Push-ups worked, how now to maintain?
August 24, 2009 2:06 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing regular push-up sets three days each week, and am pleased with the results. How do I maintain my current state of arm-shape, without getting still bulkier or losing any of it? Do I simply keep doing the number of reps/days that I have been doing to this point? Or is there an always-increasing threshold I need to aim for?
posted by everichon to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need to worry about increasing bulk, if you're eating the same amount of food from day to day.
posted by ignignokt at 2:14 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

In my experience, you'll hit a plateau after a few weeks. Since July 1st, I've been doing 100 pushups every day, 5 sets of 20 with a minute break between sets. After the first week, the physical difference was dramatic. Weeks 3-5, no so much, just maintaining what is there
posted by limited slip at 2:19 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Genetics play a large part in how big your muscles can get; it's rare that anyone can get overly bulky without eating lots of protein or taking steroids. Unless you are making a deliberate effort to get huge, it probably won't happen.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:09 PM on August 24, 2009

Great, this all helps.
posted by everichon at 3:18 PM on August 24, 2009

Ahh yes, always consider your body type. Body type breakdown Remember that it is a spectrum, it is rare to find a pure ectomorph, endomorph or mesomorph. For example, Dwight Howard is mostly ectomorph with a touch of mesomorph, wide shoulders and the ability to gain muscle fast. Understanding bodytype among men and women would help to clear up all of this misunderstanding about BMI and healthy weights, but that's another thread.
posted by limited slip at 3:37 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

How do I maintain my current state of arm-shape, without getting still bulkier or losing any of it?

Push-ups primarily target the pectorals, the front shoulders, and the triceps. As ignignokt says, you can't gain weight without eating more. Your body has adapted to the stimulus you've provided it through training. You should be able to more or less maintain that adaptation by continuing to expose your body to the same level of stress, but you won't get stronger.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:02 PM on August 24, 2009

Push-ups are generally suited for building lean muscle mass, so that's a good start. Generally speaking, if you want to keep more of a cut/trim look without building a lot of mass, you probably don't ever need to go above, say, 30 - 35 push-ups/set. You can push out the number of sets as you progress, if you're looking for more challenge in your workout.
posted by Brak at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2009

Exercise routines like yoga and pilates (as well as dance -think ballet dancers) are great for building long lean muscles, rather than bulk.
posted by purpletangerine at 5:36 PM on August 24, 2009

Push-ups are generally suited for building lean muscle mass, so that's a good start.

Exercise routines like yoga and pilates (as well as dance -think ballet dancers) are great for building long lean muscles, rather than bulk.

There's no distinction to make between "long, lean muscles" and "bulk." Leanness has to do with bodyfat percentage, not any particular type of strength training. Strength training means progressive overload -- you expose the body to a training stimulus, the body adapts to that stimulus, and you gradually increase the workload while supplying enough fuel for the trainee to recover.

Yoga, pilates, and pushups may make you stronger up to a point, but they're not a strength training program unless you can manipulate the workload in a precise way, e.g. by using weighted pushups and gradually increasing the weight. This can't really be done effectively, so the bench press is generally used instead for strength training.

Doing low-weight, high-repetition movements like pushups or air squats can be beneficial for conditioning, and conditioning workouts can help reduce bodyfat, but you're not going to build muscle and strength that way past a brief period of initial gains. And if you're doing sets of more than 20 or so you're not strength training. Strength training is usually done in the range of 5 to 10 reps.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:36 PM on August 24, 2009

2nd ludwig_van. Initially you see gains, since the bodyweight was challenging your muscles. As you gain the strength, though, it becomes more cardio than strength. With that many reps, and not much variation in movements, you're specializing yourself for endurance pushups, like a marathon runner is specialized to run. And you don't see too many marathon runners with a lot of bulk, eh?

Now, if you start adding weight on your back until you can barely complete the sets, and keep increasing the weight when it gets easier, that might be a different story.
posted by ctmf at 7:57 PM on August 24, 2009

3rding ludwig_van. Without progressive overload—always increasing the amount of resistance so you're maxed out at most 12-15 reps—you will not continue to build muscle. Pushups are a fine bodyweight exercise, but bodyweight exercises in general tend to devolve into endurance-enhancing exercises after a few weeks when you are accustomed to doing them. At that point there is not really any further gain, strength-wise or appearance-wise.

When you're talking about visual appearance there are really just two variables involved: how much fat you carry, and how much muscle you have. Non-sport exercises are all based around either reducing the former or increasing the latter, or both. By and large heavy weight training is the only way to continually trigger muscle growth/retention. If you are eating at a caloric surplus, it's growth. If you are eating at a deficit, i.e. dieting, then the goal is retention. You won't pack on much muscle if you are on a diet, but you will preserve the muscle you have by weight training which is the difference between being lean and fit and being "skinny fat".

Please understand the role of weight training in body recomposition. Weight training does not in and of itself make you big like a bodybuilder. The difference between Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Basedow, say, is 95% to do with what they eat (and what drugs they take), not what they do for their workouts. A lean, trim, fit dork like Basedow probably works out just as hard as Arnie did back in the day but he doesn't throw down 3000+ calories a day, so he ends up lean instead of massive.

Anyhow, I guess all I'm getting at is that if you're looking for further improvements, pushups aren't going to get you there. They're going to be mostly cardio for you at this point since you're used to them. As far as cardio goes, there are a lot better things you can do to burn calories: run, bike, swim, whatever. Those you can do for extended periods of time, whereas you're probably not doing a half hour's worth of pushups. If you did you'd destroy your shoulders in no time flat, anyways.

If you want to just maintain where you're at, then keep up the pushups but don't overdo them. Rather than doing more pushups, work out other parts of your body as well. Squats and lunges are great lower body exercises. Arm curls and rows will work your back and biceps, muscles pushups don't hit. And then some core exercises like crunches, bicycle kicks, and back extensions will round out a nice full body exercise routine. The nice thing about all of those is that you can easily make them harder by holding something heavy while you do them.
posted by Khalad at 8:51 PM on August 24, 2009

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