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A pushup is performed by using your arms to push your body upward from the floor while keeping your hips and knees in a straight line and your toes on the floor. Pushups primarily work the muscles of your upper body, including the chest, shoulders and arms. They also target muscles in your trunk, buttocks and legs that assist the muscles of your upper body.
Pushups engage the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and the serratus anterior muscles on each side of the chest, explains the American Council on Exercise. The pectoralis major attaches to the collar bone, breastbone and rib cage and runs to the humerus, the bone of the upper arm. The pectoralis minor runs from the middle of the chest back to the shoulder blade, and the serratus anterior starts at the ribs to the side of the chest and runs back to the shoulder blade. These muscles move your arm and stabilize the shoulder blade.
Arm and Shoulder Muscles
The American Council on Exercise lists the deltoid muscles as prime targets for pushups. They run from the collarbone and shoulder blade to the upper part of the humerus. The rotator cuff muscles that originate on the scapula and run to the humerus also help. The triceps brachii muscle runs from upper arm down past the elbow and is also a prime mover for pushups. It forms the bulk of the rear portion of your arm.
Back and Abdominal Muscles
The rhomboids and erector spinae muscles of the back assist the arm, shoulder and chest muscles during pushups. The rhomboids run from the spine to the shoulder blades in the upper back and the erector spinae runs along the entire spine. The rectus abdominus and the transversus abdominus also assist during a pushup. The recuts abdominus forms part of your side, under other layers of muscle and the transverses abdominus forms area of the abdomen known as the six pack.
Lower Body Muscles
The gluteus maximus and quadriceps muscles also work during pushups. The gluteus maximus forms the rounded shape of the buttocks and the quadriceps femoris muscle forms the front of your thigh. They help keep your hips, thighs and legs straight as you perform a pushup.