No matter what modification you're doing, push-ups are one of those moves that will give you a whole lot of bang for your buck—a single rep is enough to give you a full-body workout. "Push-ups are a low load-bearing, bodyweight exercise that can be executed anywhere with no equipment," says Joshua Thomas, a trainer at Life Time Summerlin. They work your chest, triceps, shoulders, and core, plus what trainers call the "wing" muscle under your armpits, and the more of them you do, the stronger you're ultimately going to get all over.
As long as you're doing them the right way, Thomas adds that integrating some up-and-downs into your daily routine, while also experimenting with different variables, can be a great tool for working toward your health and fitness goals.
Ahead, learn more about the benefits of doing push-ups, how to do the perfect push-up, push-up variations, and potential risks of doing push-ups every day.
Given that push-ups work not just the chest but also the triceps, shoulders, core and wing muscles, Guy Codio, a personal trainer and co-founder of New York City Personal Training, says one of the biggest benefits, and perhaps the primary goal for many who do push-ups regularly is increasing the size and strength of their chest. That said, there are many other benefits of doing push ups that are often overlooked. Keep scrolling for more.
"When completed through full ranges of motion without outstanding movement imbalances, [push-ups] can help keep your lean tissue healthy, joints healthy, and help with blood circulation,” Thomas says.
According to Codio, push-ups can be used as a diagnostic tool to help identify an individual’s physical strengths and weaknesses. “To perform a push-up properly, you are asking multiple muscle groups to work in conjunction with one another,” he explains. “When one muscle is weak, that fact becomes glaringly apparent.”
In other words, a push-up can tell you which muscles may need some extra love. From there, Codio says a push-up regime can be formulated to build up your upper body and strengthen the lower back and core.
Push-ups are a form of anaerobic exercise, Codio says, which means it works your physical muscles as well as your cardiovascular muscles.
“Push-ups work movement throughout your entire kinetic chain and not simply isolate one part of it,” Codio says, which is what makes them safer than other weight-bearing exercises.
Another benefit: Push-ups also help increase muscle and bone and density which is particularly important for the older population. “The denser our muscles become, the stronger our bones become,” Codio says.
Beyond the physical benefits, Codio adds that incorporating a few push-ups a week into your routine can also help improve your mood and mental health. “Even if you’re only able to do one, keep a weekly tally,” he says. “The exercise says it all: push yourself. “You never know where it can lead you.”
The "perfect push-up" may sound like this elusive thing that can only be done by elite fitness professionals, but it's definitely within reach of anyone. The basics involve lowering your entire body as one unit (that part's the most important) from the up position until you're hovering off the ground, then pushing straight back up. Good check points, according to Thomas, are: a tightly braced core, your feet close or directly together, your chest and spine in a neutral position with a natural curve, your hands stacked directly under your elbows so that the wrist remains neutral at the bottom position with zero bending at the joint, and your elbows bent at 45 to 90 degrees.
For a visual demonstration of push-ups, watch the video below:
If you want to do push-ups every day, Thomas says that the best place to start (as is the case with any movement!) is by making sure you can complete a full range of motion "safely with zero to minimum pain." If you've got a trainer or fitness pro in your life, it may be worth working with them to perfect your push-up before doing a full set on your own. Once you've got that down, test yourself by seeing how many you can do in a row. "This starting point will help you determine how to best train and what your weak points in a push-up are," says Thomas. Then, you can build on this every day, and depending on what your goals are, you can try to progress in different ways, like by adding more reps, resting for shorter periods between sets, or trying different variations.
"Push-ups can be great when completed every day and even better if you know how to change variables and incorporate different variations," says Thomas, calling out plyometric push-ups, deficit push-ups, weighted push-ups, and close grip push-ups as a few of his favorites. "There are also ways to vary the exercise by simply changing the intensity and volume of work completed every day."
For example, you could set a goal to do 100 push-ups every day for a month, but those 100 push-ups might look different every day. "You can find numerous ways to split up the load differently," says Thomas. "For example, day one complete 10 sets of 10 reps, day two complete four sets of 25 reps, day three complete 20 sets of five with weight on your back, day four complete two sets of 50—the possibilities go on and on."
As its name suggests, this push-up variation positions the hands a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Codio says it helps strengthen the upper body and core while focusing on the pectoral muscles.
This variation works the shoulders, triceps, and core, and helps improve flexibility, Codio says. To do it, begin with your hips up in the air and your head down. Then, in a sweeping motion raise your head towards the ceiling as you fully extend your arms.
“The diamond push-up is one of the most effective triceps exercises,” Codio says. “The unique hand position of this bodyweight exercise activates your triceps brachii more than a standard push-up.”
To take your push-up game up a notch, try this variation, which involves twisting the torso and extending one leg out to the side. Codio says, this one strengthens the upper body with more of a focus on the core, hip flexors, and shoulders.
There is technically always some sort of risk with any type of working out, but push-ups actually carry less risk than most other moves because they're low-load bearing and don't require you to lift anything besides your own bodyweight. With that said, here are four potential risks of doing push-ups every day to keep in mind.
Thomas says, any time you're doing a repetitive movement every day, there's a risk of an overuse injury—tendonitis is a biggie here. Codio echoes this saying, “since push-ups use particular muscles and joints, it's best to allow time for your body to recover. Over-exerting yourself could undo the results you worked hard to get.”
"We can only train as hard as we recover, so if your body doesn't recover, you may end up spinning your wheels in the mud and working hard for less than optimal results for a long time," Thomas says. A few ways to ensure you're doing that properly? Do a proper warmup before starting your workout each day, cool down when you're finished, and be sure to be intentional about your recovery by adding some prehab and mobility training into your routine. You'll be clapping between reps in no time.
If you’re focusing on doing push-ups every day and that’s all you’re doing, you also risk not having a well-rounded fitness regime. “When training, make sure to have a well-rounded routine where you're able to train all your muscle groups and avoid overtraining one group,” Codio says. “If you're going to do some push-ups make sure to incorporate some pulling exercise in your routine as well.”
Besides the physical risks, Codio notes that doing push-ups every day (or any one exercise really) can also potentially lead to an obsession that may then lead to an addiction. That’s another reason to ensure you’re mixing up your fitness routine.
Doing push-ups every day is a great way to push yourself (no pun intended) both physically and mentally. “If making your well-being your top priority, starting a workout program and using push-ups as a stepping stone is an easy exercise to help build one’s inner strength,” Codio says. “Keep track of your progress weekly even if it’s one extra rep that you’re able to do.” Up for the challenge? Remember to mix it up with different push-up variations, maintain a well-balanced fitness regime, and avoid overdoing it and risking injury.