For quick, equipment-free ab and chest training, you may bust out a set or more of situps and pushups. These classic calisthenic moves are a fixture in numerous workouts -- from grade school P.E. to boot camps. Despite their persistence in fitness programs, you may want to seek out other more effective exercises if your goals are to build lots of muscle or create a six-pack middle. Don't shun the moves altogether, however. A few rounds of situps and pushups are better than no exercise at all.
Chest Muscle Growth
Although often included as part of a chest workout, pushups are not the most effective exercise when it comes to stimulating growth in the pectorals, the muscles of the chest, says a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise. When compared to the barbell press, pushups are only 61 percent as effective -- even when performed using a stability ball. Doing pushups off suspension cables is only 2 percent more effective than the classic version. The pec dec machine, bent-forward cable flyes, incline dumbbell flyes and the chest press machine all outranked the pushup when it came to targeting the chest. If your goal is to build massive chest muscles, you are better off using pushups to augment these other more effective movesвЂ¦
When it comes to whole body training, however, pushups are extremely effective. You have to lift and lower your entire body weight, which challenges your arms, chest, abdominals, hips and legs. Doing pushups in quick succession raises your heart rate and improves functional abilities. For example, a person who is able to do pushups is more likely to safely brace himself in the event of a fall. Steven G. Estes, a physical education professor and dean of the college of professional studies at Missouri Western State University, told the "New York Times" that pushups are one of the simplest and fastest ways to demonstrate your strength and power.
Situps and Abs
Situps, and their kissing cousin crunches, are not the most effective way to tone your core - the muscles of your back, abs, hips and upper thighs. The situp does target the front and sides of the abdomen, but not as well as many other exercises. It does not do an effective job of targeting the transverse abdominus, the deep abdominal muscle that is the root of core power and improves posture. Situps done without strengthening the back muscles, such as the extensors, can lead to muscle imbalances, which can lead to low back pain or strain. Situps also emphasize the often tight and overused hip flexors more than your abdominals, which aggravates back problems and muscle imbalances. Exercises such as the bicycle maneuver, the captain's chair, crunches on a stability ball and reverse crunches are much better at recruiting the abdominal muscles, says the American Council on Exercise.
Calorie Burn and Overall Fitness
Situps and pushups do help you burn calories, but only when included as part of a complete calisthenics workout that also features other dynamic moves such as jumping jacks, windmills, lunges and squats. A 30-minute calisthenic workout burns about 167 calories for a 155-pound person. Compare this to more effective calorie burners such as vigorous weight lifting which, done for the same amount of time, burns 223 calories. Compare to circuit training at 298 calories or running 10-minute miles at 372 calories.