No equipment, no gym -- not a problem. You can get a solid strength-training session just using your body weight to do pushups. This classic exercise targets the chest, triceps and fronts of the shoulders but also utilizes the biceps, abs, obliques and low back as stabilizers. Herschel Walker, ex-pro football player and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, does between 750 to 1,500 every morning to stay in shape. You don't have to gut out that many to build strength and endurance, especially if you are a beginner, but you can use the move as part of a complete workout.
When you are beginning a strength-training program, pushups may be one of the first exercises you target. A full pushup may be out of your reach, so try modified versions. You can do pushups against a wall with your hands placed a little wider than your shoulders and your body positioned at an angle to the wall's surface. Once you can do between 12 and 15 of these, try modified pushups on the floor. Get into the top of the pushup position and then lower your knees onto the floor. Bend and extend your elbows to complete the pushup. Build up to doing 12 to 15 of these modified versions for three sets -- which could take several weeks or months depending on your fitness and strength levels. Once you conquer the modified version for multiple sets, you're ready for full pushups. A complete workout for a beginner doing full pushups is just one set of eight to 12 repetitions.
If you've mastered the pushup, the number of pushups you include in your workout depends on your goals. If you are a member of the military and looking to score well in the 2-minute pushup test or building stamina for rock climbing or other upper body-centered activities, your pushup workout can involve dozens of repetitions of the exercise. Stew Smith, former Navy Seal and certified strength and conditioning coach, recommends you work up to 200 or 300 per day in as few sets as possible to increase your pushup endurance and build upper-body stamina. This may fly in the face of classic strength-training protocols that demand rest between strength training specific muscle groups, but this unconventional approach can increase endurance, says Smith. Doing a high-rep pushup workout also strengthens your core muscles.
Strength and Size
If your goal is to get a pumped-up chest for bodybuilding or significantly increase overall chest strength, a pushup workout may not be enough. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise published in October 2012 found that among nine of the most common chest-focused exercises, pushups ranked lowest in terms of activation of the pectorals, the primary chest muscles. While pushups can be part of a chest workout, the researchers concluded that those after a big, strong chest should emphasize the bench press, pec deck machine and bent-forward cable crossovers in workouts. If you add pushups to a comprehensive workout, do a standard eight to 12 repetitions for three to six sets. If this is too easy, try variations such as pushups on a balance device, incline or decline pushups, one-legged or one-armed pushups or handstand pushups to create a greater strength challenge. A chest workout for strength or size should allow 48 hours between sessions for the muscles to repair and rebuild.
When you complete dozens of pushups in a workout, proper form is paramount. Keep your body rigid as you bend and extend your elbows to prevent straining the lower back. If you start to feel shoulder or wrist strain, stop immediately, and if the discomfort does not go away for several days, seek medical advice. Build up gradually to high-rep pushup workouts; doing too much too soon can lead to injury.