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Do pushups work your forearms?

Hint: It depends on your technique.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 2nd March 2021
Man doing elevated push ups

Let’s get straight to the point: Do pushups work the forearms or not? Yes, pushups do work the muscles of the forearm because they contract isometrically to keep your body in place during the exercise. However, they won’t build much size unless you make one of 3 modifications that I’m going to show you in just a minute.

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Is doing pushups for forearms a good idea?

Sportsman doing push ups at the gym

While pushups of most varieties won’t build much in the way of forearm size, they can actually build a decent amount of strength in and around the wrists.

This is one reason why press ups are such an iconic martial arts exercise, particularly in boxing. Fighters have long believed that push ups, especially when done on your knuckles, build more punching power by strengthening the wrists.

Doing push ups on your knuckles increases your wrist strength. Plus, it's great for boxing conditioning.

As for actual muscle mass, though, you won’t get particularly incredible results from push ups. After all, it's a chest, tricep, and shoulder exercise!

If you believe that you started getting massive lower arms from push ups then well...it was probably because of a different exercise.

How big can your forearms get from pushups?

If you’ve got solid forearm genetics, then you can enjoy some nice lower arm gains while doing push ups. However, this development won’t be because of the push ups, rather your fitness diet and lifestyle will help to bring out those forearm genetics that were already there before you started lifting.

How to increase forearm activation during push ups

As we just established, regular push ups suck for forearm development. [1] But these 3 technique tweaks can turn the heat up on your lower arms. I hope you like lactic acid.

Do them on your knuckles

Sportsman doing push ups on his knuckles

Get your testosterone pumping and your heart racing by doing your push ups on your knuckles. This is a classic boxing exercise because it strengthens the wrists in their natural punching position.

Your forearms have to contract hard isometrically to keep your wrists straight. And although this variation might hurt your knuckles at first, I think it’s better for the wrists than regular push ups because they’re in a neutral position.

Also, don't feel bad if you have to do these on a gym mat at first or if you can only do a few reps. [2] Doing this demanding drill on the floor is brutal, but it could help to condition your knuckles.

Grab some handles

Man performing push ups on handles

Push up handles might feel unnatural if you’re used to working out with no equipment. However, as I quickly discovered, the mere act of holding onto the handles while you pump up your chest creates a burn in your forearms.

This is because a large proportion of your body weight is going through the handles, and it’s your wrists and forearms that are actually keeping your body stable and in the correct direction (i.e., straight down and not swaying from side to side).

Try finger pushups

Man doing a one arm push up

If you're new to weight training, then don’t try this exercise on day one. It’s a very advanced movement, and although it requires excellent wrist and forearm strength, I’m not convinced that this exercise builds much in the way of size.

Still, it’s great for working the hands and fingers, which is where many of the forearm muscles actually insert into.

See also

Conclusion: Do pushups work the forearms well?

So, do pushups work the forearms? Yes, they absolutely do. But they don't work them particularly well unless you do them on handles or on your knuckles.

Overall, doing pushups for forearms in terms of strength is a great idea. But if you want to increase the muscle mass of your lower arms, then do some kind of grip work because that’s what the forearm muscles are made for—picking up and releasing objects.

References

  1. Chulvi‐Medrano, I., Martínez‐Ballester, E., & Masiá‐Tortosa, L. (2012). COMPARISON OF THE EFFECTS OF AN EIGHT‐WEEK PUSH‐UP PROGRAM USING STABLE VERSUS UNSTABLE SURFACES. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(6), 586–594. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3537455/
  2. Solan, M. (2020, June 24). The rise of push-ups: A classic exercise that can help you get stronger. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/rise-push-ups-classic-exercise-can-motivate-get-stronger-2019021810165
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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