Just adding pushups into your regular workout isn't enough to develop your chest and arms. Once you get used to your own body weight, you'd need someone to start placing weights on your back to increase the challenge -- not very safe. "No pain, no gain" is the common battle cry, but you shouldn't do any exercise that causes pain. A better motto might be, "No challenge, no gain." An effective chest and underarms routine requires switching between exercises of escalating difficulty.
Beyond the Pushup
Copy great bodybuilder workouts using barbells and dumbbells. Bench presses and dumbbell flyes are great additions to a simple pushup session to round out your chest routine. The free weights involved can be easily increased as you progress. Without that challenge, you won't build muscle. There is one way to make pushups more challenging, and that's by elevating your legs. Use a bench, yoga ball or even stairs to prop your feet up, adding more weight to your arms when you dip down. Pushups are great for rounding out the end of your routine.
Firming the Underarms
Combat flabby underams with exercises that target your triceps. Strengthening the shoulders and obliques helps to tighten the area as well. You can't spot-reduce the fat from any area of your body, but you can build and tone the muscles of your underarm area with chair dips, which are like pushups for your triceps. They're tough, but they work. If you're at the gym, you can use a bench instead of a chair. You can also place your hands next to each other during a regular pushup to target your triceps. Get dumbbells into the act with triceps extensions and lifts.
Don't Forget Your Back
If you've ever wondered how a gymnast or Olympic swimmer got that amazing V-shape, consider the motions these activities have in common. When a gymnast pulls herself upwards, she uses her triceps, obliques, shoulders and back. When a swimmer pulls herself forward through the water, she does the same. Working out your back and shoulders is a key to targeting muscles that contribute to the toned look of sculpted underarms. Dumbbell rows and deadlifts are effective back exercises to add to your underarm routine. Pullups and side planks will work the line from your obliques to your triceps.
Doing lots of reps with light weights will burn some calories, but it won't develop your muscles. It's the muscle development you want. Adding muscle doesn't just give you a toned figure, it also helps you burn more calories when you're at rest. For presses with a barbell, aim for exhaustion while doing eight to 10 reps. For flyes and rows, structure 10 to 12 reps into your sets. Do this for two to three sets. Don't forget to take a day or two off between workouts; most muscle-building occurs during recovery.
Meredith Berg received her B.F.A. in directing from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, she works as a film and television writer, comic-book editor and director of plays and films. In addition, she loves tackling paleo recipes, workout routines and DIY projects.