Need a quick-fix workout that beefs you up in style? Consider the push-up, an exercise as timeless as faded blue jeans. Push-ups work your entire upper body—even your abdominals. The only requirement to get started is a flat surface, and you can finish them faster than it takes to whip up a protein shake.
Although there are many push-up variations, fitness expert Moniere of Manhattan (yes, like Madonna, he only uses one name) prefers the more basic push-up versions.
"A lot of the newer push-ups, like the T [a push-up using weights in which, once you have descended, you extend one arm up to the ceiling so your body forms a t-shape] put too much stress on the shoulder and back muscles," he says. "You're twisting your entire core when you lift up the dumbbell, easily injuring those muscle groups." Ditto the hands together, fingers forming a diamond shape, tricep push-up, which he says puts unneeded strain on your elbows and wrists.
Moniere recommends starting out with simple push-ups to determine how advanced you are. When you feel confidant, move on to more difficult movements. Here's a rundown on the best push-ups.
(Note: For all push-ups, move slowly down and up, stopping on the descent when your elbows are at a right angle to the floor. Don't let your back arch, and keep your wrists straight. If your wrists are weak, Moniere recommends using small hand weights to take some of the pressure off.)
Basic: This is the push-up we all grew up with (for a little extra motivation, think of Richard Gere dropping down in the rain in An Officer and a Gentleman). To achieve this push-up, your legs should be together and extended straight behind you. Your arms should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart. This push-up is especially good for those hard-to-train triceps.
Pec Builder: For some serious chest action, do the same push-up, but place your hands about a foot farther apart on either side. Your pecs will get pumped, and you'll discover they're a bit easier than the Basic.
Elevated Push-up: For more advanced training, either place your feet on a stool behind you, on the wall, or just scoot them in toward your chestmdash;the closer in you bring them, the more difficult and effective the push-up.
One-Arm Push-ups: Not only are these incredibly hard, they take incredible coordination. Your body should be in the Basic position, but before you descend, place one arm behind your back, palm facing upward. Repeat, switching arms. Don't be discouraged if you have trouble doing these. Like chin-ups and a striped Speedo, not every guy can pull them off.
Knee Push-ups: Commonly known as "girl push-ups", knee push-ups offer a great way to get started with push-ups if you're a novice, or to end your routine. Copy the Basic, but place your knees on the floor, and check to make sure your upper body is straight—no butts in the air for this one, guys.
If push-ups are your main upper body routine, Moniere suggests doing them every other day. You should do about eight sets, starting with the most difficult variation you can handle (for two sets), then moving on down to the easiest. For each set you should exhaust the muscles completely. Take about a thirty- to forty-five-second rest in between sets. Then put on your jeans and a T-shirt and flaunt your look. You won't believe their eyes.
David Toussaint is the author of the book Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony. A professional playwright, short-story and travel writer, he is currently at work on a novel. You can reach him at www.davidtoussaint.com.
Moniere is a former trainer at Equinox gym in New York City who now teaches privately. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .