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Pushups are an essential staple for sculpting a beautiful body.
When it comes to building a buff and beautiful upper body, pushups are considered one of most challenging and effective exercises. A well-executed pushup recruits multiple muscles of the arms, chest and shoulder complex. To make your contours pop, try varying the placement of your hands to target specific muscles.
ID the Muscles
Categorically, pushups are considered a chest exercise. But in addition to the large pectoralis major muscle that defines the chest, pushups also recruit the triceps at the back of the upper arm, and the anterior deltoid at the front of the shoulder. When the scapulae, or shoulder blades, are fully protracted, the serratus anterior, which lies beneath the arm along the rib cage, comes into play. Your rectus abdominis, the long muscle that runs from your pubic crest to your ribs, is recruited as a stabilizer for the spine. While the pectoralis major is the prime mover in any pushup, your hand placement can determine which secondary muscles are emphasized during execution.
Plant them Wide
Placing your hands wider than your shoulders minimizes the recruitment of the triceps and anterior deltoid while emphasizing the pectoral muscles. Because elbow extension is diminished, the triceps play a less significant role. Likewise, the shoulder joint does not travel through its full range of motion in a wide-plant, minimizing the recruitment of the deltoid. Because the scapulae are not fully protracted during the upward phase of a wide-plant pushup, the serratus anterior is not significantly involved. Your rectus abdominis comes into play to hold the trunk in correct alignment.
Follow the Standard
In a standard pushup, the hands are planted directly beneath the shoulders, fingers pointing forward. The elbows remain close to the body. The pectoralis major is still the prime mover, but force is more evenly distributed among the pectorals, deltoids and triceps. To maximize recruitment of the serratus anterior, fully extend your elbows in the up position and protract - arch through your shoulder blades. In the downward phase, prevent your trunk from sagging by contracting your abdominals. In a variation of the standard, rotate your hands inward 45 degrees and allow your elbows to wing out. This will recruit the coracobrachialis, a small muscle deep in the upper arm that abducts the arm.
Keep them Close
By planting your hands close together beneath your chest, you are shifting greater emphasis to your triceps and deltoids. Your pectorals are still engaged as prime movers, and your serratus anterior is enjoying the benefit of full scapular protraction. As always, contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine and maximize the load on your upper body. To get the most benefit from any style of pushup, and to prevent injury, move slowly in both the upward and downward phases so your muscles remain in control. Exhale on the upward phase, and inhale on the way down.