How to Do More Push-Ups

Man doing push-ups at home
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The push-up test is universally recognized as an excellent measure of upper body strength and endurance. For this reason, the push-up test is an essential part of physical fitness training for the military (including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) and first responders like police and firefighters. Follow these tips to learn how to do more push-ups, build your upper body strength and endurance, and ace your next fitness test.​

Push-Up Basics for Beginners

Before you begin a push-up training workout, it's helpful to know the six scientific principles of fitness training. With this knowledge, you'll learn how to improve your fitness in a safe and systematic way. If you understand the concepts of overload, progression, adaptation, specificity, etc., you will be better able to train effectively. Here are some of the basics.

  • Understand your individual needs: There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach when it comes to exercise. This means that a strength training program should be customized to suit your needs and how you respond to exercise, which vary based on factors like body size and shape, genetics, chronic conditions, injuries, and even sex. If you're still building your upper body and core strength, you will likely benefit from performing push-ups on your hands and knees first.
  • Gradually increase your workout load: In order for the heart and muscles to get stronger, the workout load must be gradually increased compared to what you are normally accustomed to. For instance, as you start to get stronger, you can try a set of five regular push-ups in between sets of modified push-ups.
  • Incorporate challenges: To build strength over time, you'll want to make your workouts tougher by incorporating new fitness challenges into your routines. To increase your level of fitness for push-ups, you could try challenges such as holding a plank position for 60 seconds or trying variations like spiderman push-ups.
  • Listen to your body: As you continue to get stronger, your body will naturally start to adapt to the increased workload and challenges you're presenting it with. However, it's important to listen to your body's cues for any sign of pain or distress to avoid injury. If you feel any pinching sensation or pain in your upper body, shoulders, or wrists, lower to your knees and do modified push-ups or stop the exercise and rest.
  • Consistency is key: As the saying goes, "use it or lose it." Failure to stay consistent with your workout schedule can result in deconditioning and muscular atrophy. If you want to improve your push-ups, you will need to continue to incorporate push-ups into your workouts.
  • Remember to rest: Recovery from exercise is just as important as the physical effort itself. Be sure to cross-train other muscles in your body and include lighter activities such as walking, stretching, or yoga. Most fitness trainers recommend resting from all exercise 1–2 days per week depending on your level of fitness. That means it is not necessary to do push-ups on rest days.

Use Good Form

Push-ups are a compound exercise, meaning they involve multiple joints and work different muscle groups at the same time. You'll feel most of the work in your upper body—primarily the deltoids of your shoulders, the pectoral muscles of the chest, the triceps and biceps, and the muscles on either side of the spine in the back body. In addition, you'll use your abdominal muscles to help you maintain proper alignment and technique.

Before you start cranking out multiple reps, it's important to practice good push-up form. In a high plank position with your hands placed slightly more than shoulder-width apart, focus on the neutral alignment of your spine and neck to avoid sagging in the middle. As you lower and lift, you'll also want to avoid locking out your elbows. Follow these five steps to practice good push-up form.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders.
  2. Extend your legs back and tuck your toes under as you lift your knees off the floor. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe and avoid sagging in the middle or arching your back. You can place your feet a little wider or narrower depending on what helps you feel more stable.
  3. Before you lower, draw your belly button in toward your spine to engage your core.
  4. On an inhale, start to bend your elbows and keep them hugged in as you lower yourself until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle.
  5. As you exhale, contract your chest muscles and push back up through your hands to return to your starting position. Remember to avoid locking your elbows; keep them slightly bent to keep your triceps and biceps engaged.

If you're still working on building up your strength for standard push-ups, you can modify them by lowering to your knees, using an incline, or standing up and facing a wall. Modifications are useful if you're are unable to lower all the way down.

Create a Push-Up Routine

The best way to stick to a workout and build up strength for your push-ups is to create a regular routine and make it part of a weekly workout regimen. You might start your cardio or strength training workout with a few sets of push-ups, or add them to a circuit of high-intensity exercises. Here are a few tips to help get you started.

Set Your Baseline Repetitions

To find the number of repetitions you should perform in each set, do as many push-ups as you can in two minutes and divide this number by three. This is your baseline repetition count. Each workout will generally include three sets of this number of repetitions.

Start With the Basics

Do a push-up workout every other day (such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Warm up with a slow jog, cycling on a stationary bike, or jumping rope. Perform your basic workout with three sets of repetitions with a 30-second rest between sets. Each week, add two to three repetitions to your sets. Retest yourself every four weeks and set a new repetition baseline.

Add Variety

There is an endless number of ways to vary your push-up workout. Consider changing your hand placement during repetitions. Mix it up by starting your reps with narrow hand placement, and progressively widening your hand placement during each set.

Vary Your Body Position

Just as you can move your hand position during a push-up, you can also change your body position to increase or decrease the intensity of the exercise.

  • To increase intensity: Try decline push-ups (with your feet elevated), stability ball push-ups, or plyometric push-ups (clap your hands between reps).
  • To decrease intensity: Do hand-release push-ups, or do your push-ups on your knees, on a box or bench, or against a wall.

Add Resistance

Elevating your feet while doing push-ups will increase resistance, but it also changes your range of motion. To increase resistance during a standard push-up, you can add a weighted vest or wear a close-fitting backpack filled with sandbags or water bladders.

End With the Plank

The final minute of your push-up workout can be dedicated to improving core strength and stability, which is essential during the push-up. The plank exercise is a perfect way to round out your upper body workout. Try to hold the plank for 30–60 seconds, and finish with a long, slow, prone back extension at the end of the workout.

Rest and Recover

If you are performing push-up exercises to fatigue, you will need to allow at least one day of recovery between push-up workouts. Practicing push-ups every day, if done to fatigue, can backfire and result in a decrease in strength and endurance.

Push-Up Tips

In order to get better at push-ups, it's important to remember that practice makes perfect. If the idea of a regular push-up routine seems daunting, here are some tips that can help make it easier to stick with it:

  • Maintain good form
  • Rest between sets
  • Log your workouts so you can track your progress
  • Vary your workouts to avoid boredom
  • Incorporate other upper-body workouts into your routine
  • Practice often
  • Don't skimp on rest days
  • Stop if you experience pain

If you experience pain when doing an exercise, you should stop immediately and consult your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you increase the number of push-ups you can do in a minute?

After you've perfected your push-up form and technique, set a timer for one minute and count how many push-ups you can do with good form before the timer goes off. Log the number of push-ups you were able to do and then repeat the timed exercise one or two more times. If you get fatigued and lose good form, modify the push-ups by lowering to your knees or using an incline or the wall. The key for these repeated sets is to focus on strength building, not increasing your count.

Give your upper body time to rest before repeating the timed exercise in a couple of days. Continue the cycle and with time and practice, you will gradually increase the number of push-ups you can do in a minute.

How often should you do push-ups to increase your count?

You can safely perform push-ups every other day until you're strong enough to do them daily (with the exception of a rest day). Remember that overtraining with excessive push-ups could result in injury. Consistency is key when it comes to increasing your upper body strength and push-up count.

A Word From Verywell

Push-ups are a compound exercise that can build strength and endurance when performed regularly. Push-ups are one of the best upper body exercises you can do and can easily be done just about anywhere at any time without the need for special equipment. Remember to maintain good form to avoid injury so you can continue to get stronger over time and meet your fitness goals.

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