How Many Push-Ups Can You Do?

It may seem weird to do an entire post on push-ups…. but push-ups are an incredible exercise and not very time consuming.

New York Times article about push-ups

In the busy life of students, residents, and practicing docs it’s easy to lose track of your own fitness.   There’s no question that consistency, not quantity is the key to success in staying fit while you are busy.  Which means you have to give up the notion of working out for any specific time period and realize that even 10 minutes a day matters.

Which is where I got the idea for push-ups.   (Well, to be honest, I started thinking about push-ups when I heard about one of our residents who recently ended up in a tie-break challenge in a trivia contest.  The tie-break was to see how many push-ups you could do.  She beat two big guys…. in high heels and a strapless dress!)

For the fledgling anatomists (since a lot of first year students are studying upper body anatomy right now):  The primary muscles you use in doing a push-up are the pectoralis major and minor muscles.  The key secondary muscles are the triceps and anterior deltoids.  But – because a push-up is basically a plank with motion, you also use muscles in your abdomen, back, and legs, too.  This is why it’s such a fabulous exercise to maintain (and even build) fitness if you don’t have much time.

The form you use in doing a push-up is important.  Cheating not only diminishes the return on your exercise investment, it can actually hurt your back.   Here’s two websites that explain the details on proper form for a push-up:

How to do a proper push-up

How to do a push-up

Most women, and some men,  won’t have enough strength to start with “regular” push-ups.  The form is really important – if you can’t maintain your back straight during the push up, or get your body down all the way to the floor, you’ll need to start with a modified push-up.  Don’t worry, it won’t take long and you’ll be able to do the “regular” push-up.  Don’t risk hurting your back (even if you are feeding your ego) – start where it’s appropriate!   If you haven’t done push-ups before, you’ll probably need to start with knee push-ups and then move on to “hand elevated” push-ups.  Push-ups are easier to do if your hands are higher than your feet, like against a wall or hands on a table or chair.  An easy way to use hand elevated push-ups to train for “regular” push-ups is to use steps (like the stairs at work when you are on call or at school if you are in the basic sciences).   Start with your hands on the 4th or 5th step in front of you and do your set of push-ups. As you get stronger, move one step down.  Eventually, you’ll move down through all the steps until your hands are on the floor.

Training to do pushups isn’t hard, and, with a little planning and coaching, you’ll be able to do many more than you think.  Here’s the url for a great website that explains how anyone can get to the point that they can do 100 pushups:

Just for fun… the world record for consecutive pushups is 10,507, set in 1980 by Minoru Yoshida.

You are probably pushing the equvalent of about 50% of your body weight when you do a push-up.

Push-ups are called press-ups in the UK

3 thoughts on “How Many Push-Ups Can You Do?

  1. my best friend and i have an ongoing debate about the respective merits of pushups done elbows-out vs elbows-in…glad we are not the only people who sit around thinking about pushups. i’m a marathoner and i find that while i’ll always choose to run rather than weight train, pushups are a phenomenally efficient way to keep my upper body from turning into mush. great blog; one of your colleagues linked me to it because he thought i’d enjoy your writing: i’m very glad he did!

  2. Pingback: Take the Stairs | wellnessrounds

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