What's the most effective way to do pushups?
May 6, 2016 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Sets of 10 or "feel the burn" marathons?

I've started doing pushups to increase my arm and shoulder strength. I find it pretty easy to do 10 at a time throughout the day. Now I'm wondering if that's too easy.
Is there a difference in effectiveness between doing, for example, five 10 pushup sets spread over several hours, and doing 50 at one go? Does that horrible impossible feeling that hits at around pushup 30 actually mean you're accomplishing something?
I like doing 10 pushup sets, but if I need to feel the burn to make a difference, well, so be it.
What say you, metafilter pusher uppers?
posted by crazylegs to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There is definitely a difference between doing 10 reps 5 times spread out over a day vs doing two sets of 25. You'll build muscle mass faster by maxing out your reps and increasing slowly over time. The horrible impossible feeling is just you hitting your current limit - it will move from 30 to 35 to 40 to 50 etc. And the fact that you can make it to 30 means you're already in a good spot.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:32 PM on May 6, 2016

After 30 reps or so you're only improving your ability to do tons of push ups in a row, not meaningfully increasing your arm or shoulder strength. If you want to increase strength by doing push ups, you'll have to increase the load of the exercise until you can't do more than 30 -- either by elevating your feet above your hands or placing weight on your back.
posted by telegraph at 2:42 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anything above 12 reps or so is generally not best for building absolute strength. There is value to doing long sets of push ups, but by the time you get to 30 or 40 reps you're working something different from absolute strength. Consider doing progressively harder pushup variations. It's also pretty easy to find a place to do dips, if you want a bodyweight exercise that works similar muscles but is harder. You can also load dips to a point holding by weight between your legs or even further by using something like this.

I would suggest doing chin ups or another back exercise, for the sake of balance. /r/bodyweightfitness has some good information about getting stronger using bodyweight exercise.
posted by Gymnopedist at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

This book helped me.
posted by seasparrow at 2:44 PM on May 6, 2016

fwiw, this problem (that once you can do 30 you're doing something different) is why people work with weights - you can always add more weight and get back to being able to do just a few.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:01 PM on May 6, 2016

I recommend reading about progressions over at the reddit bodyweight fitness wiki. I've been using their recommended routine for six months now and have almost constantly changed my style, first to improve form, which is crucial, and second to increase difficulty, without which there is no progression. I'm currently doing pseudo-planche push-ups, after reaching three sets of eight diamond push-ups.
posted by circular at 3:12 PM on May 6, 2016

Sets of 10 at intervals throughout the day definitely isn't too easy; in fact it's what's known as "greasing the groove".
posted by asterix at 3:20 PM on May 6, 2016

I enjoyed the Hundred Pushups program when I tried it for a while. They have apps that help you follow along with the program. Unfortunately, I think it's designed to accelerate the user much faster than anyone's capable of (this was certainly the case with me at least), but it does give you the option of redoing weeks.
posted by dondiego87 at 11:29 PM on May 6, 2016

What are you trying to achieve? The ability to do 100 pushups, or greater upper body strength? The burn is lactic acid build-up in the muscles: You don’t need to "feel the burn" to be building strength - quite the opposite. On the other hand if you want to be able to large numbers of pushups in a single session, then practising that is pretty much the only way to get there.

The research on building strength is pretty well established at this point. You build strength through small numbers of reps done to exhaustion. A typical strength building program will do 3-8 reps (different people will give you different numbers, but < 10 seems to be universal) of a particular exercise, doing two or three sets of reps, with a few minutes rest between sets. The load should be chosen so that you reach complete exhaustion on the end of the last rep of the last set. You also need rest days in between sessions in order for your body to build muscle - muscle building happens when you rest, not when you work out.

All this is detailed at great length in the r/fitness & r/bodywieghtfitness FAQs, and elsewhere on the internet & in reference texts.

Shorter version: if you want to get strong, do a harder push-up variant to exhaustion once every couple of days. If you want to be able to do 100 pushups at a time, then doing lots of push-ups is the way to do that (although building strength as well will help).
posted by pharm at 2:29 AM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's something fun to try. Get to 100 every other day. Doesn't matter how many you do in a row, just get to 100.

Some days you'll be sore and not feel like doing it. Ok. No prob. Skip a day.

But if you can hit 20, 25, 30, 32, 33... whatever on your first set, that's great. Go brush your teeth or shave, then give it another go and hit 10, 16, 19 or whatever more pushups.

So you're at 33+19=42 so only 58 more pushups to go. Don't have to do them right away, but if you do those in the evening, it'll make doing them right away a lot easier - later.

I'm back to 50:40:25 within 10 minutes and I'm working towards 50:50:50.
posted by porpoise at 3:21 AM on May 7, 2016

Depends what your goals are.

If you want to build strength, consider trying other pushup variations such as hindu pushups and handstand pushups. The latter is something that will take a while to work up to, but there are progressions. For explosive strength, consider clapping pushups, or simpler variations.

Ross Enamait does home workouts, and pushups are a staple for him.

A lot of martial arts have pushup variants as a staple of their conditioning regimes.

I actually do not understand those that discount the value of doing sets of high-rep pushups. If you're training for military or first-responder tests, high-rep pushups is what is tested.

True, high-reps don't build absolute max strength, but that is not the goal of pushups anyway. And this is coming from someone who has powerlifted for close to a decade (I love low reps...but not for pushups!).

Consider someone like Andrew Durniat, a great deadlifter and grip-athlete...in his foray into endurance training in recent years, he has incorporated sets of up to 100 pushups.

So consider high-rep pushups, and also other variants that are new and challenging to you.
posted by heliosanthus at 1:03 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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