Do Push Ups Build Muscle?

do push ups build muscle

The push-up is one of the most popular exercises and one of the most well-known exercises. Everyone has done or has at least tried to do a push up in their life. Most people have not thought about if push ups are the best exercise for building strength or muscle mass. In this article, we will answer the question do push ups build muscle?

What is a push up?

Push ups are a bodyweight exercise that you can do anywhere. They are accessible for everyone at any time, and it is this ease of use, so to speak, that makes them so popular. You do not need any expensive equipment. You do not need a particular environment or place to do them. All you need is a flat floor and your body, and you can do them. 

The history of the push up is unknown for the most part. People state that the inventor was a man named Jerick Revilla, as he was the first person to coin the word “push-up” back in 1905. However, some believe that people were doing push ups much earlier than this. They might not have had a name for it, but people have been doing push ups for centuries. Think about it whenever you have to get up from lying on your stomach, you are basically doing a single rep of a push-up. Yes, Jerick Revilla was probably the first person to give this movement a name, but he was not the first to push themself up of their stomach using their hands and arms.

Push ups are an excellent exercise for strengthening and building your upper body muscles. The main muscle groups that are activated are the triceps, pectoralis major, and deltoids to a lesser extent. Push-ups also help improve your body’s core strength, as you have to engage your abdominal muscles and back muscles while doing the exercise. You can do push-ups in numerous ways, but beginners and women should start with modified push ups.

How to do a correct push up?

As mentioned already, push ups are straightforward exercises that are easy to perform with proper form and technique, making them very accessible. The hardest part of doing a push-up is first doing them if you have not done them before or in a long time. If you are out of shape, doing one push-up can be incredibly difficult. This initial difficulty is why professionals often recommend that beginners start with the modified push-up.

Modified Push ups

Modified push ups are a variation of the traditional push-up exercise. The main difference between a regular push-up and a modified one is that the knees are bent and rest on the ground. The knees become a pivot point, which changes the center of gravity. Using the knees might not sound like a significant change, and some often think it does not make much difference. Still, studies show that a person doing a modified push-up holds up approximately 62 percent of their body weight during the movement. Compare this to a person performing a regular push-up who has to support 75 percent of their body weight.[1]That is a difference of almost 15 percent, which is a lot. If you are a person who weighs 200 pounds, 15 percent is 30 pounds of extra weight you are trying to push up. As you can see, this is why modified push ups are easier for beginners or those who are out of shape.

modified push-up
Modified push-up position

Normal Push ups

A regular push up is one where you have your legs straight along with your upper body and torso also straight. Everything is flat and straight. The only points that touch the ground are your hands and your toes. The knees do not touch the ground like the modified push-up. As we mentioned above, when doing a regular push-up, you support approximately 75 percent of your body weight at the peak of the exercise.[1] By changing the position of your hands, you can change which muscle group gets the most work or load. For example, if you bring the hands closer to your body, it will focus on the triceps, and if you widen your hands, it puts more force and focus on the chest muscles.

Suppose you want more information about properly performing a push-up, we recommend looking up a tutorial video. There are many different push-up variations that we did not mention in this article. 

Regular push-up position
Regular push-up position

Do push ups build muscle?

Push ups are just as effective as benchpress at building muscle and increasing strength. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Valencia clearly showed that push ups are just as effective at increasing strength and muscle building.[4] Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated that push ups were just as effective at increasing muscle thickness and strength as the bench press.[5] Test subjects exercised 3 times per week for 4 weeks, and at the end of the study, the researchers examined the test subjects’ muscle thickness and strength.

How many push ups should I do to build muscle?

It would be best to do as many push ups as you need to do to reach muscle failure, where you cannot do another push-up. It would be best to repeat this at least three times (3 sets). 

We do not give a specific number of push ups you should do to build muscle because everyone is at a different level and can do a different amount of push ups. The real key to stimulating muscle growth is working the muscle to failure. The real stimulus for muscle growth comes once you have exhausted the muscle to the point that it fails. Many studies have confirmed that it does not matter if you do high repetitions or low repetitions. You can achieve the same muscle growth by doing high repetitions or low repetitions as long as you go to muscular failure.[2][3]

You will see lots of questions on forums and fitness sites asking questions like “is 100 pushups a day good?” or “should I do 500 push ups per day to build muscle?” Try and ignore this stuff and understand that you have to go to failure. Regardless of how many push ups that end up being, it could be 25 for you and 100 push ups for someone else.

So can I gain muscle from push ups? 

Let’s make it simple and say that you can build muscle from doing push ups. Push ups are just as effective as the bench press at building strength and muscle. Remember that it is less important how many push ups you can do, and it is more important that you do as many as you can and take your muscles to failure. Taking your muscles to failure is how you will stimulate new muscle growth.

References

  1. (PDF) The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push-up Variants (researchgate.net)
  2. Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Comparison of two resistance training protocols, 6RM versus 12RM, to increase the 1RM in healthy young adults. A single-blind, randomized controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (lww.com)