What a personal trainer can explain about the biomechanics of a push-up

What a personal trainer can explain about the biomechanics of a push-up

Push-ups are a bodyweight exercise that works the chest, shoulder, triceps and abdominal muscles. Push-ups can enhance any fitness programme, whether your goals are to build muscular strength or endurance. There are many variations on this classic exercise, with or without additional equipment, that are used to either change the difficulty of the movement or challenge the muscles in a different way. The basic mechanics require a series of movements at multiple joints to raise and lower the body.

Set up

A standard push-up begins in plank position: face down on a mat, supporting yourself on your toes and with your hands out slightly wider than your shoulders. You should maintain a straight line through your shoulders, hips and back, making sure you do not dip or arch. Steadying yourself in this position requires isometric muscle action from the deltoid group in your shoulders and abdominals throughout the exercise. Isometric muscle action occurs when no movement is associated with a contraction.

Ascending Phase What a personal trainer can explain about the biomechanics of a push-up

Descending Phase

The push-up motion beings with an inhale as you bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Bending your elbow is known as elbow flexion. In a prone position, you are working with gravity as the elbow flexes in order to control yourself on the way down. This motion requires an eccentric contraction from the triceps/ Once your elbows are flexed at 90 degrees, you begin to horizontally adduct the shoulder blades, squeezing them together to finish the move.

Ascending Phase

From the down position, concentric muscle action is required to lift yourself back up against gravity. Your pectoralis major is the main mover in this phase of a push-up as you abduct your shoulder blades. Elbow extension is caused by the triceps to push you back to the starting position. Studies have found that the pectoralis major and the triceps are responsible for lifting 40% of the body’s total weight in a normal push-up.

muscle What a personal trainer can explain about the biomechanics of a push-up


The distance between your hands, the positioning of your hands relative to your shoulders, your relationship with gravity, the positioning of your feet and your speed all affect the load on all muscles involved in a push-up. This includes the main movers and static supporters. For example, modifying a push-up by performing it on your knees reduces the amount of weight being lowered and lifted, which reduces the total load on the muscle.

What muscles does the push-up work?

The push-up works the muscles of your upper torso. These muscles include the following:

  • Pectoral muscles (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor)
  • Deltoid muscles (the muscles in the shoulder)
  • Muscles of the upper arm (biceps and tricep muscles)
  • Muscles of the upper back (latissimus dorsi,l rhomboids and trapezius)

Each of these muscle groups are responsible for either flexion, extension, pushing or pulling.

The push-up is used widely by fitness professionals as well as personal trainers in order to develop upper-body strength, power in addition to local muscular endurance in their clients. Although the load during a push-up is restricted by the client’s body weight, measurements and proportions, a lot of biomechanical variations of the exercise can be carried out. These variations may include altering hand as well as foot positions, which impacts muscle recruitment patterns in addition to joint stresses. The consequences of these variations may be discounted regarding the individual needs and goals of the client.