and spinal erectors only play a minimal role.
Tyson,  Beach, Howarth,& Callaghan (2008). Muscular contribution to low-back loading and stiffness during standard and suspended push-ups.  Human Movement Science 27.
  • Suspended pushups challenge the lats and abdominal muscles significantly more than the standard pushup.
  • This leads to significantly greater compressive forces in the lumbar spine.
  • “In comparison to the standard version of the exercise, suspended push-ups appear to provide a superior abdominal muscle challenge”
Lear & Gross (1998). An Electromyographical Analysis of the Scapular Stabilizing synergists During a Push-up progression. JOSPT.
  • Elevating the feet increases serratus anterior and upper trap activity but did not significantly change muscle activity of the lower traps.
Bradley & Tibone (1991).  Electromyographic analysis of muscle action about the shoulder. Clin Sports Med 10(4).
Moseley, Lobe, Pink, Perry, & Tibone (1992).  EMG analysis of the scapular muscles during a shoulder rehabilitation program. Am J Sports Med.
  • The serratus anterior is the primary muscle active during the “plus” portion of a pushup.
Serratus anterior, dynamic pose - Muscles of t...
Lehman, MacMillan, MacIntyre, Chivers, & Fluter (2006).  Shoulder muscle EMG activity during push up variations on and off a Swiss ball. Dynamic Medicine.
  • Placing the feet on a swiss ball did not change the muscle activity of the triceps, pec major, lats, rectus abdominis, or external obliques.
  • Performing a pushup with a swiss ball did not influence the pec major, whether the feet or hands were placed on the ball.
  • Placing the hands on an unstable surface resulted in increased muscle activity of the triceps and rectus abdominis.
  • This means that to increase muscle activity, the unstable surface must be placed under the hands and not the feet.
  • The external oblique had increased activity when the pushup plus was performed with the hands on the exercise ball vs. the bench.

Cogley, RM, Archambault, TA, Fibeger, JF, Koverman, MM, Youdas, JW, and Hollman, JH. Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res 19: 628-633, 2005.

  • EMG of the pectoralis major and triceps brachii was higher with a narrow base hand position.

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