With one simple exercise, you can target the primary muscles of the chest, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. You’ll also target muscles in your arms, back and abdomen. There are scores of push-up varieties to choose from, from beginner to advanced, all a variation of the traditional push-up.
The key to the perfect push-up is not to let your hips sag. Keep your body stiff and straight as a board. If you’re having trouble with this, you might need to take an intermediate step and do push-ups with your knees on the ground first.
Once you’re able to do a set of eight of these modified push-ups with perfect form, go back to regular push-ups and try again.
HOW TO DO IT: From all fours, lift your knees and walk your feet back so your body comes into one straight line from your head to your heels. Align your shoulders over your wrists.
Contract your abs by drawing your belly button in toward your spine. Puff up through your upper back slightly. Begin to bend your elbows so they point backward, lowering your body down toward the floor in one stiff, strong piece.
Bring your chest about an inch from the floor and press through your hands to straighten your arms, coming back to your starting position. Work up to three sets of eight perfect push-ups with about a minute rest in between sets. When you’re ready for a little challenge, try these more advanced variations:
Once you’ve mastered the standard push-up, try a variation to work even harder.
Decline Push-Ups: Elevate your feet while performing push-ups. Start with a low stair step, and work up to feet on a chair or bench. Elevating your feet puts more of your body weight into the arms and chest during the exercise.
Clapping Push-Ups: Get enough momentum as you push up from a low push-up to lift your hands off the floor at the top of the movement and clap your hands. Land with slightly bent elbows and repeat. These help build explosive power in your chest muscles.
Resistance Band Push-Ups: Drape an exercise band around your back and grab either end of the band in each hand, between the floor and your palm. Perform a push-up. With the right tension, this adds resistance to the push-up, increasing the challenge.
Chest flyes also target the pectoralis major, as well as the deltoids and the biceps. These are usually done with dumbbells, but they don’t have to be. If you happen to have a set at home, you can use them, but if you don’t you can also use a resistance band or even some heavy objects, such as gallon water jugs.
You’ll need an elevated surface to lie on — a weight bench, a piano bench, a dining bench or a stability ball will work. Keep in mind a stability ball will increase the challenge of the exercise because it’s an unstable surface.
HOW TO DO IT: Start with a weight or resistance band that allows you to do eight to 12 reps with a little bit of challenge at the end. Work up to heavier weights. If you do three sets of eight reps, the last rep of the last set should feel very challenging, but not so challenging that your form deteriorates.
Lie on your back on the bench or stability ball. If you’re on a bench, your entire back will be supported; if you’re using a stability ball, position it squarely underneath your upper and mid-back. Position your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
Hold dumbbells or other weighted objects in either hand and extend your arms above your face. Keep your elbows slightly bent outward. With control, open your arms out to either side until you feel a slight stretch in your chest muscles.
Keep your elbows pointing down toward the floor. With the same control, contract your chest muscles to bring your arms back together at the starting position.
Unless you happen to have a barbell at home, you can improvise with other equipment. Photo Credit starush/iStock/Getty Images
You don’t need a barbell set up to do a chest press. You can use a resistance band and a door knob or stair banister. You won’t be able to press 300 pounds in this way, but you don’t need to to build a strong and toned chest.
HOW TO DO IT: You can also do this exercise with dumbbells on a bench or stability ball, if you have those pieces of equipment. Choose a weight or resistance that’s challenging but not impossible with proper form. Continue to increase the resistance as you get stronger.
Wrap the middle of a resistance band around a door knob, a newel post or banister rail or another stable object between waist- and chest-height. Turn to face away from the door or post holding one end of the resistance band in each hand.
Step your dominant foot several inches in front of your other foot and bend your knees slightly. This athletic stance will help with stability. Position your arms like chicken wings, with your elbows bent and lifted and your hands in front of your armpits.
Squeeze your chest muscles and press forward to straighten your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. With control, bend your elbows to return to the starting position.