Push-ups are one of those exercises that most of us have a love/hate relationship with. We love how effectively they can strengthen numerous muscle groups at once without the need for any equipment. Yet they’re far from easy—and they’re often frowned upon or dreaded when we see them in our workout plans for the day.
But, how many push-ups will you be able to do? And what does it mean if you’re unable to do a single push-up from your legs? The push-up test is a way to test yourself in just 60 seconds to see how you stack up against others—and past versions of yourself.
What is the push up test?
The push-up test measures your muscular endurance by challenging you to perform as many reps (from your legs) as possible in 60 seconds, explains Robin Barrett, Pharm D., a NASM certified personal trainer and pharmacist. You can compare that number to the average.
Muscular endurance is one of the five components of health-related physical fitness. The push-up test can give you an idea of how you fare compared to your peers. More importantly, you can use the push-up test as a benchmark to return to periodically to assess whether your workouts are increasing your endurance, at least in terms of the upper body muscles worked by the push-ups.
For many people, even attempting one or two full push-ups from your legs can be nearly impossible, which may indicate a need to improve your upper body strength.
How to do the push-up test
- Begin in a high plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart, your elbows and knees fully extended and the spine in a neutral position.
- Bend your elbows 90 degrees and lower your chest to the floor before returning to the starting position.
- Repeat this movement pattern as many times as possible using proper form for 60 seconds.
Note: Your body must lower the elbow to at least 90 degrees for all reps to count.
Once you’ve got your number, check how it fares against the norms for your age and biological sex at birth (according to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology).
|15-19 years||18-24 push ups|
|20-29 years||15-20 push ups|
|30-39 years||13-19 push ups|
|40-49 years||11-14 push ups|
|50-59 years||7-10 push ups|
|60+ years||5-11 push ups|
|15-19 years||23-28 push ups|
|20-29 years||22-28 push ups|
|30-39 years||17-21 push ups|
|40-49 years||13-16 push ups|
|50-59 years||10-12 push ups|
|60+ years||8-10 push ups|
Tips to get better at push-ups
If your score falls below average, don’t worry. With proper training you can become absolutely good at push-ups.
The primary muscles worked by push-ups are the pecs of the chest, the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles of the shoulders, the triceps of the back of the upper arms, and the muscles of the upper back such as the trapezius and rhomboids. Push-ups also require core strength, so strengthening your abdominal muscles and lower back will make it easier for you to stabilize your spine and maintain proper posture without letting your hips move.
Exercises like forehead planks and high planks (push-up position with your hands under your shoulders) can be a great place to start.
Once you’re ready to start moving, Dr. Barrett says the best way to get stronger for push-ups is to focus on the eccentric (lower) part of the movement. “The speed of your movement in the lower range is very important in achieving hypertrophy or muscle growth,” he explains. “Try to lower yourself slowly for two to four seconds before coming back up.” This movement may feel painfully slow, but deliberately slowing down forces your muscles to oppose gravity, which ultimately creates more power.
Using correct form is also important. “To achieve optimal push-up form, try to retract your shoulder blades and squeeze your glutes,” says Dr. Barrett. “This will keep your body and neck in alignment with your spine and prevent injury.”
For many people, however, starting with push-ups with your feet on the ground is too challenging. Push-ups are a perfectly acceptable (and normal!) way to start making changes. “It’s okay to start in a modified position with your knees on the ground,” says Dr. Barrett. “Lower your body for two seconds until your chest almost touches the floor. Pause briefly, then push yourself back up for two seconds and repeat.”
If this is still too difficult, start with incline push-ups with your hands against a wall or with your feet back on a desk or table. Make sure your body is in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. The reclining position will reduce the force of gravity on your body, making it easier to move fully.
“Be kind to yourself when learning push-ups. They can be very difficult at first, mainly due to a lack of core and upper-body strength,” says Dr. Barrett. “Keep training in those areas and your push-ups will get better!”