Major Muscles and Actions Involved

Variant 1: Elbows out
The anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, and coracobrachialis are involved in horizontal adduction in the shoulder joint. In this action the upper arms move from a position in line with the shoulders to a vertical position under the shoulders. In the shoulder girdle, there is scapula abduction performed by the pectoralis minor and the serratus anterior. In the elbow joint there is extension performed by the triceps brachii. In scapula abduction the scapulae move out to the sides of the body from a position alongside the spine. In elbow extension the arm straightens as the upper arm moves away from the forearm.

Variant 2: Elbows in close to the sides
In the shoulder joint the anterior deltoid and the upper pectoralis major are involved in shoulder joint flexion and upward rotation of the scapula. In this action the right scapula rotates counterclockwise and the left clockwise when viewed from the rear. At the same time the scapulae move out away from the spine toward the sides of the body. In the elbow joint there is extension, in which the arms straighten as the upper arms move away from the forearms.

Muscles in Action


Sports Uses

The muscles and actions involved in this exercise are needed in football pushing and repelling, basketball passing, track and field throwing events, boxing, surfing, tennis and racquetball forehand strokes, and gymnastics (especially free exercises). In fact, it is used in all activities that require an extending or pushing action with the arms. For bodybuilders it is especially important for development of the chest, the front of the shoulders, and the rear upper arms. See the bench press and front arm raise for additional sports.

Important Facts to Know

  1. In Variant 1 it is important for your elbows to remain out to the sides of your body, perpendicular to your trunk during execution. Only in this way will the entire pectoralis major muscle be involved. When your elbows are held in close to your body, as in Variant 2, only the upper or clavicular portion of the pectoralis major will be involved.
  2. There will also be a greater load placed on the triceps muscle, because only a relatively small portion of the pectoralis major will be in use. When the push-up is done with the elbows out, it, in essence, comes close to duplicating the bench press exercise.