With it being one of the hardest exercises out there, you probably don’t wake up wondering how many push-ups you have to do in a day. (Is the answer zero? No?) They’re tiring and require a lot of muscle recruitment, but you have to admit that push-ups are an effective way to build strength.
The pushup is a classic bodyweight exercise that gives your upper body a good workout, says Theresia Daniel, NASM-certified personal trainer. It works your pectoral muscles—aka the front of your chest—plus the triceps and anterior deltoids in your shoulders, she tells Bustle.
Because you have to stabilize yourself in a plank position at the top of the movement, the move also targets your core and challenges your stability. “You need good control of your core muscles to keep you in the push-up position,” says Daniel. As an added bonus, she says your wrists get some exercise, too, as they work to keep you still.
Push-ups are also a good move to improve your posture. “It engages your back muscles, and when done correctly, you get this nice alignment from the crown of the head to the tailbone that lengthens your spine,” says Whitney Berger, CPT, a certified personal trainer and founder of WhitFitNYC.
Pushups may be a very basic move, but they’re one that can be done anytime you need a quick workout or don’t have any equipment, says fitness trainer Lois Manzella Marchitto. “They have a lot of advantages, they’re very versatile, and they’re good for all fitness levels,” she told Bustle. So how many push-ups should you do per day in order to reap the most benefits? Read on to find out what the trainers recommend. (I grabbed one to be the magic number.)
How many push-ups should be done per day
The number of push-ups you do per day will vary depending on your fitness level and goals. To focus on the right amount for you, start by discovering why you want to do them, says Daniel.
If you’re a beginner looking to improve your upper body strength, Daniel recommends doing as many push-ups as you can while maintaining good form—even if it’s just one. “Practice either every day or every other day,” she told Bustle. “When you’re new to exercising, it’s important not to overdo it. The key is to stay consistent and listen to your body.”
Once you can do a good push-up, Marchitto recommends slowly building up to 10 to 20 reps a day. This will create a balance as you work your muscles without overtraining them. If you get to a point where 20 push-ups feel like a breeze, then you can aim to do more.
For a real challenge, do 100 push-ups a day. “You don’t have to do them all at once,” says Daniel. (Phew.) “You can break it up into 10 sets of 10 or four sets of 25. Doing rep challenges while focusing on form can be a fun way to work differently with a core exercise.”
In general, the number of push-ups you do is just as important as how good you are at them. “It’s better to do fewer push-ups well than many push-ups poorly, especially if you’re a beginner,” says Daniel. “Every rep basically teaches your body how you want it to perform, so it’s best to get as many good reps as possible.”
Not only does poor form diminish the benefits of the movement by focusing on the wrong muscles, but it can also lead to injury. “If you’re experiencing pain—not muscle fatigue—while doing push-ups, you should record a video of yourself and see if there’s anything obvious that you’re doing wrong,” Daniel recommends.
How to do push-ups well
Here, Marchitto explains how to do push-ups with proper form.
Start on the floor in a four-legged position.
Place your hands next to your chest, slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
– Extend your legs back with your knees and feet hip-width apart.
Look down the whole time to keep your neck neutral and your back straight.
Maintain a slight diagonal line between your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles.
Engage your heart and muscles.
Bend your elbows to lower your body in a straight line down to the floor.
– hovering above the ground.
Engage your shoulders to push into the ground.
Lift your body back in a straight line.
– If your form starts to fail, take a break.
How to get better at push-ups
If your goal is to get better at doing pushups, all you have to do is, well, more pushups. “If you’re really sore after doing 20 push-ups, do half that amount until you gain more strength,” says Daniel.
As you work to get stronger, it’s okay to modify your push-up by dropping your knees. “Some people also use an elevated surface instead of putting their hands on the floor, which makes it less difficult and more effective for people who can’t do a full push-up on the floor,” says Daniel. “Don’t be afraid to modify your workout to suit your own needs.”
It’s also important to take breaks while training – so you don’t feel like you have to do push-ups every day. “The body needs time to recover and integrate the new movements you’re teaching it,” Daniel adds. “Recovery can look like taking a day or two off, practicing joint mobility to make sure you’re able to work through your full range of motion, eating nutritious meals, and getting enough sleep.” With time and practice, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a bona fide master.
Calatayud, J. (2014). Muscle activation during push-ups with different suspension training systems. Journal of Sports Science and MedicineAnd 13(3), 502-510. https://doi.org/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126284/
Kim, S.; (2016). Effect of push-ups with different palmar widths on muscle activities. Journal of Physical Therapy ScienceAnd 28(2), 446-449. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.446
Theresia Daniel, NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Luis Manzella Marchito, Fitness Instructor
Whitney Berger, CPT, Certified Personal Trainer, Founder of WhitFitNYC