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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Mar;38(3):570-7.

Quantifying muscle patterns and spine load during various forms of the push-up.

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Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.



This study was conducted to quantify the normalized amplitudes of the abdominal wall and back extensor musculature during a variety of push-up styles. We also sought to quantify their impact on spinal loading by calculating spinal compression and torque generation in the L4-5 area.


Ten university-age participants, nine males and one female, in good to excellent condition, volunteered to participate in this study. All participants were requested to perform a maximum of 12 different push-up exercises, three trials per exercise. Surface electromyographic data (EMG) were collected bilaterally on rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, latissimus dorsi, and erector spinae muscles, and unilaterally (right side) on pectoralis major, triceps brachii, biceps brachii, and anterior deltoid muscles. Spine kinetics were obtained using an anatomically detailed model of the torso/spine.


This study revealed that more dynamic push-ups (i.e., ballistic, with hand movement) required more muscle activation and higher spine load, whereas placing labile balls under the hands only resulted in modest increases in spine load. Right rectus abdominis (RA) activation was significantly higher than left RA activation during the left hand forward push-up and vice versa for the right hand forward push-up (P < 0.001). External oblique (EO) demonstrated the same switch in dominance during staggered hand push-ups (P < 0.01). The one-arm push-up resulted in the highest spine compression. Skilled participants showed greater synchronicity with peak muscle activation (plyometric type of contractions) during ballistic push-ups.


These data will help guide exercise selection for individuals with differing training objectives and injury history.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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