Push-Ups for Health, Essential Bodyweight Exercise
Updated: May 15
Do you struggle to do push-ups? If the answer is Yes then you are not alone.
First and foremost, properly executed push-ups are a great exercise. Targeting the chest, triceps and shoulders, working the core muscles; they do not require any more space than the floor and a few minutes of time. An almost perfect exercise but they are hard to complete, right? Especially if you haven't practised any in a long time. In this article we explore some of the facts relating to push-ups and how it relates to health.
Before we go further, a word of caution: always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine and always work-out within your limits. A personal trainer can also help with technique and specific skills.
A 2021 survey by US calisthenics coaches gymless.org asked the US public how many push-ups they could complete. The results, from 1403 respondents nationwide, provide some insight. More than 50% stated that they were incapable of performing 10 consecutive push-ups. 36% were unable to do 5 push-ups in a row, 17% said they could do between 6 and 10 push-ups. In the report’s own words "54 percent of Americans self-report being unable to perform 10 straight push-ups, whereas a minority (46 percent) report being able to. Of those unable to perform more than 10 push-ups, approximately 31 percent identified as men." It is hard to find stats for other nationalities.
The ability to knock out push-ups can have health benefits above and beyond strength alone. A 2019 US study on firefighters showed a relationship between the ability to do push-ups and heart health. Whilst the study had some limitations it showed that those able to perform 11 or more push-ups had a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular events. Firefighters able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a 96% reduction of cardiovascular events compared with those completing fewer than 10 push-ups.
The recommendation for strength-based exercises (that involve all major muscle groups) is that they should be done on 2 or more days a week. Our clients – male and female - often consider push-ups as an exercise that they might want to try but are not confident to attempt.
Why the hesitance? Often it might be the first-time attempting any strength-based training in a long time. Or, that push-ups are associated with punishment. And, push-ups - or strength exercises - are hard. Notwithstanding, once the first few exploratory attempts have been made, a suitable stating point found, people generally get satisfaction from the effort invested. There are numerous online resources that show correct form and progressions, especially for beginners. Find your baseline and work safely up from there. Remember to rest sufficiently between workout days. If it takes 2 days for the soreness to go and feel back to normal then take 2 days to recover. Don’t workout sore, respect your body; eat well and sleep well.
As important as it is to do push exercises, and push-ups are the first exercise for many to start with, pull exercises (e.g. pull-ups or even a ‘dead hang’ to start with) are equally important. As are squats for leg strength. Proper diet, nutrition and sleep are vital for growth and recovery.
Strength training is essential for long-term health, it cannot be ignored. Alternatives to traditional calisthenics exercises such as push-ups include yoga or animal flows. These provide excellent workouts that involve strength, mobility and flexibility. Not sure what exercise you want to do or might enjoy? Experiment. Sign-up to local trial classes, meet new people, explore the opportunities and have fun!
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Related information and Studies:
The Gymless survey: https://www.gymless.org/nationwide-survey-results-the-majority-of-americans-cannot-do-more-than-10-consecutive-pushups/
Yang J, Christophi CA, Farioli A, Baur DM, Moffatt S, Zollinger TW, Kales SN. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Feb 1;2(2):e188341. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341. PMID: 30768197; PMCID: PMC6484614.
Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain. J Exerc Sci Fit. 2017 Jun;15(1):37-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jesf.2017.06.003. Epub 2017 Jun 29. PMID: 29541130; PMCID: PMC5812864.