Requiring only your own body and a little bit of floor space, pushups are the perfect go-anywhere, do-anytime upper body exercise. They strengthen and define the arms, shoulders, chest and abdominals without any extra equipment. And while traditional pushups are certainly good enough for a normal workout routine, adding some pushup variation into the mix takes your upper body workout from ordinary to extraordinary.


Stick with traditional pushups if you’re looking to improve the overall strength of your chest and shoulders. Balance your weight on the palms of your hands and your toes. Your arms should be just wider than shoulder width and you should have a relatively straight line from head to heels. While keeping your abdominals contracted, slowly lower yourself toward the ground and stop just before you reach the floor. Pause for a second and then push yourself back up to starting position. If you’re looking to make the move more difficult, position one foot on top of the other as you perform the pushups.


In a traditional pushup, your chest and triceps share the workload. But if you increase the width of your hands, your triceps get a break — and your chest muscles become the focus. Wide pushups also provide an excellent workout for the upper pectoral muscles. Begin by positioning your hands about 6 to 12 inches wider than your shoulders. Depending on your arm and torso length, you may need to adjust your hand width until you find a more comfortable position.


The middle part of your chest where your pectoral muscles attach to your sternum is a difficult location to target. But twisting your traditional pushup into a side-lying position can help you increase size and definition along this center area of your chest. Lie on your right side with your knees bent to a 90-degree angle and your knees aligned with your hips and shoulders. Wrap your right arm around the front of your waist and position your left hand slightly in front of your right shoulder, fingers pointing toward your head. Press your left hand into the ground to lift your torso completely off the ground. Pause for a second and then slowly lower back down, stopping just before you hit the ground. Push back up and repeat. After a set number of repetitions, repeat on the other side.


Once you’ve fine-tuned your torso muscles and increased your strength, add a bit more power to your workout. Plyometric pushups involve exploding your upper body off the ground — using only the strength in your chest and arms. Begin in the traditional pushup position. Lower down as usual, but then push back up with enough force to lift your hands off the ground. Once your hands hit the ground, immediately lower into another pushup and repeat the explosive action. As your chest power improves, you’ll be able to lift yourself further off the ground.

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