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Doing the Perfect Push-up

Could the push-up be the "perfect exercise"? Here's what it can do for you, and how to get it right.

The Perfect Push-up: Mastering the Basics continued...

Another tip to get the most out of your push-ups: Don't let your chest actually touch the floor when you come down.

"Your chest should come within 2 to 3 inches of the floor. Put a textbook, a sneaker, a rolled-up sock underneath you, and when you touch it, it's time to go back up," says Ross, who was named ACE's 2008 personal trainer of the year.

Now if all this sounds a bit daunting for your out-of-shape body, fear not. There are ways to make push-ups easier while still gaining the benefits.

"If you're having trouble ... lifting the whole body in the proper alignment, you can do the same exercise, but do it on your knees," says Schlifstein. While you still need to keep a straight line from neck to torso, by engaging the knees you'll reduce your lifting load by about half.

For those looking to minimize tension on the wrist, Ross says a variation called the "knuckle push-up" can help. For this type of push-up, you close your hands and put your weight on your knuckles instead of your palms, avoiding the wrist extension motion. But be sure to do this type of push-up on a padded mat or carpet.

"Because there is clearly less fat on this part of the hand, you really do need to add some type of padding if you are going to try this," says Ross.

The Perfect Push-up: How-to's for Beginners

If you haven't done any kind of push-up -- let alone a perfect one -- since your high school gym teacher stood over you with a whistle and a scowl, don't worry. There are several ways to ease into doing push-ups.

One option is to use a low bench to prop up your arms, and then do either a regular push-up or the knees-on-the-floor version, Bottesch says.

"If you put your feet on the floor and put your hands on the bench, you can work on getting the body form right with much less strain," she says.

If even a kneeling push-up with a bench is too tough for you, there's an even easier way to begin.

You don't have to lie down at all, Ross tells WebMD. Instead, do your push-ups standing against the wall, which dramatically reduces the pressure on arms and upper back. To make it simpler still, stand closer to the wall.

"With your feet very close to the wall, there is almost no strain, but it still allows you to keep your body in alignment so you get a real sense of how it should feel," says Ross. As you gain strength, keep moving your feet further away until you feel confident enough to try push-ups on the floor.

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