Marta Montenegro: Push-ups, the Super Exercise

Push-ups are for the upper body what squats are for the lower body. They have all the qualities that make a good exercise to stand out. This is a multi-joint exercise. It can be done anywhere with no equipment, and best of all, just by tweaking the hands and legs position you can change the intensity.

The push-up tackles several muscles at the same time, which increases the energy expenditure. The pectoralis major, anterior and middle part of the shoulders and the triceps are heavily taxed in this exercise along with the entire abdominal wall that acts as a stabilizer.

But the benefits of the push-ups don’t stop here. This exercise is used to evaluate muscle endurance and in some cases – particularly in women – muscle strength in fitness and sports tests. Indeed, studies show that plyometric push-ups along with traditional resistance training increase upper body strength and power.  No wonder, this exercise is always in the list of almost any athlete training program.

Points to watch for

According to your fitness level and muscle work, the push-up can be modified to suit your strength level. However, push-ups come with some red flags.  Frédéric Delavier in his book The Strength Training Anatomy Workout writes that it’s not as easy to focus on the pectoralis muscles when doing this exercise as many would assume. It’s not an isolated exercise. Also, a person’s anatomy such as long arms will make the job harder.

Push-ups require a strong core that aids in stabilizing the body so the hips keep tight and don’t sag. One of the most common mistakes when doing push-ups is arching the back, which will make the exercise easier, but it could compromise the spine unnecessarily, says Delavier.

Tailored push-ups

Push-ups can be included as a part of your upper-body workout in your push-pull workout, in between your leg workout when doing a circuit type of training or in a more advanced manner after a weight lifting chest exercise to fatigue the endurance type of muscle fibers as well and to induce a greater anabolic hormonal response.

But before deciding where and how to include push-ups in your workout, make sure that you understand the different intensities and muscles that work in each variation to truly meet your goals and fitness level.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website,, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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