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Fit to fight: the perfect push-up

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- As Air Force members continue to prepare themselves for the increased frequency and updated scoring of the new physical training test, Airmen at Ellsworth can use Bellamy Fitness Center resources to develop a total-body workout that improves overall fitness and helps earn maximum points on the push-up portion of the test. 

In order for an Airman to earn points for a push-up they must bend their elbow at least 90 degrees before returning to the starting position. 

One of the best ways to develop a perfect push-up is to actually set aside time every other day and do pushups, said Stephanie O'Connell, Bellamy Fitness Center nationally certified personal trainer. 

According to Ms. O'Connell, in addition to doing push-ups, there are a variety of exercises available to strengthen the arms, back, chest and shoulders, which are the essential muscles used during a push-up. 

Those exercises can include chest presses, chest flies and dumbbell curls, to name a few. 

Developing the muscles 

An Airman can do a proper chest press by lying on their back and holding weights over their chest with their arms at a 90 degree angle. Pressing the arms straight up and then lowering them back to the starting position completes one chest press repetition. This exercise works the major muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps. 

A chest fly exercise works the major muscles of the chest with a focus on the outer portion of the pectoral muscles. To do a fly, an Airman should lie on their back and hold dumbbell weights over the chest, with the palms of their hands facing inwards. Lower the weights out to the sides, stopping at shoulder level and returning to the starting position completes one chest fly repetition. 

Dumbbell curls target the bicep muscles and work both arms independently, which can strengthen weaknesses in the non-dominant arm. Airmen can begin the exercise by standing with their feet about hip-width apart and holding the dumbbells in front of their thighs. Squeezing the bicep and bending the arms curls the weights up to the shoulders. According to Ms. O'Connell, Airmen should be conscious of their arm movements, and try to keep the elbows stationary as they elevate the weights. By slowly lowering the weights while keeping a slight bend in elbows at the bottom of the exercise Airmen will complete one repetition. 

According to Tech. Sgt. Julia Bruner, 28th Force Support Squadron Bellamy fitness center NCO-in charge, any new exercise regimen should be preceded by a physical from a medical professional, as well as physical assessment questionnaire that can be done by the staff members of the fitness center. 

"Before we put anyone on a workout plan we want to be sure there are no underlying medical problems that could worsen with exercise," said Sergeant Bruner. 

Ms. O'Connell also encourages Airmen to seek guidance when attempting an exercise for the first time. 

"I would start them out at the proper weight in order to prevent injury," she said. "I'm also there to make sure their form is correct, so they get the maximum results from their efforts." 

Setting attainable goals 

Those results can vary based on an Airman's goals. If an Airman is trying to strengthen existing muscles, Ms. O'Connell recommends doing higher repetitions with lighter weights and an increased tempo. For Airmen looking to build up muscle, lifting in a slow, controlled manner with heavier weights and fewer repetitions would serve their goals better. 

"I need to know what someone's goal is before I can develop a plan that will help you achieve them," she said. 

To achieve those goals over an extended period of time, Ms. O'Connell recommends changing a workout every six weeks. 

"There are so many variations of the different exercises you can do to shock a muscle into growth and development," she said. 

Ms. O'Connell said that while shocking a muscle, safety should always be observed. Often times Airmen wait until the last minute to prepare for the PT test. They panic and get overzealous in their attempt to pass the test. That attitude can result in serious injury if they are not careful. She encourages Airmen to monitor themselves and avoid doing too much too soon. 

Creating a fitness lifestyle 

"Fitness can't be a fad, it needs to be a lifestyle change," she said. "If you make smarter choices, exercise properly and eat clean then you will see results." 

Eating clean can be defined as cutting out as much of the processed foods as possible, don't drink sodas, focus on fruits and vegetables and live in moderation. 

A healthy diet and lifestyle combined with proper strength training make up the fundamental pieces of the perfect push-up. However, Airmen often times neglect the need for good cardiovascular workouts to supplement strength training. 

"Cardio doesn't just mean running, it actually means having an increased heart-rate," said Ms. O'Connell. "It strengthens the breathing-system so you're not winded after 45 seconds of push-ups." 

She encourages Airmen to mix up different cardio exercises and take advantage of all the equipment and services offered at the fitness center. 

The services, such as personal training and fitness classes, are designed to help Airmen pass the PT test and develop and maintain the fitness lifestyle the Air Force promotes. 

For more information about the Bellamy Fitness Center and the services they offer, contact them at (605) 385-2266. 

Editor's note: this story is part of a series.