The primary movers are the chest muscles (Pectoralis Major & Pectorolis Minor) that do the majority of the work, other muscles assist the chest are called synergists and they are the Biceps Brachi (brachi meaning two heads), Triceps Brachi and the front of the shoulder. There are stabilizers that assist in the push up but they do not actively contract to maintain the push up but isometric contract to maintain the push up position and they include the rhomboids, lower back muscles, rotator cuffs, abdominals, buttocks, hips and the front thighs, neck muscles and the serratus anterior which is located along your upper ribs at your side towards the back and the scapulae.
When completing a push up you are working all of these muscles throughout in both the up position and the down position.
How to perform the perfect push up;
In a plank position raise up onto your toes so you are balanced on your hands and toes.
Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe without sagging in the middle or arching your back.
Your feet can be close together or a bit wider depending upon what is most comfortable for you.
Before you begin any movement, contract your abs and tighten your core by pulling your belly button toward your spin
Keep a tight core throughout the entire push up.
Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle.
· Exhale as you begin pushing back up to the start position
· Don’t lock out the elbows; keep them slightly bent.
· Keep your eyes focused a couple inches forward not looking down.
If a standard push up is too difficult, you can start by doing push-ups against a wall, a table or a sturdy chair. Stand several feet away from the object you are using and use the same push up technique as above to lower yourself until the elbows are 90 degrees and t raise back up. Keep you core tight the whole time.
Another alternative is the bent knee push up on the knees rather than on the toes. Be sure to keep the knees, hips and shoulders all in a straight line; most people have a tendency to bend at the hips as though you are bowing, which is incorrect technique.
There are many other variations to increase intensity here are some suggestions;.
Lat Row Push Up
You can add a couple of dumbbells to the movement and you have a complete upper body workout. This variation adds alternating dumbbell to complete a lat row at the top of each rep. This modification increases the intensity of the exercise and activates the core stabilizers and engages the latissimus dorsi (back) muscles.
Push Ups on a Stability Ball
Once you are feeling stronger with your push up add some core stability work by trying push-ups on a stability ball. This variation increases the difficulty and effectiveness of the standard push up. Adding the balance requirement takes some practice and a good core strength, so make sure you are comfortable with the basic push-ups before trying.
Alternating Medicine Ball Push Up
This variation adds core stability as well as a modified range of motion during the basic push up movement. Roll the medicine ball between each hand after a single rep this adds a new balance challenge.
Decline Push Up
A more difficult push up, performed with the feet raised up on a box or bench. You can adjust the box height to increase or decrease the resistance using just your body weight.
Clapping Push Up
This is a plyometric exercise in which you push yourself up with enough power so that your hands come off the floor and you clap in midair. This exercise is not for novice exercisers. You can get injured very easily if you haven’t worked up to these one at a time.
Push Up on a Medicine Ball
Perform a standard push up with one hand one top of a medicine ball. This works the shoulder in a slightly different range of motion which increases shoulder stability.
Diamond Push Up
The diamond push up is done with your hands close together; with the index fingers and thumbs of one hand touching the other hand and making a diamond shape. You then do push-ups with your hands touching the center of your chest and elbows close to your sides during each rep.