Having a developed upper shoulder, chest, and tricep region means more than just being able to wear a tank top on a 78-degree sunny day in Northern California.
The musculature of the upper limbs has many valuable functions. In particular, the muscles responsible for extending the arms top the list of essential body parts for upper body strengthening exercises. Just as the Alaskan king crab sits in the upper echelon of the seafood world, the push-up motion sits on the throne of upper body exercises.
Muscles involved in performing an optimal push-up include the upper deltoid, pecs, core stabilizer muscles around the anterior and posterior trunk, and the magnificent triceps, located on the posterior (back) side of the arm.
We highlight triceps in the exercise prescriptions of our personal training clients because of their application to important facets of our daily lives. The triceps are involved in various applications in our lives whenever we extend our arms in front of us or when we push against something.
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Leaning against a wall to bend over and slide on moccasins requires arm strength to stand while resting an outstretched arm against the wall. Getting up from your car seat on a routine trip to the supermarket involves using the arms to push ourselves out of the seat. A ritual that all humans partake in sometimes throughout the day are bathroom visits, in which we get up from the toilet by resting our arms on our knees to get up. Performing these tasks without sufficient triceps strength could put us in a situation where we avoid certain activities for lack of strength.
Some populations consider getting up from the ground a daunting task. People with knee injuries, who have just come out of surgery, who are overweight, or who are of advanced age may have an additional challenge when they have to get up off the floor. These physical afflictions have correlations with decreased tricep strength. If we shed light on these activities, we can appreciate the importance of the muscular strength of the upper limbs responsible for moving the body away from objects.
One exercise technique we focus on with our personal training clients is mastering push-ups. This exercise applies muscle stress to a large area of upper extremity muscles. Regardless of fitness level, some form of pushing can be used to improve upper body strength to extend the ability of the upper arm to push the object away from the body with the arm.
Here are some exercises we start with as a base with our personal training clients to build core strength in the arm extension muscles:
Inclined straight arm plank
The plank exercise is one of the easiest exercises to master and helps achieve optimal upper body strength. Aiming to hold a plank for 30 seconds while keeping the body on the ground with a rigid spine indicates that the arms supporting body weight for an extended period of time have optimal strength.
If you don’t know how to perform the plank, start by practicing the plank exercise on a stable, inclined surface. For example, a counter. While holding the spine in a rigid position and making sure the body is straight, rest the arms on the counter and hold this position for fifteen to thirty seconds. Over time, the body will become stronger. As the body gets stronger, hold the position for a longer period of time.
Mid-Depth Incline Push-ups
Mastering the ability to effectively move your body up and down in a face-down position requires optimal upper body pushing strength. As much as being able to get up from a lying position is where we want our upper body muscles to push the movements, but understanding how to layer strength and build muscle is essential.
If performing a flat-on-the-floor push-up is a challenge, go back to the modified plank exercise example and position yourself on an incline surface. Additionally, reduce another layer of difficulty by performing a push-up with only half the distance traveled toward the floor.
The thought of doing push-ups can be daunting. Visions of Sylvester Stallone sweating profusely as his eyes glow insanely red while doing 4,000 push-ups in practice for his fight against Ivan Drago can cross people’s minds at the mere thought of push-ups.
In other words, this move can be intimidating. Of course, this exercise doesn’t have to be an example of Olympic-level human performance. The push-up is an exercise that deserves more attention because of its ease of execution, and it’s a direct application of its ability to help us function effectively and painlessly in our daily lives.
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Sean McCawley, founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa, Calif., welcomes questions and comments. Contact him at 707-287-2727, [email protected] or visit the website napatenaciousfitness.com.