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How to Make Push-Ups Harder

Maximize Your Push-Ups With These Tips

Tank-top and strapless-dress season is almost here. If you're not ready to bare your arms and upper back, drop and give me 20! Push-ups are one of the most effective upper body exercises, but the traditional move, whether with straight legs or knees on the floor, only offers muscles so much. Here are some ways to add zest to your push-ups and get more out of this basic exercise.

  • Use an exercise ball: Instead of the floor, place your hands on a large gym ball. The instability of the ball means constantly shifting and readjusting your body to remain in a stable plank position. Having to do this will target your core and offer a greater challenge to the muscles in your upper body.
  • Change your hand position: Traditionally the hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart, and the elbows come out to the sides as you lower. Mix it up by walking one hand in a few inches, and as you lower, that elbow bends back behind you while the other elbow bends out to the side as it normally would. Or place both hands out wider to target the chest and shoulders. To work the triceps, place your hands together below the chest.

Keep reading to learn more ways to make push-ups more challenging.

  • Lift one leg: This is another way to make the otherwise stable plank base a little wobbly and engage more muscles. Either with your legs straight or your knees on the floor, lift one leg off the ground, extending it behind you. This is not only more taxing on your upper body, but also tones the core and glutes. For even more of a challenge, you can move that lifted leg, either touching the knee to the elbow on the same side (here's a video demonstrating the Spider-Man push-up) or kick your leg to the side behind your opposite hand (in this video of grasshopper push-up).
  • Add decline: Raising your feet higher than your hands places more weight into your upper body, which means making your arms, chest, and upper back work harder (think of the wheelbarrow you used to do as a kid). Rest your feet on a Bosu or gym ball, a step, bench, or chair, and as you lower, be sure to engage your core to prevent lower back pain.
  • Elevate one arm: This is an effective way to target one side of your upper body at a time. Place one hand on a yoga block, a medicine ball, or slap your workout buddy's hand when doing these push-ups with a partner. You can also lift one arm into the air, adding a side plank at the top of each push-up to work one side of your upper body even more.
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