We have all seen bodybuilders, weightlifters, models and many athletes with an extremely defined and chiseled physique. For a man, the chest musculature is of extreme importance for both aesthetic reasons and athletic purposes.

Most women admit that the chest, shoulders and arms are the first areas that they notice on a man’s body. These muscles dictate strength and masculinity.

The chest is used in almost every sport and every upper body exercise. For these reasons, this article is going to focus on training the chest or pectorals, but not emphasize the traditional bench press routines. Purposely, this article will not focus on the bench press but learn from its technique and variation.

I really want to emphasize the vast array of push-ups that exist in today’s world as well as address other body-weight exercises used by gymnast, acrobats and martial artists. Put it to you this way: When performing the push-up, you are lifting approximately 60% of your body weight; during dips, you are lifting your entire body!

There is one last little word that needs to be discussed, intensity. Intensity is the vital variable needed in bodyweight exercises which takes a strong, enduring body as well as a strong mind. If you are not training to fatigue with these exercises you will remain one step behind the rest.

Variations in these exercises take into account different angles of the vast pectoralis major muscle which translates into greater muscle fiber recruitment and a more symmetrical looking muscle. Let’s go to the research…

Hand Positioning effects biomechanical efficiency and alters the load on specific muscles and muscle fibers during the press-up or push-up (Bartlett, 1996). Two of the prime skeletal muscles, pectoralis major and triceps brachii are found to substantially contribute to the performance of the push-up.

Factors which affect the loads on the joints and muscles during push-ups include the location of the palms relative to the shoulder joint, the plane of arm, and the relative foot positions. In addition, the speed of push-ups also affects the amount of inertial load noted on top of a force plate.

A force plate is a square tile with sensors in it which can be used in a biomechanics lab to quantify pressures and forces on top of it. Another biomechanical point I would like to make is that during either the bench press or pushup, the elbows must face out to the sides to ensure chest development. This is what is meant by plane of the arm.

Concomitantly, keeping the elbows pointing behind you or having them close to the body emphasizes the triceps. This holds true to dips as well. If the elbows are east and west you will work the chest!

Electromyography (EMG) is used to record the electrical activity of a muscular contraction. Electrodes can be placed on the skin or in the muscle in order to record the amount of muscle recruitment. Throughout the EMG research, it seems to be clear that a wider grip evokes greater use of the pectoralis major muscle, while a narrow grip recruits greater triceps activity.

Furthermore, the weak link and the reason for fatigue during the bench press or push-up is the triceps not the chest. The triceps are the limiting factor, and it is the triceps that fatigues first. Clemon and Aron (1997) found that weightlifters using a moderate grip width during the bench press could lift significantly heavier loads.

However, these findings were contradicted by Elliot (1999), who stated that grip width was not an independent variable of weight lifted. One research group had also noted that during the traditional push-up, the traditional position (slightly greater than shoulder width) was the easiest as compared to narrow or wide push-ups. 60cm hand-width seems to be the least strenuous position and thus more advantageous in pushing heavier loads.

This can be of importance for prescribing exercise for the novice and even the experienced weightlifter. The important consideration of hand positioning must be based on your goals. For example, a weightlifters objective is to find an optimal hand width position to lift the heaviest loads possible.

A bodybuilder or athlete may need hypertrophy and specificity of training. This translates into constantly using a wide array of grips and hand positions to ensure symmetry of muscular development. Therefore, the optimal hand width of the push-up is dependant on the objectives of the exerciser and the method of achieving the desired results

Here is my push-up menu. Traditional Parallel Bar Push-ups Wide Push-Ups (fingers 10 & 2 O’clock) Narrow or Diamond Push-ups Front Claps Behind the Back Claps Incline Push-Ups (Use a wall) Decline Push-Ups Kickball or Med Ball Push-Ups Spider Push-Ups Handstand Push-Ups Traveling Push-Ups Balance Board Push-Up Stability Ball Push-Ups Hindu Push-up One Arm Push-Ups Uneven Surface Push-Ups Depth Push-Ups Internally Rotated Push-Ups Tiger Push-Ups (on fingertips for rock climbers) Knuckle Push-Ups (for Boxer’s & Martial Artists) Weighted Push-Ups (weighted vest or partner) Fly Push-Up (with dumbbells) Dive Bombers Zen Push-Ups

I end with my very own special push-up called the Zen Push-Up. This is where I take into account all of the push-ups I know and set up and arena for the ability to perform any one I feel at any time. I may start out with the traditional style then switch to claps, then to one arms, then to Hindu push-ups.

I guess what I am trying to say is the Zen Push-Ups allow for multiple variations within a set and of course, it should be done to volitional fatigue.

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Bodhizone Physical Therapy and Wellness was created at the onset of the new millennium in order to bridge the gap between strength and conditioning and rehabilitation. We have 4 clinics in New York (Grand Central, Astoria, Bayside & The Hamptons) and provide care to everyone at a level that Olympic athletes receive. The services we offer are physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, massage and more.

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