The health benefits of pushups and the right way to do them

Some exercises pack the punch that push-ups do.

They provide a great workout, can be done anytime and anywhere and give real results when done correctly and consistently.

“Resistance training with push-ups is great because many adaptations can be implemented for beginners to allow for gradual improvement over time,” said DJ McDonough, a cardiovascular disease researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

They offer heart health benefits and a targeted approach to increasing strength and endurance.

One study found that people who were able to do a certain number of push-ups in a short period of time had a significantly lower risk of heart disease or heart attack.

“Pushups are a multi-joint exercise, requiring movement of more than one joint at a time,” says McDonough. “This means they require the simultaneous contraction of many large and small muscle groups – advantageous because you get more gain by targeting more muscles in less time.”

Weight-bearing exercises not only strengthen muscles but also bones.

“The main muscle that provides the most movement during a push-up is the pectoralis major – the largest chest muscle,” says Dr. Michael Fredericson, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation division at Stanford University.

Fredericson says other muscles that benefit include the front of the shoulder and triceps, abs, quadriceps, and hip flexors “as well as many of the smaller stabilizing muscles around the shoulders and upper back.”

Loren Fishman, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Columbia University who is the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, says some of the smaller muscle groups strengthened by push-ups are some of the most important. These include the rhomboid muscle, which holds the shoulder blades together, the pectoralis muscle, which holds the arm parallel, and the serratus anterior muscle, which holds the shoulder blades in place near the back ribs.

As with any resistance training method, form is very important. To do proper push-ups:

  • Get down to the floor with your feet and hands touching the floor and your hands a little further than shoulder-width apart.
  • Straighten your legs and arms, and lower yourself until your chest almost touches the floor.
  • In this position, your arms should be near or at a 90 degree angle. Hold that position for a second, then push yourself back up and repeat.

Some techniques to remember include keeping your head looking forward and not down, keeping your body straight without pushing your butt up and “keeping your chest out,” says Fredericson.

“This puts your scapula” — the shoulder blades — “in the correct position to do its job during a push-up,” he says.

Fredericson says you'll know your posture is correct because, when you do a bottom push-up, your shoulder blades will come together. And when you push yourself back, your shoulder blades will dislodge.

Pushups require movement of your body weight, so “if someone is new to lifting and or is carrying extra weight, regular pushups may be difficult,” says McDonough.

In this case, she suggests doing push-ups on your knees instead of your toes.

“This eliminates the need to stabilize the spine and also reduces the burden on a person's body weight,” he says.

The number of repetitions you do will determine how much the muscles are maintained, developed, or toned. Muscle grows only after it is broken down enough to rebuild. So, for some people, that means doing multiple sets of pushups at once. For others, just a little each day may be a good place to start.

It's important to watch out for any injuries that could be exacerbated by movement and to allow rest days between strenuous workouts as sleep and recovery time are essential for muscle improvement and growth.

The amount of muscle tone and mass built will depend on the number of reps you want to do and how consistently you do the exercise.

“Strength increases the capacity of a given muscle mass beyond its current capabilities,” says Fishman. “Repeated demanding exercise results in greater strength.”

Read more at US Today.