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Pushups persist as a popular exercise because of their ease, versatility and effectiveness. Though the move particularly emphasizes the pectoralis major of the chest, the anterior deltoids of the shoulder and the triceps at the back of the upper arm, it also works numerous other muscles in your legs, core and upper body to stabilize the exercise. Pushups are sometimes abandoned in favor of exercises using free weights or machines, but adding them into your routine can enhance overall strength and stamina.
Start your pushup by lying face down on an exercise mat with your palms flat against the mat and hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Press down through your palms to extend the elbows and raise your body up off the floor. Maintain a straight body line by contracting the abdominals as you bend the elbows until they reach a 90-degree angle. Push your body back up by extending the elbows until you are at the top of the position.
Triceps and Biceps
Although the pectoral muscles of the chest are the primary movers for the pushup, the triceps are also very active. The triceps' primary purpose is to extend and bend the elbows, so they get a workout every time you lower and rise during the exercise. Your biceps are also important for the proper execution of the pushup. These muscles at the front of your upper arm stabilize the elbow and shoulder joints. Because this stabilization action is not a big muscle builder, you don't generally include pushups in a bicep workout.
You can manipulate your hand position to make the pushup an even more effective triceps exercise. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise and published in 2011 evaluated eight popular exercises for the triceps and concluded that the triangle, or diamond, pushup was the most effective for targeting the muscle. Do the triangle pushup by placing your thumbs and forefingers together into a triangle position underneath the center of your chest. You then complete the move the same way you would for a classic pushup by bending the elbows and lowering your chest just inches above the floor, keeping the torso rigid throughout. Return to the top of the position to complete one repetition.
If you lack the chest and triceps strength to do pushups while balanced on your toes, try placing your knees in the mat as you lower and lift your trunk. You can do this modification for both the classic and triangle versions. Focus on keeping your abdominals contracted to prevent a sag or hiking of the hips. Over time, you can work your way up to more advanced versions of the exercise.