Q.Will pushups help firm the muscles on the back of my upper arm, which are beginning to sag? Are there any other at-home exercises for this? I'm a middle-aged woman.
A. Yes, pushups will help strengthen, firm and tone the triceps, whose primary function is to extend (straighten) the forearm.
Any movement that requires the extension of the arm will involve the triceps. During a pushup, the triceps assist other muscle groups -- the chest and shoulders, which do most of the work.
To place the emphasis on the triceps, you can modify the pushup technique. Start by getting down on your hands and knees. Move your hands slightly forward of your shoulders and position your hands so that the fingers are pointing toward each other and almost touching. The arms are extended.
Allow at least four seconds to lower the upper body until the chest touches the hands. Pause momentarily in this position before returning to the starting position. If possible, perform 12 to 15 repetitions. Once you can do that properly, have a spotter apply additional resistance manually to your upper back.
If a spotter isn't available, try elevating your knees off the floor (only hands and feet touching). This will increase the difficulty of the exercise. If you can't perform 12 reps in this position, do as many as you can and then drop to your hands and knees and continue in this position until you've performed a total of 12 reps.
Make sure you do at least 12 reps each time you do the exercise. Also make sure you lower your chest to your hands every rep. By pointing your fingers toward each other, you'll make the pushup more difficult, and place more emphasis on the triceps.
You also asked if there are any other triceps exercises you can perform at home. The answer is yes. There's a great exercise that will isolate the muscle, but you'll need a partner to provide some manual resistance.
Lie flat on your back with your right arm extended so that it's perpendicular to the floor (fingers pointed toward the ceiling). Twist your hand so that your palm is facing toward you (thumb pointed out from the body).
Your training partner should kneel directly beside you with his/her right knee and upper leg resting against the back of your upper right arm. This will stabilize your upper arm during the exercise.
The spotter should grasp your right wrist hand with his/her right hand. The spotter will push against your wrist as you lower and raise your forearm.
During the lowering phase, move only the forearm, resisting the downward pressure from your spotter. Keep the upper arm stationary, perpendicular to the floor, and resting against the thigh of your spotter throughout the exercise.
Allow at least four seconds to lower the forearm to a comfortably flexed position and pause momentarily. Allow approximately one to two seconds to recover to the starting position, raising the forearm against the resistance supplied by your spotter. Mirror the above to exercise the left arm.
Be careful not to bend the arm too far and hurt the elbow. Communication between the spotter and lifter is important to establish a smooth, controlled exercise.
Perform 12 reps of this exercise. You must decide how intense the exercise will be -- the more intense, the better the gains. If maximum gains are desired, you'll have difficulty raising just the weight of your forearm on the last repetition.
It takes skill to assist this exercise properly. The spotter is applying too much resistance if you are unable to raise your forearm in one to two seconds or if you can't resist for at least four seconds during the lowering phase.