Pushups aren't just for men who want to get chiseled and look good; women can use pushups to tone their arms for a more confident appearance in sleeveless tops and dresses. The pushup is a versatile exercise that strengthens the muscles of your upper body while also engaging the muscles in your core and lower body. Another bonus of using pushups to tone your arms is that you only need your body and they can be performed virtually anywhere.
The standard pushup is completed on your hands and toes with your body in a straight line. Some people prefer to keep their legs together, while others like to leave some space in between their legs and feet; do whichever feels the most comfortable for you. To complete one repetition, keep your stomach muscles tightened, start with your arms straight beneath your shoulders, lower yourself as close to the ground as possible and return to the starting position. Pushups primarily strengthen the pectoral muscles of your chest but they also help tone the muscles in your shoulders and arms.
The number of pushups you can do in a row and for each workout session depends upon your current upper-body strength and muscular endurance. Make it a goal to complete one to two sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each workout. If you don't feel like you have reached muscle fatigue, increase the number of repetitions you complete. Although you might want to knock out a set of pushups each day, ACE recommends resting each muscle group for 48 hours in between workouts. This not only allows time for the muscles to repair and grow, but it also helps to prevent overtraining and reduces the risk of injury.
If you are new to pushups or have limited arm strength, you might find it near impossible to complete one full repetition in standard form. Don't give up, though; there are alternative methods of pushups. Try starting on your knees instead of your toes. Be sure to keep your body in a straight line still. You can also do wall pushups. Stand in front of a wall, place your hands on the wall and lower and raise your body just as you would in a standard pushup. As these become easier you can progress to lower surfaces like a table top, bench or stair.
If you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum and desire a bigger challenge to tone your arms, you can make the standard pushup more difficult by changing your hand position. Try moving your hands wider than shoulder-width, placing them together beneath your chest or using only one arm. You could also perform decline pushups by placing your feet on an elevated surface such as a bench or stair.
Variety is key to any progress in a strength-training program and the same goes for toning your arms. If you use only pushups to tone your arms, you might find that over time you will hit a plateau and stop seeing results. This happens because your body learns to adapt to the activity and will no longer be challenged. You can continue to see results by alternating pushups with other arm-toning exercises like biceps curls, hammer curls, triceps dips and triceps kickbacks.
Ashley Farley has been a certified personal trainer since 2008. She is also a writer specializing in healthy living, fitness and nutrition topics. Farley has an Associate of Science in mental health services from the Community College of the Air Force and is pursuing her B.A. in English at Wright State University.