May 08, 2021 10 min read

If you’re reading this, odds are that you can recall the physical fitness test from your elementary school gym class. 

Back then, the test measured your physical fitness abilities against national standards to give you an idea of how physically fit you were.  It looked at different exercises including push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, to determine your fitness level.

While this is a clear standard for kids to determine how fit they are, is there a standard for adults and people who want to build muscle?  For push-ups specifically, how many push-ups should you be able to do to consider yourself physically fit?

If you want to know if your push-up abilities meet standard marks or if the number of push-ups you do is conducive to you getting jacked, then read this guide.

a man doing push ups in a gym

Why You Should Do Push-Ups

Regardless of your age or fitness level, doing push-ups is beneficial.  And, whether your goal is weight loss or building more upper body strength, push-ups can help you reach your goals.  Consider these top benefits of doing push-ups.

1. Push-Ups Use Bodyweight as a From or Strength Training

Push-ups are a classic bodyweight exercise in which you use your own body as a means for building strength.  Bodyweight exercises including push-ups are also known as calisthenic exercises.  Benefits of doing calisthenic exercises include:

Therefore, you should unquestionably integrate push-ups and push-up variations into your workout routine if you want to get more fit.

2. Push-Ups Are a Full-Body Exercise

Push-ups are best for building upper body strength.  They primarily target your:

  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Shoulders

However, they also work smaller muscle groups in your upper body as well as your lower body including your abs and glutes.  And, certain push-up variations can give you some cardio benefits.  Moreover, push-ups are an effective way to work out your entire body at once.

3. Push-Ups are Generally Low-Impact

Weight training tends to take a toll on your body.  Although you may always want to lift heavy, it can leave you with painful joints and muscles (and not the good kind of pain). Rather than lifting each time you go to the gym, try one day per week of just low-impact strength training exercises such as push-ups. 

Most bodyweight exercises including push-ups create less of a strain on your body than that of free weights or machines.  As a result, your body is going to be in better shape in the end because it has less pain yet you’re still getting the muscle-building benefits of bodyweight exercises.

How Many Push-Ups You Should Be Able to Do

There is no single way to determine how many push-ups you should be able to do. Factors such as your age, gender, and fitness level all factor into how many consecutive push-ups you should be able to do.

However, there are different standardized tests, including the push-up test you did in elementary school gym class, that tells you how many push-ups you should be able to do given your personal factors.  These standardized tests come from different organizations including the military and medical researchers. 

While each of these organizations is going to give you a different answer as to how many consecutive push-ups you should be able to do, you can at least gauge from them if you’re keeping up with their basic standards.

tactical instructor in sunglasses examining multicultural soldiers doing push ups on range

Military Push-Up Standards

Each branch of the military has different standards for push-ups.  For example, what navy seals are required to do isn’t the same as what those in the army need to do.

However, let’s look at the basic male push-up standards for the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) which are required for each guy to do during basic training

The Army sets its standards in terms of age groups:

  • Age 17 - 21: at least 35 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 22 - 26: at least 31 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 27 - 31: at least 30 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 32 - 36: at least 26 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 37 - 41: at least 24 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 42 - 46: at least 21 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 47 - 51: at least 16 consecutive push-ups
  • Age 52 - 56: at least 11 consecutive push-ups

So, if you go by the Army’s standards, these numbers tell you how many push-ups you should be able to do to be considered physically fit enough to move beyond basic training.  While you may never enter the military, these military standards are worth comparing yourself to considering that a lot of people in the army are shredded.

Scientific and Medical Standards

A second way to determine how many push-ups you should be able to do is to use the standards set by scientists.  For example, Dr. Lawrence A. Golding has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and put together a set of what he calls push up test norms

Like the military standards, these norms tell you how many push-ups you should do based on how old you are. Dr. Golding created a table for men and women that tells you if the number of push-ups you can do given your age is either “excellent”, “good”, “above average”, “average”, “below average”, “poor”, or “very poor”.

Here is what he would consider being “average” push-up norms for men based on age:

  • 17 to 19 year-olds: 19 to 34 push-ups
  • 20 to 29 year-olds: 17 to 29 push-ups
  • 30 to 39 year-olds: 13 to 24 push-ups
  • 40 to 49 year-olds: 11 to 20 push-ups
  • 50 to 59 year-olds: 9 to 17 push-ups
  • 60 to 65 year-olds: 6 to 16 push-ups

So, if you’re able to surpass this number of push-ups, then you are considered to be of at least average push-up ability. As you can see, these numbers are way different than the ones used by the military.  Therefore, be sure to take them with a grain of salt, and don’t define your abilities solely on these numbers.

Is It Necessary to Do Tons of Push-Up Reps?

As you can see, there really is no clear way to determine how many push-ups you should be able to do.  You can compare yourself to certain standards but, at the end of the day, your traits as an individual plus your fitness goals make it hard to determine exactly how many you should be able to do.

However, isn’t it pointless in terms of gains to do lightweight exercises like push-ups over and over again?  Isn’t the best way to gain to lift as much as possible without breaking form even if it’s only for a few reps?  Well, the answer is yet again both yes and no.

There’s a lot of talk these days that the only way to gain is to lift and lift heavy.  That would mean that, for many people, push-ups would be pointless because they don’t consider their body weight heavy enough for making gains.

However, research in recent years has shown that lifting lighter amounts of weight for more reps could be just as effective in terms of getting more gains as lifting really heavy for only a few reps.

Consider research done at McCaster University where they found that men split into two groups gained an equal amount of muscle when one group lifted lighter weight for more reps and the other group lifted heavier weight for only a few reps.

