As a symbol for good health and exercise, the pushup borders on cliché, although this is not without a reason. Not only does this classic exercise sculpt the shoulders and arms, it strengthens the core and even helps tone the muscles of the tummy. In short and sweet terms, your stomach should not touch the ground during a standard pushup.
If you don't stick to proper form, you won't reap the many benefits of pushups. Start with your hands directly under your shoulders, fingers pointed forward. Extend your body into a plank position, legs together, keeping your arms straight to support your upper body as you balance your lower body on your toes. Keeping your back straight, bend at the elbows to lower your body to the ground. Hold for a count and return to the starting position by straightening your arms.
What Touches the Ground?
On the downward phase, the tip of your chin or your chest -- specifically your sternum -- should touch the ground or, hopefully, your exercise mat. If you're having difficulty doing pushups without tummy-tapping the floor, try doing incline pushups on a horizontal bar, which should rest at just below chest-height. Once you're comfortable with this less-intense variation, move on to the standard method.
To help strengthen the core, keep your stomach muscles engaged -- or held tightly, pulled in at your belly button -- throughout the exercise. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back to encourage abdominal engagement. Because you're holding your belly in against gravity, this engagement helps keep your torso properly supported and tones your abs. To target your stomach even more, do a Kegel squeeze during your workout; keep your pelvic muscles drawn and tight during your pushups. Don't hold your breath; breathe regularly as you exercise, inhaling as you lower your body and exhaling as you rise up.
Don't get sloppy -- focus on smooth, controlled and deliberate motion throughout your pushup workout. Keep your head, neck and spine aligned at all times. Along with your abs, engage your butt and thighs to help you keep your balance, and don't let your lower back or ribcage sag. Always press up through your arms rather than lead the upward motion with your hips.
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.