281019 Muscle Actions Involved in the Push Up
By Danny M. O’Dell, M.A. CSCS
The pushup movement consists of interaction between the elbow, shoulder and the scapulothoracic joints.
During this exercise the elbow extends and flexes in the up and down motion while the shoulders move into horizontal adduction flexion going up and horizontal abduction extension going back down. The scapulothoracic joint is partially rotated upward in an abducted manner as the body is being pushed up. In the downward phase the opposite action is taking place, with partial downward rotation and adduction movement.
Not only are these three joints involved but so are numerous stabilizing muscle groups taking part. In the elbow joint, for instance, the triceps brachii and the small anconeus muscle are helping to move the elbow from extension to flexion. In the case of the shoulder the pectoralis major is highly active along with the coracobrachialis and the anterior deltoid. The scapulothoracic joint is aided in its participation by the actions of the serratus anterior.
Most muscle movement requires assistance from other muscle groups and the major muscles previously mentioned are no exception. The shoulders and triceps are not the only ones involved in this fine upper body exercise. We have already mentioned the serratus anterior as helping in the move. Along with the serratus anterior we have the pectoralis minor, the rhomboids and the lower trapezius acting as stabilizers for the shoulder.
The shoulder joint is further protected by the four rotator cuff muscles that help keep the humerus in place and the biceps brachii in stabilizing the arm and shoulder connection.
Many experts categorically state the push up is an excellent core strength builder that is frequently under utilized due to its perceived simplicity. The fact remains there is a great deal of muscular action taking place in keeping the torso in a straight line during the exercise. As an example in stabilizing the trunk there is muscle recruitment from the abdominal region, the glutes and the large quadriceps, the quadratus lumborum and the latissimus dorsi.
Finally the head is in an extended position during the execution of the pushup.