Why can't I do pushups anymore?
March 16, 2009 10:25 AM   Subscribe

What happened to my pushups? I had gotten to where 50 pushups were relatively easy, stopped for 2 weeks, and now struggle to do 15.

Of course there's more. I noticed when trying to do pushups now, that i'm lopsided - that is, my right arm is doing more work than my left. also, after pushups, when my pecs are somewhat pumped up, my left pec is noticably flatter than my right.

During the 2 week period when I wasn't working out at all, nothing happened that would explain this, but i did start noticing a tingling in my left hand periodically. This still continues, but repositioning my left arm makes it stop.

Background info: I'm a 35 year old male, healthy as an ox, otherwise. ~175 pounds, 5'9" tall.

I know you aren't my doctor, but any suggestions?
posted by Dorri732 to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I used to do a few hundred pushups a day but then stopped for a few months. Recently I started my exercise routine and found it troublesome to do three sets of 15. It will come back if you just work each day. Some of us tend to quickly lose muscle mass that isn't used. Regarding your apparent imbalance issues, it can be helpful to stop for a moment before beginning a set of pushups and check to see if your bodily sensation is more or less equal down both halves of your frame.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:46 AM on March 16, 2009

Push-ups, like a lot of bodyweight exercises or relatively light high-rep weight-bearing exercises, are as much dependent on muscle memory and training the movement as they are on strength. The same way as if you stopped playing piano for a few weeks you'd be a little rusty when you got back, when you stop doing push-ups they're not going to be as easy.

You will probably find if you keep doing them you'll be back to 50 in a much shorter time than it first took you to get to 50.

Regarding the lopsidedness, you probably always had this imbalance but are noticing it more now that you're struggling. Focus on pushing equally with both arms rather than just trying to get out as many reps as possible.

As for the tingling, I don't know, perhaps a pinched nerve? Unless it gets much worse or other nervous-system related things start happening I wouldn't worry too much, bodies are weird.
posted by schroedinger at 10:48 AM on March 16, 2009

Ditto schroedinger on the muscle memory. It'll come back quickly, and I don't think it's loss of muscle mass after 2 weeks.

As for the tingling in your hand - when and what are you doing, how often do you notice it, and where exactly in your hand? I don't have an answer in any case, but if you explain it further, someone might be able to provide some ideas.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:52 AM on March 16, 2009

Thanks for the answers so far.
Regarding the lopsidedness, you probably always had this imbalance but are noticing it more now that you're struggling.
Nope. Prior to starting to do pushups about a year ago, I had no pecs to speak of. I was proud of how I looked after working on it a while. I would have noticed the imbalance.
As for the tingling in your hand - when and what are you doing, how often do you notice it, and where exactly in your hand?
Usually when my arm is hanging fairly limp, but not down at my side, like when driving. Mostly in the pinky and ring fingers is where I feel the tingling. Might not be related at all, but it started happening at about the same time, and it's on the same side of my body.

Also, it's been about a week and half since I noticed this. Since then I've gone from barely being able to do 10 pushups to being able to do 25ish, so it is coming back, but the lopsidedness isn't going away.

Thanks again for the answers.
posted by Dorri732 at 11:11 AM on March 16, 2009

One more thing, the lopsidedness is most visible at the upper portion of my left pec, where it meets the shoulder.
posted by Dorri732 at 11:13 AM on March 16, 2009

are you doing any exercise at all? I started doing the 100 push-up thing and stopped when I did 60 in 15 minutes and then was sore the next day. Once I started doing cardio I found I could keep the strength but it's good to have a uniform posture when you doing them. Don't let your arms get too far apart. I really don't think you should give much care to the lopsidedness issue. It's really a mental obstacle and I doubt anyone has the same feeling about it then you do. An example is like if you notice halfway through the day that you missed a spot when you shaved and you start obsessing over that tiny patch of hair. Believe me, exercise is a lot more important than a meaningless body issue that will probably go away with more diversified conditioning.
posted by parmanparman at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2009

Parmanparman, I really don't care about the lopsidedness, except that it was not there 3 weeks ago.
posted by Dorri732 at 11:54 AM on March 16, 2009

If I am reading this right and you didn't work out at all for 2 weeks, then it will take a little while to get back into the swing of it.

I took a 2 week break from working out while i went on holiday and my god it was difficult to hit the gym and immediately lift big weights again. After a week or so, was back into the swing of it and all was fine
posted by moochoo at 11:56 AM on March 16, 2009

OP, you probably have some kind of issue with your posture or form that is causing you to shift more of your weight onto one side. These kind of things take a long time to manifest to something noticeable, as they generally get worse as you get stronger and your muscles pull your body a little more out of whack.

First and foremost, you need to stretch more. Even if you are already stretching. I'd also suggest trying yoga or something similar - I've done some posture therapy to help with my problem and a lot of the work is yoga-like. I'm now able to work out and run without any issues.

You're probably developing a similar imbalance... try to nip it in the bud instead of letting it get worse.
posted by PFL at 12:21 PM on March 16, 2009

To me it sounds like paresthesia in your hand plus muscle atrophy -- the first might not be too serious but the second implies that the muscle is not getting its required nerve and blood supply. I'd look for a recommendation to a good chiropractor or orthopedist so you can be evaluated.
posted by olecranon at 12:55 PM on March 16, 2009

As for the tingling, that could be Ulnar neuropathy (image of the nerve here: http://www.hughston.com/hha/a_15_3_2.htm) which I'd looked up because I had some pinkie tingling in my left hand that I think was caused by my overdoing it with curls, overworking my left forearm which wasn't strong enough to grip the dumbbell, esp. doing hammer curls.

I took a week off from lifting (no gripping of bars at all) and it's much better. You could try stretching your forearms after you workout, though most of what I read recommend some rest.
posted by JulianDay at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2009

The tingling could indicate something wrong in the shoulder - rotator cuff problems or perhaps a torn labrum. These could also lead to weakness and fatigue issues. Get a referral to see an ortho and maybe get an MRI. Do you have access to UpToDate?
posted by tiburon at 6:41 PM on March 16, 2009

Are you right-handed? Just about everyone has more muscle development on their dominant side. I'm a woman who doesn't currently do strength training, and there's still a (slightly) perceptible difference -- left hand, arm and shoulder/chest muscles are a little larger, since I'm left-handed. It's very easy to "favor" that side without even realizing it, since your body has always worked that way. That uneven form can easily lead to small strains, tears, or pinches. (It also makes the difference in size more obvious when you gain muscle, since that side is doing more work.)

Paying attention to the weak side will fix it, but it helps to have someone watch you do the exercise and tell you if there's anything wrong with your form.
posted by nckd at 6:16 AM on March 17, 2009

My experience over years of pushups and free weight bench presses is that, as complex exercises, they'll expose the weakest muscle or joint involved. After a longer layoff than two weeks, I went back to doing benches-- and was significantly limited in what I could lift, not by my muscles, but my elbows. But all that was really hurt was my ego, and that too heals, eventually.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 8:47 AM on March 17, 2009

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