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How Much Weight Am I Lifting in a Push-Up?

How Much Weight Are You Really Lifting in a Push-Up?

Push-ups. I bet you love, or love to hate them. This weight-bearing exercise is fantastic at sculpting your shoulders and arms, building up your pecs (and for us ladies, giving us a little lift!), and making your back look just incredible.

But, they’re not easy! So, I understand why when Tony Horton or Shaun T tells you to knock out a set of push-ups in P90X or INSANITY, you groan. And, after a few sets of these grueling exercises, perhaps you’ve started to wonder: How much weight am I really pushing here? What percent of my body weight am I lifting? Can I do push-ups on my knees instead? And, if I need to do them on my knees, should I bother doing them at all?

Articles published within the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that men lifted about 66.4% of their body weight with each rep when they did a push-up on their toes. On their knees, they lifted about 52.9% of their body weight. In other words, a 180-pound man will lift 119.5 pounds per rep doing a regular push-up and 95.2 pounds doing a push-up on their knees. Women lift slightly less of their body weight per rep, but the difference is negligible.

Want to determine approximately how much you’re lifting? Put your scale on level ground and place your hands on it and do a push-up on your toes. Have a friend read the number on the scale if you cannot. Then, repeat the exercise, but this time, do the push-up on your knees. The number you see is approximately how much body weight you’re lifting though the number will vary depending on your arm position (i.e. military, diamond, wide, etc.)

How to do the perfect push up:
Whether you’re on your toes or on your knees, it’s important to have the proper form. To do a perfect pushup:
1. Get into plank position and make sure your hands are aligned with your shoulders but just wider than them. Tighten your core.
2. Lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor, tucking your elbows in as you do. When you’re at the bottom, your arms should be at 45-degree angle. Keep your back flat and do not let your back or hips sag.

If you can’t do a push-up on your toes yet, don’t give up! You’re still getting a great workout.

For the few of you who want to make your push-up harder and lift more of your body weight, here are some tips from easiest to hardest:
1. Slow it down. By taking more time to do each repetition, you increase the time that each muscle must stay contracted.
2. Bring your hands and feet closer together to move your center of gravity forward and make your shoulders, pecs, back, and triceps do more work. Tighten your core to protect your lower back.
3. Change the angle. Place your feet on a stable surface – such as a plyo box or weight bench – and keep your hands on the ground. This puts more of your weight onto your shoulders.
4. Move away from a stable surface and do your push-ups on a medicine ball or balance ball as demonstrated in P90X2. These exercises will not only challenge those muscles groups but also force you to tighten your core to stay balanced.
5. Forget push-ups. Do handstands instead.

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