When you've hurt any part of your body from exercising, the first rule to follow is to discontinue doing that exercise -- at least until the pain goes away. A little ice might also help alleviate the pain, but really, time is going to be your biggest ally in recovery. The abdominal pain you're feeling after doing pushups is likely due to a strained abdominal muscle. To prevent the problem in the future, it's important to understand some basic concepts about pushups.
What the Pushup Does
The pushup is an exercise that works most of the muscles of the upper body in some way. The pectoralis major is the main muscle recruited. Additionally, the triceps of the arms and the deltoids of the shoulders assist in the movement. On top of that, the biceps of the arms, rectus abdominis and obliques of the abdominals -- and quadriceps of the legs -- help to keep your joints stable throughout the movement. It's difficult to say exactly what you've done to hurt your abdominals, but it's likely that you've put excess strain on that area while stabilizing your body during the pushup.
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Do Them Right
With its myriad of upper body-strengthening benefits, don't give up on pushups. When you've been free of pain for at least a week or two, try pushups again -- this time focusing on proper form. Start out with your knees on the floor, which will force you to lift less weight against gravity and discourage you from arching your lower back, which could further strain your abdominals. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and pull your shoulders down. Straighten your arms and focus on creating a long straight line between your knees and head. Pull your navel in toward your spine to engage the abdominals, but as you do your pushups, remind yourself to use your back to help push your body back up. Don't allow your neck to fall forward as you do each repetition.
Work Up Slowly
Your injury may be the result of taking on too many pushups at once, so start slow as you begin again. Try doing one or two sets of 10 knee pushups to start -- but if you can't do that many with proper form, do as many as you can. If knee pushups are too difficult, try placing your body weight on a sturdy counter or desk and starting from there. It might help to have a friend, coach or trainer watch you and alert you when you're using improper form so you can correct it or stop the exercise. You might also try videotaping yourself to observe your own form. When you can do 10 repetitions of the basic pushup safely and effectively -- and without any more abdominal pain -- try moving up to a more difficult type. You might move from countertop pushups, then to the knees, then to knees off the floor, and then finally to a pushup in which your feet are elevated on a platform or exercise ball.
Signs of a Bigger Problem
If you see any bulging in your abdomen accompanying the pain, it could be a sign of a much more serious problem. When the muscle wall is damaged badly enough, the tear may allow other portions of the abdomen to protrude out, called a hernia, resulting in that bulge you may be seeing. It's most common in the lower abdominal or groin area, but hernias can also happen in other abdominal areas. And they're much more common in men. If you suspect this is the problem, talk to your doctor right away.