Fitness fads come and go, but the push-up consistently ranks among the most common exercises. It isn't hard to figure out why either: Push-ups don't require any equipment, can be performed virtually anywhere, and are a great way to build upper body strength. Modern exercise routines and regimens can be overly complicated, but push-ups are about as simple and straightforward as it gets.
Despite their ease and simplicity, it's clear that many adults have neglected this exercise for a long, long time. Most Americans struggle to accomplish even just five consecutive push-ups, according to a recent survey. And more than half of the 1,400 people surveyed admitted they can't complete 10 push-ups in a row.
No one should be ashamed of themselves if they find push-ups challenging. Everyone is on their own personal fitness journey, and we all have to start somewhere. Even if you struggle to complete a single push-up, there are plenty of strategies to slowly build your strength. Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, told WebMD that push-up beginners can start by pushing up from your kitchen counter before slowly progressing to a chair, desk, and then the floor with your knees bent. From that point, it won't be long before you can perform a proper push-up on the floor with your legs extended.
The ability to complete a round of consecutive push-ups may not develop overnight, but it's a fitness journey well worth taking. There's a long list of benefits associated with push-ups that anyone and everyone can enjoy with just a little bit of dedication. Read on to learn more about the secret effects of doing more push-ups, and for more, check out 5 Ways to Get a Six-Pack, According to a Personal Trainer.
You'll improve your heart health
Did you know that heart disease is considered the number one cause of death in the United States? According to the CDC, an astounding one in four U.S. deaths can be attributed to a form of heart disease. Luckily, regularly performing push-ups can provide a serious boost to heart health.
One study published in JAMA Network Open tracked a group of male firefighters for a 10-year period. In comparison to men unable to complete 10 consecutive push-ups, those able to finish 40+ push-ups in a row were found to be 96% less likely to develop heart disease.
"Our findings provide evidence that push-up capacity could be an easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting," comments first study author Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
If 40 push-ups in a row sound like a tall order, don't feel discouraged. Participants capable of just 11 push-ups in a row were still 64% less at risk of heart disease.
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You'll burn more fat
We tend to think of push-ups as a purely muscle-building activity. That's certainly true, but working out and building muscle also leads to increased fat burning. Recent noteworthy research published in The FACEB Journal discovered that muscle-strengthening resistance exercises (like push-ups) actually jumpstart a molecular process within our bodies that "instructs" nearby fat cells to initiate "fat-burning mode."
More specifically, resistance exercises appear to cause the release of miR-1 from muscles into the bloodstream. Normally, this genetic material (miR-1) serves to contain and hinder muscle growth, but when it's released into the bloodstream, it both frees up muscles to grow and instructs nearby fat tissues to destroy themselves. Talk about two fitness benefits for the price of one exercise!
The connection between resistance exercises like push-ups and more fat burning is supported by a number of additional studies as well. This one published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism concludes that combining resistance workouts with the right diet can simultaneously preserve lean mass while doing away with excess body fat.
You'll sleep better
Maintaining the recommended amount of seven hours of shuteye per night is often easier said than done. If you could use some help entering dreamland, consider adding more push-ups to your daily routine. There's plenty of scientific evidence that strongly indicates muscle-building exercises like push-ups help improve both the time it takes to fall asleep and overall sleep duration.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that just a single session of resistance training was all it took to help a group of older adults considerably reduce the number of times they woke up throughout the night. Another study published in Preventive Medicine Reports that tracked over 20,000 people concluded that literally any amount of muscle-strengthening exercise is linked to improved sleep quality.
You'll get a meaningful full-body workout
Many people make the mistake of assuming push-ups alone don't constitute as a "meaningful workout." On the contrary, any personal trainer will tell you that push-ups benefit much more than just the upper body.
"They (push-ups) are also very good for your core if you do them with your butt down and waist locked because they act like a better version of a plank," Robert Herbst, 19-time World Champion Powerlifter, told Insider. "They are better than a standard plank because your abs are working in different ways to stabilize your body through shifting angles of effort… They enable you to get a full-body workout with no equipment."
Moreover, push-ups are by no means a "basic" upper-body workout. Consider the findings of this study, published in Sports Medicine International Open. Researchers compared the activation of eight upper-body muscles while performing a push-up with a typical bench-press motion. They noted no differences whatsoever in muscle activation between the two exercises.
Of course, adding more pounds than one's body weight to a bench press will increase the weight lifted in comparison to push-ups. But, if you aren't bench-pressing heavy weights to begin with, a round of push-ups can be just as beneficial. Alternatively, performing push-ups with a weighted body vest will also increase the amount of weight being lifted.
You'll build more strength
Another fantastic aspect of push-ups is how customizable they can be depending on one's personal fitness goals. Take this study, for instance, published in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering: Researchers conclude that if your main goal is to consecutively complete as many push-ups as possible, speed should be prioritized. However, if your number one aim is to build strength, take it slow and really feel the burn as you lift yourself up and down.
Another way to spice things up is the decline push-up (shown above). This one is harder to perform than a regular push-up considering your feet are up on a higher surface (like a box, bench, or step), but if you're looking for a challenge, this move can double the impact of your push-up power.
For more, check out One Major Effect Exercise Has on Your Happiness, New Study Says.