Push-ups are one of the most utilized upper-body exercises in the fitness world. This movement, which requires no equipment and only your body weight, is a compound, multi-joint movement.
This means that multiple muscle groups and joints are utilized at the same time, as compared to an isolated exercise, which only works one muscle at a time.
A push-up can be modified by placing your hands in different positions to activate different muscle groups. To get the maximum muscle activation in the chest, it's important to perfect your form first.
Proper Form for a Standard Push-Up
Place your hands underneath your shoulders with your legs extended behind you and the balls of your feet planted firmly on the ground. With your arms fully extended and your legs behind you, position your body in a high plank.
Keeping your core tight, back flat and butt squeezed, slowly lower down to the ground until your chest touches the ground (or as close as you can get with proper form). Then, push away from the floor and extend your arms returning to the starting position.
Target Your Chest
While all push-ups activate the muscles in the chest, there are certain push-ups that have higher chest muscle recruitment than others. In a study performed by the American Council on Exercise, suspended push-ups had the highest pectoral recruitment, with push-ups performed on a stability ball coming in second for pectoral activation and regular push-ups coming in third.
In another study at Indiana University of Pennsylvania incorporated a BOSU ball and TRX equipment with a push-up. The TRX recruited 91.6 percent greater muscle activation than the traditional push-up. The BOSU ball recruited 41.6 percent greater muscle activation than the traditional push-up.
An additional study performed by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that push-ups performed with a narrow hand base, i.e., a diamond push-up or adduction push-up, received higher muscle activity in the pectoralis major.
The push-up can be modified based on the position of your hands. According to The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, in addition to the standard push-up, two often-utilized positions in variations of the push-up are the abducted push-up and the adducted push-up.
The former requires you bring your hands 1.5 times wider than the normal push-up, which activates your pectoral muscles. The latter, or adducted push-up, requires the subject to have a narrow arm stance such as a diamond push-up, which is the more difficult position. The adducted push-up activates greater tricep and pectoral muscle activity.