5 Ways to Work Your Core More When You Do Push-Ups

5 Ways to Work Your Core More When You Do Push-Ups

(Last Updated On: May 24, 2020)

Push-ups and core training

How many push-ups do you do each week? Hopefully, they are part of your resistance-training routine. We think of push-ups as an upper-body exercise that requires no equipment. The muscles you activate when you do this movement are the triceps, deltoids, and pectoral muscles. However, other muscles help to stabilize your body when you perform this compound movement, including the muscles that make up your abs and core.

It’s gratifying to work more than one muscle group at a time and the push-up allows you to do that, but if you want to give your core even more stimulation, there are some ways you can get your core muscles in on the action. Let’s look at some push-up variations that will wake up your core.

Stability Ball Push-Ups

Stability push-ups recruit more core muscles than pushing up on a stable surface like the floor or a mat. There are several ways to do a stability ball pushup. One is to place your feet on a stability ball and your hands on a mat to do the exercise, but if you have medicine balls, you can use them to target your core too. To do this, put two medicine balls in front of you and place a hand on each. Then, with your hands on the medicine balls and your legs straight out behind you, lower your body into a push-up. If you only have one medicine ball, place one hand on the medicine ball and the other on the floor. With each repetition, roll the medicine ball from one hand to the other, so you are switching the hand that’s on the ball. The stability challenge makes the exercise harder and more core-focused too.

Isometric Holds

Another way to engage your core more is to tighten your abs when you do the exercise and add an isometric hold. To do this variation, go halfway down into a push-up and stop and hold at the midpoint for 5 seconds as you pull your abs in as tight as possible. The extra tension you maintain in your abs helps strengthen the muscles that stabilize your core.

Bird Dog Push-Up

Who doesn’t enjoy tackling a new push-up variation? This twist on a push-up is ideal for building core strength and stability. Here is how to do one:

  • Get into a high plank position on a mat with your hands shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
  • Lower your body into a push-up in a controlled manner and come back up.
  • Once in the starting position again, reach one arm out in front of you and the leg on the opposite side out behind you. Keep your pelvis and hips level as you do this.
  • Hold the position for 2 seconds with your arm and the opposite leg extended. Then bring them in and lower your body into a push-up again.
  • Repeat the sequence above but extend the other arm and foot in front of and behind you instead.
  • Keep alternating sides back and forth.


Why is a bird dog push-up so effective? Each time you lift your leg and arm off the ground, your core muscles must contract to stabilize and that helps build a stronger core. Any time you raise one leg and arm off the floor, it creates a core stability challenge. This variation is also an excellent way to improve your balance skills.

T Push-Ups

T push-ups are one of the most core intensive push-up moves you can do and one that forces your body to balance since it involves side-to-side movement. Here is how to do it:

  • Get into a standard push-up position on a mat.
  • Lower your body down as if doing a standard push-up.
  • As you come up, rotate your body to one side as you raise your outstretched arm toward the ceiling
  • Pause at the top for a few seconds as you tighten your abs and core.
  • Return to the starting position and do the same movement on the other side.
  • Keep alternating the side you rotate your body to work both sides equally.


Suspension Training Push-Ups

If you have access to a suspension system, you can use it to do push-ups. A 2014 study that compared doing push-ups on stable and unstable surfaces found that performing them on an unstable surface activates muscles in the core and lower back more than doing them on a stable surface. In the study, suspension push-ups were most effective for working the core. Why are they so effective? Placing your hands in suspension handles when you push up forces your core to work harder to remain stable.

The Bottom Line

With so many push-up variations, you can switch the emphasis to different muscle groups, including your core. However, push-ups alone are not enough to get six-pack abs or a core of steel. They only strengthen the stabilizing muscles are not the most effective exercise for doing so. Include other compound exercises that activate your core, including deadlifts and squats, and some isolation exercises that target your abs and core. Planks are an excellent option and when you break down a push-up, you are holding a plank position.

Although they shouldn’t be the mainstay of your ab and core workout, especially if you have back issues, abdominal crunches are effective for strengthening and hypertrophying the abs, although they don’t do a lot for the rest of your core muscle muscles. Too many people focus too much on crunches and not enough on other core muscles.

No matter what versions you do, avoid a push-up rut. Be sure to use progressive overload by doing harder versions and by increasing the number of repetitions to fatigue your muscles. Otherwise, do not expect to see continued strength and hypertrophy gains. You will make the most progress by challenging your muscles in unique ways and with a variety of exercises. The push-up is a simple bodyweight move, but one that has many variations. Take advantage of them!



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  • J Sports Sci Med. 2014 Sep 1;13(3):502-10. eCollection 2014 Sep.


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