Push-ups are the best exercises for upper body tone and strength. Even though my wrists are fast developing arthritis, I still rely on modified push-ups to keep my shoulders, chest, and arms lean. Even better, when done in optimal form, the humble push-up will tone your core, including those deep internal stabilizer muscles.
The benefits of pushups are numerous, and it's easy to keep the move fresh by trying out some of the many variations! The muscles worked by push-ups include your chest (pectorals), shoulders (deltoids), and upper arms (triceps). Also challenged are your serratus anterior, the muscles that run down your sides. Again, your core and legs can be brought into the work by sticking to great form.
As a bodyweight exercise, push-ups have stood the test of time because, quite simply, they work. The standard push-up is fantastic, but several variations exist, such as allowing your knees to rest on the floor. This stance will ease the load. Add a more significant challenge for your chest and shoulders by moving your hands out wide. If your goal is to strengthen your triceps, move your hands closer together.
If you already enjoy substantial upper body and core strength, try the incline pushup; place your feet on an elevated surface such as a workout bench. Finally, adding an explosive lift will get you sweating. This plyometric move is not for beginners as it requires a high level of total body strength and coordination.
Form is critical to complete any effective exercise and reduce your risk of injury.
- Your pushup start position is the perfect plank, which means a body in neutral alignment.
- Resting on your toes and hands, the rest of your body is elevated off the floor in one perfectly straight line.
- Hold this line level, both front to back and side to side.
Your upper body is the powerhouse behind this move, and your arms allow the movement.
- As you dip down and push back up, think of your arms as being powerful pistons.
- Work at keeping your shoulders right over your wrists; this position will minimize the stress on your shoulder and wrist joints.
- When you are at the bottom of your pushup, your elbows will form a ninety-degree angle.
- Do not let your elbows point excessively out and away from your body.
To maintain the perfect plank throughout the pushup, your core (abdominal and back muscles) must be engaged and working hard.
- At the top of your pushup and throughout the move, pull your belly button in toward your spine.
- Your tailbone should be pointing back toward your heels.
- Remember to breathe fully and focus on maintaining an engaged core while breathing.
While moving through the pushup, your legs should remain straight and muscles engaged no matter the variation.
- Your heels should point straight up toward the ceiling, and think of gently squeezing your heels and ankles toward each other; this tension will pull in lower body muscles.
How many pushups you can do right now is dependent on your current fitness level.
- If you are sedentary (not exercising at all), start lightly.
- Check-in with your health care team to ensure that you are safe to begin an exercise program.
- As a beginner, aim for 5-10 pushups in one set.
- Rest for a few minutes, then try for another set of 5-10 pushups.
- Finish off with one more set.
To progress, aim for 15-20 pushups in one set, and complete three sets.
After that, the sky is the limit as you build your strength and endurance. Watch for any aches and pains that may indicate you are overdoing it.
Want to compare your stats to others? There are several push-up ‘norms’ charts online; see how many pushups you can complete compared to those of the same age and gender.