A properly performed pushup engages the triceps muscles of your upper arms, the pectoral muscles of your chest and the anterior deltoids, or fronts of your shoulders. As a bonus, the core muscles -- including your abs, hips and back -- work intensely to keep your body aligned and stable. As effective and efficient as pushups are, doing them daily is counterproductive. You're better off performing them on alternate days, giving your muscles ample time to rest.
You might be tempted to include pushups in your daily fitness routine, but doing so can lead to muscle fatigue and hinder strength-training progress. Pushups break down muscle tissue in your upper arms, chest and shoulders. On days that you refrain from doing pushups, you're not slacking off. Instead, you're giving damaged muscle tissue a chance to repair itself, which leads to muscle growth. For that reason, it's advisable to do pushups two or three times a week on alternate days. In other words, leave a full 48 hours between pushup sessions.
If you want to make pushups a regular part of your weekly workout regimen, start by assessing your pushup ability. Move to the floor and do as many repetitions as you can without pausing. The result reflects your current max. Be sure to maintain proper form throughout the assessment period. If you're curious, use a pushup calculator like the one featured at ExRx.net to compare yourself to others in your age and gender category.
The standard approach to strength-training involves one to three sets of eight to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between reps. Some pushup programs -- or pushup "challenges" -- encourage a gradual increase in reps over a period of weeks or months. Starting with your maximum number of reps on day one, you can try upping the number of reps by one on every subsequent workout day.
Use Proper Form
For best results from your pushups, emphasize quality over quantity. A proper pushup starts in a plank position, with your hands planted on the floor directly under your shoulders. Align the top of your head with your spine, position your feet and legs together and tuck your toes under. Keeping your body locked in a straight position, slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Hold briefly at the bottom of the movement and then extend your elbows, pushing your body upward to the start position. Repeat. When you lower your body, your chest should come within an inch or two of the floor. Aim for a 90-degree angle with your elbows at the lowest point of the down phase.
When you choose a pace for your pushups, remember that compromising on form makes your workouts less effective, efficient and safe. Maintain control of the movement at all times. Ideally, each phase of a single pushup -- upward and downward -- should take one or two seconds. If you do try speeding things up, slow down if and when your form starts to falter.
Work Out Smart
Always precede your pushups with a suitable warm-up. Take a brisk walk or jog lightly in place to raise your core body temperature. When you break a light sweat, do some dynamic upper-body stretching to stimulate the pushup muscles and prepare them for a workout. Extend your arms to the side and repeatedly move them forward and back. Do a set of 20 and then circle your shoulders 10 times to the front and 10 times to the back. After completing your pushups, do some static stretches to lengthen the muscles you worked and preserve flexibility. Do the classic doorway stretch for your pecs and shoulders and an overhead triceps stretch for your upper arms. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, repeating one to three times on each side.