Selective activation of shoulder, trunk, and arm muscles: A comparative analysis of different push-up variants

Giuseppe Marcolin, Nicola Petrone, Tatiana Moro, Giuseppe Battaglia, Antonino Bianco, Antonio Paoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Context: The push-up is a widely used exercise for upper limb strengthening that can be performed with many variants. A comprehensive analysis of muscle activation during the ascendant phase (AP) and descendant phase (DP) in different variants could be useful for trainers and rehabilitators. Objective: To obtain information on the effect of different push-up variants on the electromyography (EMG) of a large sample of upper limb muscles and to investigate the role of the trunk and abdomen muscles during the AP and DP. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting: University laboratory. Patients or Other Participants: Eight healthy, young volunteers without a history of upper extremity or spine injury. Intervention(s): Participants performed a set of 10 repetitions for each push-up variant: standard, wide, narrow, forward (FP), and backward (BP). Surface EMG of 12 selected muscles and kinematics data were synchronously recorded to describe the AP and DP. Main Outcome Measure(s): Mean EMG activity of the following muscles was analyzed: serratus anterior, deltoideus anterior, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis, triceps brachii caput longus, triceps brachii caput lateralis, obliquus externus abdominis, pectoralis major sternal head, pectoralis major clavicular head, trapezius transversalis, and biceps brachii. Results: The triceps brachii and pectoralis major exhibited greater activation during the narrow-base variant. The highest activation of abdomen and back muscles was recorded for the FP and BP variants. The DP demonstrated the least electrical activity across all muscles, with less marked differences for the abdominal and erector spinae muscles because of their role as stabilizers. Conclusions: Based on these findings, we suggest the narrow-base variant to emphasize triceps and pectoralis activity and the BP variant for total upper body strength conditioning. The FP and BP variants should be implemented carefully in participants with low back pain because of the greater activation of abdominal and back muscles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1126-1132
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Athletic Training
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Fitness
  • Kinesiology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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