Pushing up the right way

THE BENCH press may be the definitive pec-builder, but it is the humble push up which provides the simplest chest workout for beginners by using nothing more than gravity, body weight and the natural action of the pectoral muscles. The push up works the muscles of the chest (pectorals), shoulder (deltoid), back of the arm (triceps) and side of the chest (serratus anterior). How much exercise each of the above muscles receives depends on the position of the palms. The best body position for a pectoral workout is with the palms around four to five inches outside the shoulder. In this position, the pectoralis major, the main chest muscle, is best placed to fulfil its natural action of bringing the upper arm closer to the chest. With the palms spread wide, the push up works the deltoid more than it works the chest or triceps. With the palms placed at shoulder width or less, it becomes largely a triceps exercise.

If the push up stand has fixed width, you are better off hitting the floor for this exercise.

* Begin with the palms a few inches wide of each shoulder, with the arms fully extended, back flat and abdominals taut, and the feet together.

* Lower the body slowly in a controlled fashion. If you are on the stands, your body should finish slightly below the level of the handlebars.

Going further below overstretches the pectorals and prevents them from contracting properly on the way up. If you are exercising on the floor, let your body down as close as possible to the ground without actually touching it. Keep your abdominals taut throughout the exercise; keep the back straight and the neck in line with the spinal column. Exhale when you reach the lowest point on your way down and push yourself up in a slow controlled manner. Do not lock your elbows at the top of the movement. Repeat the movement around 12 times per set. Do three to four sets per chest workout session. Placing the feet higher than floor-level works the upper half of the pectoral muscle more and also increases the overall intensity level of the workout.


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