Pushups are a popular exercise for strengthening the core and upper body. Many people incorporate pushups into their regular exercise routine. The benefits of daily pushups include improved muscle mass and cardiovascular health.
Pushups are a type of strength building exercise. Though they mainly activate muscles in the arms and shoulders, they also engage muscles in the core and legs. Therefore, pushups are beneficial for building strength throughout the body.
This article focuses on the effects of daily pushups on the body. We cover the benefits as well as the potential risks. We also discuss whether or not people should do pushups every day.
Pushups are particularly effective at strengthening the muscles around the shoulder joints.
The muscles and tendons in the shoulder area are responsible for keeping the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket.
However, it is important to increase the number of pushups gradually to build up sufficient strength in the muscles. Overloading weak muscles can result in muscle and tendon injuries.
There are several different variations of pushups, and each type activates the muscles in different ways.
A small 2015 study involving eight volunteers looked at the following pushup variations and compared their effects on different muscle groups:
- Standard pushup (SP): The hands are shoulder width apart and directly in line with the shoulders. The upper body, or trunk, lines up with the legs, and the body remains rigid throughout.
- Wide pushup: The distance between the hands is twice that of in the SP.
- Narrow pushup (NP): The hands are below the center of the breastbone, or sternum, with the thumb and forefinger of each hand touching.
- Forward pushup (FP): The hands are shoulder width apart but 20 centimeters (cm) in front of the shoulders.
- Backward pushup (BP): The hands are shoulder width apart but 20 cm behind the shoulders.
The study found the following:
- NPs resulted in the greatest activation of the triceps and pectoralis major muscles, or pecs.
- FPs and BPs resulted in the greatest activation of the abdominal and back muscles.
- BPs activated the largest number of muscle groups overall.
The authors conclude that BPs might be the most beneficial pushup variation for improving upper body condition and strength.
NPs are best suited to people trying to increase the size, tone, or strength of their triceps and pecs.
Several studies have linked muscular strength to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
A 2019 study investigated the link between the number of pushups a person can do and their risk of developing a cardiovascular health issue 10 years later. A total of 1,104 active, middle-aged males took part in the study.
The researchers found a significant difference between two groups of males; those who had been able to perform more than 40 pushups, and those who had been able to perform fewer than 10.
Males in the 40+ pushup group were 96% less likely to have experienced a cardiovascular problem than males in the 10- pushup group.
However, it is important to remember that this study included only active, middle-aged males. Further studies are necessary to determine if these associations are the same for females and for people who are older or inactive.
As with most exercises, pushups may increase the risk of certain injuries.
Many injuries result from using an improper technique. People should talk to a fitness instructor if they are unsure about how to perform the different variations of pushups.
Overall, the benefits of exercise tend to outweigh the risks. However, some potential risks of practicing daily pushups include:
Reaching a fitness plateau
People who repeat the same exercise daily will notice that it becomes less and less challenging over time. People refer to this as a fitness plateau. It indicates that the muscles are no longer developing.
To avoid reaching a fitness plateau, people should incorporate a wide range of exercises into their fitness routine. Doing so will activate many different sets of muscles.
People who are keen to maintain muscle may benefit from introducing aerobic exercise. A 2013 study found that people who do aerobic exercise tend to maintain greater muscle strength across their lifespan.
Ideally, a thorough workout routine should also incorporate the following types of exercise:
- core development
- balance training
Pushups also cause temporary compression of the intervertebral joints in the spine. An intervertebral joint is the point at which two sections of backbone come together.
A cushion of tissue called an intervertebral disc separates each section of the backbone. Excessive weight bearing exercises may contribute to wear and tear of these discs, resulting in pain and stiffness.
People with existing back conditions should talk to a doctor before incorporating pushups into their fitness routine.
Some people experience pain in the wrists when performing weight bearing exercises such as pushups. Most pain occurs along the back part of the wrist when a person bends the hand backward.
A 2017 study found that 84% of people experiencing pain along the back of the wrist in response to weight bearing had a physical abnormality within the wrist. Around 76% of these cases were due to a small ganglion cyst. The second most common cause of pain was a partial ligament tear.
It is not clear if these abnormalities were the result of repeated weight bearing exercises.
Nonetheless, people who experience wrist pain during pushups should see a doctor. They can offer advice on how to support the wrist during exercise. Alternatively, a doctor may recommend a different exercise technique.
A 2011 study investigated the effect of pushup speed on elbow joints. The researchers tested three different pushup speeds: fast, medium, and slow.
The study found that faster pushup speeds resulted in greater forces on the elbow joints, ligaments, and other surrounding tissues. They concluded that faster pushups could increase the risk of injury to these structures.
The study also showed that slower pushup speeds resulted in greater muscle activation.
Overall, these findings suggest that slower pushups are safer and more likely to result in improved muscle development.
Doing daily pushups can help build muscle tone and strength in the upper body. Other potential benefits include improved cardiovascular health and better support around the shoulder joints.
However, practicing pushups every day does come with some risks. These include lower back pain, wrist pain, and elbow injury. People can reduce these risks by learning the proper technique for the pushup variations they want to incorporate.
People who choose to practice pushups every day should also try to incorporate other forms of exercise. This is likely to provide a greater overall health benefit than pushups alone.