The major core muscles of the body include the abdominals and mid/lower back muscles (plus hips and glutes). Strengthening the core, when combined with proper diet and aerobic fat-burning exercise, will not only improve balance and posture; but also help tone the entire torso and produce a lean, tapered physique.
There are many ways to strengthen core muscles, including Pilates and planks; but the good old-fashioned gym-style push-up is still one of the best methods. Most exercisers think of push-ups as building up the pectorals and triceps, but they also hone up the core beautifully.
Push-ups for Beginners: Easy Modifications
Push-ups can initially be performed standing up with the hands against a wall. When the chest, shoulders, and upper back get strong enough to comfortably support the weight of the body, the exerciser can progress to modified floor push-ups.
Modified push-ups are done in a prone position with the knees touching the floor. The feet may either be in the air with the ankles crossed or positioned flat with the shoelaces touching the floor. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart; always exhale as the body lifts upwards.
Beginning exercisers with weak wrists can buy fixed push-up bars or wrist-support gloves to reduce the chance of strain or other injury. The hand placement should never result in discomfort in the shoulders; ignoring this rule might eventually cause damage to the rotator cuff.
Intermediate and Advanced Push-up Techniques
More advanced exercisers will perform push-ups on the toes with the knees lifted. At this point, the exerciser can vary hand positions to emphasize different groups of muscles: keeping the hands together below the upper chest to form a diamond shape will build up the inner pectorals and triceps; holding the arms close to the sides of the body works the triceps to a greater degree than does the standard method.
Cobra push-ups, ladder push-ups, push-ups with rotation or with the feet elevated on a step, and trying for a handclap at the top of the movement are all great variations on the basic push-up.
Products to Help Get a Better Push-up Workout
Many workout DVDs labeled “Boot Camp style” are excellent for increasing push-up prowess, as the exercise is definitely a military training staple. Advanced exercisers in particular can benefit from learning fresh ways to keep the push-up challenging and hopefully even fun.
Harvey Walden’s No Excuses! Fitness Workout offers three stages of push-up exercises that increase in intensity from novice to super-tough. Ilaria’s Abs & Pushups Plus has a fantastic selection of interesting variations on the basic push-up; but is too difficult for most beginners unless modified to meet their needs. Even advanced exercisers will be fatigued by the push-up series in Cathe Friedrich’s Gym Style workout programs. Lastly, the Perfect Push-ups device also makes push-ups more strenuous, while assisting in polishing the user’s form.
During all these exercises, the abdominals and back will be strengthened and the core will eventually appear tauter and more tapered. As long as beginners take it slow and add some high-intensity aerobics to the mix, improvement is inevitable; intensity and repetitions can then be gradually increased. Along the way, that old “horrible gym class” disdain for the push-up will likely melt away right along with those love handles and back bulges.