Push-ups: Doing the Perfect Push-up (cont.)

One option is to use a low bench to prop up your arms, and then do either a regular push-up or the knees-on-the-floor version, Bottesch says.

"If you put your feet on the floor and put your hands on the bench, you can work on getting the body form right with much less strain," she says.

If even a kneeling push-up with a bench is too tough for you, there's an even easier way to begin.

You don't have to lie down at all, Ross tells WebMD. Instead, do your push-ups standing against the wall, which dramatically reduces the pressure on arms and upper back. To make it simpler still, stand closer to the wall.

"With your feet very close to the wall, there is almost no strain, but it still allows you to keep your body in alignment so you get a real sense of how it should feel," says Ross. As you gain strength, keep moving your feet further away until you feel confident enough to try push-ups on the floor.

The Perfect Push-up Gadgets: What Works

Although the push-up doesn't require any equipment at all, that doesn't mean it hasn't found its way into a late-night infomercial or two. There are a variety of push-up gadgets on the market, designed to put variety into your routine. Most are based on some of type of handle you hang on to during the exercise -- and it might surprise you to learn that experts say they can work.

"They provide variation in your workout, plus the basic handle design is especially good for anyone who has an issue with keeping their wrists fully extended," says Ross.

Taking the handle concept a step further are devices like the one called the "Perfect Pushup," which incorporate a swiveling action. By rotating the arms while lifting the body, you may be able to increase your range of motion, which in turn increases benefits, Schlifstein says.

Even without gadgets, experts say, you can put variety into your push-up routine by changing up your positions. For example, there's the one-handed push-up, though experts say it's not for the faint of heart.

"This requires not only upper body strength, but also a very good sense of balance, so you really have to be in pretty good shape to try this," says Schlifstein.

Another advanced option: With your hands on the floor, elevate your feet on a low bench behind you as you do push-ups. "It's an amazing workout, but I don't recommend anyone try this unless they have really mastered a regular floor push-up," says Bottesch.

A word of caution: If you feel pain while doing any type of push-up, particularly if the discomfort is focused on one joint, stop working out and talk to your doctor, Bottesch says. And if you have shoulder or elbow issues, including any previous injuries to those areas, Bottesch says push-ups may not be the exercise for you.

6 More Perfect Push-up Tips From the Pros

Here are six more tips from the exercise experts to help you perfect your push-up technique:

  1. Keep making small changes in your routine, like angling your hands or changing how far apart they are. This will ensure that you keep gaining benefits.
  2. When starting out, use a "spotter" -- someone to watch the angle of your body. If that's not possible, do your push-ups next to a mirror where you can turn your head and catch a glimpse of your form.
  3. As you lower yourself toward the ground, the first thing that should graze the floor is your chest. If your hips or legs come down first, you're doing it wrong.
  4. For toning muscles (and for smooth, jiggle-free upper arms) you need more repetitions with less body weight, so go for push-ups on your knees or standing at a wall.
  5. To build muscle mass in your upper arms and back, go for fewer reps with maximum weight load. Do push-ups with your legs straight out, and bring your chest no lower than 2 inches from the ground.
  6. Remember that while a push-up helps tone muscles body-wide, it doesn't offer much in the way of cardio benefits, and it won't help develop the "pull" muscles in your back. So be sure to include other exercises in your regular workouts.

Medically Reviewed May 1, 2008.

SOURCES: Jonathan Ross, personal trainer, New Jersey; spokesman, American Council on Exercise. Jessica M. Bottesch. MA, LAT, CSCS, co-owner, Empower Personal Training, Durham, N.C. Todd Schlifstein, DO, rehabilitation physician, Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute, New York University; assistant professor, NYU School of Medicine.

© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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