How Much of Your Body Weight do you Lift in a Push-Up?

Whilst performing push-ups the other day, I started to wonder how much body weight do you lift in a push-up.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (this is the NSCA’s scientific journal that publishes monthly research information) did a study in 2005 stating that a standard push-up done on a flat surface with your hands lined up beneath your shoulders lifts 66% of your body weight.

In 2011 the same journal carried out the same research which stated that a standard push-up performed on a flat surface with your hands lined up beneath your shoulders lifts 64% of your body weight — both pieces of research bringing back a similar percentage.

Your Body Weight do you Lift in a Push-Up

Push-ups and Body Weight Percentage

Hand and feet positioning can alter the weight percentage that you are lifting when performing push-ups.  However, having your hands wider or closer together shows very little percentage difference.  For example: if you have your hands closer together when performing push-ups you lift 65% of your body weight.  If you have your hands spaced wider apart then you lift 63% of your body weight.

If you position your hands below your mid-chest then you increase the intensity of the push-up and lift 73% of your body weight.  By positioning your hands forward underneath your head you reduce the intensity and lift 61% of your body weight.

By elevating your hands to a surface 24 inches above floor level you reduce the intensity to lifting 41% of your body weight.

Feet position can alter the intensity of the push-ups too.  By having your feet on the floor in the standard push-up position you lift 64% of your body weight.  You can increase the intensity by placing your feet on a raised surface; you are then lifting 75% of your body weight, the higher your feet are raised, the higher the percentage of your bodyweight you are lifting.

Knee Push-ups

Knee push-ups are good for beginners who are building up their strength.  They allow you to lift 53% of your body weight  (2005 study) 49% of your body weight (2011 study).  When doing knee push-ups, you position your hands in the standard push up position beneath your shoulders, and instead of putting the rest of your weight on your feet, you bend your knees and support the rest of your weight on your knees.

Knee Push-ups

Again you can increase or decrease the intensity of the push up by repositioning your hands when doing the knee push-ups.

Are Push-ups as Good as Lifting Weights?

Push-ups and bench presses target the same body areas; chest, front shoulder, triceps, and lats.  Both use a pushing motion to work the body and both can build the target areas.  However, when doing bench presses your body is stable on the bench and you only work the target areas, but with push-ups, your body is moving and you use your core muscles to stabilize, which means that you work your core muscles too.

Lifting weights will grow and strengthen the target areas quickly as it is easy to increase the weights, but the strength gained from purely pushing weights will not easily be transferred to real-life movements, ie. Punching, running, throwing.

Whereas push-ups require you to learn variations in positions and new skills to increase the intensity of the push-up, with the added bonus that increases the strength in your core muscles, hips, and lower body.  These can transfer into everyday movements like punching, throwing, and running.

Push-ups and weight lifting bench press both increase strength. However, it will take longer to increase strength with push-ups simply because you have to learn new positions and skills.  It is quicker to increase your weight load on a bench press.  Push-ups may increase your strength more slowly. However, they have the added benefit of working your core muscles, hips, and lower body.

It will really depend on what your personal goal is as both push-ups and weight lifting are both good, and will both build strength.

How Many Push-ups a Day is Good?

This will depend on a few factors.

  • What is your goal?
  • How old are you?
  • What is your fitness level? Are you a beginner?

There is no set number of push-ups that you should do.  The most important thing is to keep a good form whilst performing the push-ups, as you can cause yourself an injury by performing them incorrectly.  And do as many push-ups as you can before your arms can no longer sustain your weight.

Front Knuckle Push-ups

If your goal is building strength and muscle mass, then you should make the push up more intense by having your hands below mid-chest and feet raised.  Again do as many each day as you physically can.  The military makes their SEALS do several hundred push-ups a day, five days a week.

If your goal is stamina, then increase your sets with fewer repetitions and perform variations of the push-ups.  You need to know how many push-ups you can do before you lose form and can no longer support your weight, then do a couple of fewer push-ups than that, and gradually build up the repetitions as you get stronger and your stamina increases.

If you are a beginner, then do as many as you can in one set, have a rest, then do another set.  Working your way up to doing 3 sets of 12 push-ups.  Gradually increase your push-ups as you get stronger.

How Many Push-ups Should I do for my Age?

A 25-year-old man with average fitness should be able to do 39 push-ups, whereas a 25-year-old man with a good fitness level should be able to do 54+ push-ups.  A 50-year-old man with average fitness should be able to do 21 push-ups.

Those are the averages for those age groups.  However, there is no set number for each age group.  The number of push-ups really will depend on what your goal is.  The only real rule for how many push-ups you should do for your age is: Do as many as you can without losing the correct form and gradually increase the number you do.

How Many push-ups Should I do a Day as a Beginner?

If you are a complete beginner, then you need to see how many you can actually do before you lose the correct form.  It may be that you can only do 3 push-ups before your arms can’t support you.  That is the number that you start from.  Do 3 sets of 3 push-ups and gradually increase the number of push-ups as you get stronger.  The most important part of doing push-ups is keeping the form correct; if you do push-ups incorrectly you can injure yourself.

Start Postion Push-ups

If you find that the standard push up position is too much for you, then you can begin in either the knee bend position or placing your hands on a raised surface or even the wall.  The important part is that you do three sets of as many push-ups as you can and increase the number of push-ups as you get stronger.

References Used in This Article

  1. The rise of push-ups: A classic exercise that can help you get stronger.
  2. Effect of the push-up exercise at different palmar width on muscle activities.

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