7 Benefits of Push
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7 Benefits of Push

Jul 03, 2023

Including modified push-ups, too!

Kirsten Nunez has been a health and fitness writer at Real Simple since 2021 and has been writing for nearly a decade.

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The push-up is a basic exercise that almost everyone has done—or at least tried to. Push-ups can be done with minimal space and zero equipment, making it a popular and effective bodyweight move. Push-ups are also easy to modify, as proven by their cameos in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Pilates, and weight-lifting workout routines—just to name a few.

Beyond their simplicity and versatility, push-ups have a lot to offer in the way of physical health benefits. They’re especially excellent for the upper body and core, which is good news for functional strength, daily mobility, and injury prevention.

Push-ups may be simple in concept and form, but they’re certainly not easy. If you’re new to push-ups, start slow to avoid injury, says Victoria Whittington, RDN, personal trainer and registered dietitian at Atlas Optimization. Begin with one or two sets of five to eight push-ups (or even fewer if you need to!) per day or session, focusing on proper form and technique.

Likewise, if you can’t do a full push-up in a plank position right away (you are not alone), try doing them with your knees on the floor, with a foam roller under your thighs, or with your hands on an elevated surface (like an exercise bench, sturdy chair back, or counter top), suggests Whittington. As you become more comfortable and stronger, gradually increase the number of repetitions or sets. “Aim to add one or two additional reps or an extra set every week or two, allowing your muscles and joints to adjust to the workload safely,” adds Whittington.

It’s worth noting that even modified push-ups offer benefits, says Candace Rhodes, personal trainer and founder of Rhodes to Strength. So whether you do traditional push-ups or their easier variations, you’ll be able to enjoy the many benefits of push-ups, below.

Even modified push-ups offer these great benefits.

When you’ve got things to do and places to be, multifunctional exercises can be a gamechanger for your fitness routine. Enter: the almighty push-up, a move that targets the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles, according to Whittington. This four-in-one feature makes the push-up a compound exercise, or “a multi-joint movement that engages multiple muscle groups at the same time,” Whittington says. Not only does this keep your heart rate up (hello, cardiovascular exercise!), but it also saves time because you’re getting more of a full-body workout, notes Rhodes.

“While push-ups are often considered [to be] an upper body exercise, [they] require the core muscles to engage and stabilize your body throughout the movement,” Whittington explains. This core activation strengthens the muscles in your abdomen, lower back, and hips, paving the way for spine stability and better posture.

But what does improved posture mean for your health, exactly? “A good standing posture means your spine [is] in a neutral position, which maintains the natural curve of the spine,” Rhodes says. Your head should be aligned with your spine, allowing all your muscles to provide support equally. The result is less strain on the body, a lower risk of injury, improved breathing, and even better digestion, she says.

According to the Frontiers in Physiology, core exercises—like push-ups—are linked to a lower risk of injury (and better overall performance) in athletes. However, you don’t need to be an athlete to reap these push-up benefits and help prevent aches, pains, and injuries. When you have a strong core, your body can maintain a neutral spine and optimal trunk position during athletic activities and daily living, Rhodes says. In turn, your body can effectively transfer physical loads using your muscles instead of your spine, keeping injury at bay.

“Having a strong core teaches your hips, abs, and back muscles to function together as one unit,” Rhodes adds. This coordination helps maintain your balance and perform more efficient movements, reducing the risk of muscle pull or strains, she says.

Thanks to the core-strengthening effects of push-ups, the move can also help ease back pain. That’s because core exercises stabilize the spine and improve neuromuscular control (i.e., how nerves control voluntary muscles), according to the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. Plus, when done properly, push-ups activate the entire torso, which reduces low back pressure, Rhodes says, as well as minimizes the risk of injury, and ultimately, pain.

As push-ups protect your spine and prevent back pain, they can improve your functional fitness during everyday tasks. The strong upper body achieved from push-ups is also helpful, as it “allows you to perform daily tasks with ease, such as carrying groceries, lifting objects, pushing doors open, or playing with your kids,” Whittington says.

“When done in high repetitions or as part of a circuit workout, push-ups can be a form of cardiovascular exercise,” Whittington says. This is key because cardio activity gets your heart pumping and increases blood flow, which is beneficial for your heart. Specifically, “regularly incorporating push-ups into your cardio routine can improve heart health by strengthening the heart muscle, enhancing circulations, and promoting better heart function,” Whittington says.

According to Rhodes, strength training exercises like push-ups exert a mechanical load on the bones, leading to increased bone strength and density. This is beneficial no matter your age—but it’s extra important as you get older, as bone and muscle loss naturally increases with age, Rhodes notes.