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The chest, shoulders and triceps lift and lower your body during a pushup.
The pushup is a compound exercise, meaning it involves multiple joints and requires the contribution of numerous muscles. When you're lowering yourself toward the floor, the collection of muscles is contracting eccentrically; when you're lifting your body off the floor, those same muscles are working concentrically. Despite the fact that your joints are moving differently when you're lowering and lifting your body, the same muscles are handling the load.
During a pushup, your chest muscles and triceps work concentrically as you push up, and eccentrically as you lower back down.
Know Your Muscles
The muscle group that handles most of work when you're performing a pushup is the pectoralis major, which is the largest muscle in your chest. The chest muscle brings your upper arms in towards the centerline of your body against resistance. The front of your shoulders, anatomically called the anterior deltoids, help out by lifting your upper arms in front of you. Your triceps brachii muscles in your upper arms straighten your elbow joints.
Understand the Difference
A concentric muscular contraction is when your muscle produces a tension that's greater than the load and as a result, the muscle shortens. When you're pushing your body off the floor, your chest, shoulders and triceps are producing a force greater than your body weight and thus contracting concentrically.
During an eccentric contraction, your muscle elongates as it contracts because the muscles are producing a tension that is less than the resistance. When you're lowering your body toward the floor during a pushup, for example, your chest, shoulders and triceps are eccentrically contracting to prevent your body from slamming into the floor, but the force they produce is less than your weight and thus you do continue moving toward the floor.
Tweak How Muscles Work
If you change the placement of your hands or feet, you influence which of your muscles has to do most of the work. During the traditional pushup, your hands are placed outside the width of your shoulders, but if you bring your hands in to a more narrow position so they're at shoulder width or narrower, your triceps become the primary muscle instead of your chest. A wider hand placement, and your shoulders and triceps are unable to contribute to the same degree, thus placing greater emphasis on your chest. Do pushups with your feet elevated, and you place a greater load on our upper chest and shoulders.
Involve the Core
You can't successfully do pushups without the contribution of your abdominals, obliques and quadriceps. They're not involved with lifting or lowering your body, but they're working to keep your torso and thighs in a straight line as you perform the exercise. These muscles are contracting isometrically, which means they're producing a tension that equals that of the load and are thus keeping your spine and hip joints in a static position.