Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise

J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):628-33. doi: 10.1519/15094.1.


Popular fitness literature suggests that varied hand placements during push-ups may isolate different muscles. Scientific literature, however, offers scant evidence that varied hand placements elicit different muscle responses. This study examined whether different levels of electromyographic (EMG) activity in the pectoralis major and triceps brachii muscles are required to perform push-ups from each of 3 different hand positions: shoulder width base, wide base, and narrow base hand placements. Forty subjects, 11 men and 29 women, performed 1 repetition of each push-up. The EMG activity for subjects' dominant arm pectoralis major and triceps brachii was recorded using surface electrodes. The EMG activity was greater in both muscle groups during push-ups performed from the narrow base hand position compared with the wide base position (p < 0.05). This study suggests that, if a goal is to induce greater muscle activation during exercise, then push-ups should be performed with hands in a narrow base position compared with a wide base position.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / physiology
  • Sex Factors