Specifically, half of the men lifted only 50% of their maximum strength for 20 to 25 reps while the other half lifted 90% of their maximum strength for 8 to 12 reps. As a result, both groups gained the same amount of muscle mass. 

The researchers determined that for both groups, once they reached their point of fatigue, they were both activating equal amounts of muscle fibers to generate more force.

Therefore, if you’re one of those people who think that doing lighter weight strength training exercises like push-ups for many reps is pointless in terms of building muscle, you might be wrong. What is key to continuous gains is to either add more reps over time or do a more difficult variation as you improve. 

For example, if you do 50 push-ups a day for weeks on end, eventually your muscle gains will plateau and you won’t see anymore progress. The key to seeing continuous growth is to either add in more reps or do some harder variation otherwise you’re going to plateau.

Proper Push-Up Form

Once again, form is king when it comes to success.  Doing push-ups in the correct form is going to ensure that you get the maximum amount of benefits.  The number of reps you do won’t matter unless you have good form.

Here’s how to do push-ups the right way:

  • Keep your hands right under your shoulders: Before starting your push-up, make sure that your hands are stacked right underneath your shoulders with your hands turned only slightly outward.
  • Lock your elbows into the sides of your body: A very common push-up mistake people make is pointing their elbows outwards from their body rather than keeping them locked in at the sides of their body.  As you drop down into the push-up, your elbows should almost touch the sides of your torso.  This way, you’ll target the correct muscles that push-ups are intended to work.
  • Create one long line with your body: Perhaps the worst mistake you can make with push-ups is dropping your hips down or pointing them up into the air so that your spine is not neutral.  Keeping your spine nice and straight is essential to preventing injuries.  Visualize a long line from the top of your head to your heels and try to maintain that throughout the entire exercise.  Not only will this prevent injuries but it’ll prevent cheating the push-up.

Leveled-Down Push-Up Variations

If you’re struggling with proper push-up form or want to get to the point where you can easily do enough standard push-ups on your toes, start with these leveled-down variations.

1. Knee Push-Ups

Probably the most well-known easier push-up variation is knee push-ups.  Rather than balancing on your toes, you balance on your knees and put your toes in the air so your legs create a V-shape.

To do knee push-ups, drop into a regular push-up position except go onto your knees for the plank position rather than your toes. Then, everything else is the same from there on out. Knee push-ups take some of the work off of your core and shoulders and redistribute it to your knees.

2. Incline Push-Ups

If you want to take some of the work off of your upper body, then try incline push-ups. Take the bench from a bench press and rest your hands on it with your shoulders hovering directly over your hands.  Move your feet back so your body is at least a 45-degree angle and then drop down into a push-up.

3. Dumbbell Push-Ups

Push-ups tend to cause pain in people’s wrists.  Having all of your body weight on the palms of your hands is what typically causes that pain. One way to take that pain off is by using dumbbells for push-ups.

Rather than putting your hands flat on the floor, in each hand, grab onto the handle of a dumbbell so that your hands form a fist.  This should take some of the weight off of your wrists and be less likely to cause pain.

Athlete young man doing one-arm push-up exercise

Leveled-Up Push-Up Variations

If your goal is to build muscle, then doing the same amount of push-ups every day isn’t going to help you out all that much.  Eventually, you’ll hit a wall where you’ll no longer be challenging yourself and therefore won’t build as much muscle. 

So, rather than doing the same amount of countless push-ups, try to challenge yourself with some of these leveled-up push-up variations.  They’ll increase the challenge on your muscles causing you to get stronger and gain more mass.

1. TRX Push-Up

The TRX push-up is going to particularly challenge your core because it requires a lot of stability. Start by looping your ankles into the handles of the TRX.  Then, lift yourself onto the palms of your hands so that you’re in a plank position. 

The TRX bands should be the proper length so that your body is in a straight line and completely horizontal with the ground.  You don’t want it to be too long or too short.

Try to do as many pushups as you can with your feet bound to the TRX.  You want to make sure that you’re not swinging around but are completely stable and the only thing bending is your arms.

2. Spiderman Push-Ups

Spiderman push-ups are going to work everything harder from your triceps to your glutes to your chest. Start in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.  Then, as you drop down into the first push-up, pull your right knee towards your right elbow, then move it back as you press yourself back up. 

Then, on the second push-up, pull your left knee towards your left elbow and move it back as you press back up.  Continue alternating between the right and left knees for as long as your can.

Make sure that you're pulling your knees on the outside of your body rather than underneath your chest like you would for mountain climbers.  Also, try to maintain that straight line from your head to your heels throughout the entire exercise.

3. Single-Arm Push-Ups

Rather than equally distributing your body weight between your two hands, now it will all be on one hand at a time. To start single-arm push-ups, drop into a plank position but with your legs straddled out beyond shoulder-width. 

Get on your right arm and stabilize yourself then put your left arm along your left thigh and drop into a push-up.  Switch to the other arm once you’re ready.

Unlike regular push-ups where your toes are pointed right at the ground, this time they will rotate slightly towards the direction of the arm you are not using to do the push-up.  Your core should also twist slightly towards the arm you have lifted.

The Bottom Line on How Many Push-Ups You Should Do

Whether you’re new to working out or already have a full-out exercise program, be sure to make push-ups a part of your routine.  While you may never beat out the world record for the most consecutive push-ups (which is 10,507), you should nonetheless have a push-up routine if you don’t already have one.

Since there is no exact way to determine how many you should be able to do, just push yourself to see how many you can do at once and then keep upping that number until your maximum number increases.  This way, you’ll make the gains you want to achieve.

Bonus tip: Want to be able to do more push-ups? Then start doing dead hangs which use almost all of the same muscles needed to do push-ups.


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