Practically every former highschool student remembers the dreaded push-up test of their P.E. classes.
Surprisingly though, this particular test is more relevant to understanding one’s own physical limits than you may think - so much so that it is often used as a benchmark of whether an individual is of healthy upper body strength or not.
The maximum number of push-up repetitions an individual can perform will depend on their age, gender and general training experience.
Considering the fact that no two individuals are alike, the only surefire way of knowing how many push-ups you should do is by comparing your maximum effort to that of the average member of your demographic.
Before investigating how many push-ups you should be able to perform, first ensure that you are performing the exercise correctly.
Poor form or tempo can easily lead to an inaccurate maximum number, whether it be less than you are actually capable of or far too many.
To begin performing a push-up, the exerciser will lie on the ground in a plank position, their hands palms-down and approximately shoulder-width apart as the core muscles and glutes are flexed in a static position.
Then, bending at the elbows, the exerciser will lower their torso to the ground in a slow and controlled manner, retracting their scapula as they do so.
Once the chest is several inches away from coming into contact with the floor, the exerciser will push against the floor through their arms, rising back to the starting plank position once more.
This completes a repetition of the push-up exercise.
According to data collected by clinical researchers, the normal number of push-ups for a teenager (ages fifteen to nineteen) hovers somewhere between 19 and 34 repetitions, while those in their twenties will average at 17 to 29 repetitions.
Furthermore, men in their thirties average out at 13 to 24 repetitions and men beyond the age of forty generally averaging below 20 repetitions.
As can be seen from this data, there is a directly downward trend relating to upper body strength and age, as one may guess.
Though the general physical weakness that comes with aging is well-known, it is not a guaranteed fact, and there are plenty of older individuals who are stronger than the younger generation.
In addition, these are simply the averages of the demographics investigated by the studies, and are not a mathematical absolute. It is entirely possible for an individual to be below average in upper body strength yet still perform better than their average counterparts for whatever reason.
Basing our research upon separate data sets to that of the male demographic, it can be seen that teenagers (also ages fifteen to nineteen) can be expected to perform approximately 11 to 20 push-ups at maximum effort, whereas women in their twenties see a surprisingly improvement at an average of 12 to 23 push-ups.
For women in their thirties, the average maximum number of push-ups is somewhere between 10 and 21, while women beyond the age of forty average out at anywhere between 8 and 17 push-ups in a single sitting.
Beyond the age of fifty, the clinical median has been established to be somewhere between 6 and 14 repetitions in a single set.
Just as is the case with the data set of the male demographic, these are not mathematical absolutes, and are aggregated from a comparatively small sample size - meaning that if you perform less or more push-ups than the average woman of your age range, it does not necessarily mean you are physically stronger or weaker than your peers.
Now that you’ve established your performance in comparison to the average, you may be wondering how to go about surpassing this average.
The methods of improving your maximum push-up set are much the same as those employed to improve other factors relating to physical fitness; namely putting the body in a state of anabolism so as to induce muscular hypertrophy.
What this means is that inducing training stimulus via exercise and following it up with sufficient nutrient intake and rest will equate to steady progress of your push-up maximum.
This can be done by simply performing push-ups in a structured manner, or including more intense and complex resistance exercises like the bench press or dips so as to create a more efficient workout.
Once you have your workout programming down to pat, there are the factors of diet and rest - sufficient protein intake according to your bodyweight, achieving approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night and consuming sufficient calories must also be employed so as to maximize muscular hypertrophy.
These factors will inevitably result in your maximal push-up effort surpassing that of your previous record, especially if your training program is structured for this very purpose.
Push-ups (when performed in a controlled and measured setting) are an easily accessible method of testing the upper body strength of an individual.
They are often employed in clinical studies, military qualification tests and athletic try-outs so as to determine whether someone is suitable for a role or not.
However, even if you aren’t planning to sign up for the military or a football team, push-ups are still an excellent method of training the muscles of your chest, triceps and shoulders - so much so that even advanced level bodybuilders and calisthenic athletes still perform them so as to attain their various benefits.
If you can’t even perform a single push-up though, don’t worry; there are plenty of alternatives that can prepare your body prior to transitioning to the push-up.
Whether or not a maximal effort set of 20 repetition push-ups is sufficient will depend on several factors relating to your biology.
For women between the ages of 15 to 30, this is well within the average and is a good sign of upper body muscular strength.
Furthermore, for women beyond the ages of 30, this is in fact an excellent number and can indicate some level of physical training experience or particularly robust physical health.
However, for men between the age range of 15 to approximately 50, a maximal effort of 20 push-ups will fall somewhat short behind the demographic average, indicating that they may require a greater protein intake and a less sedentary lifestyle.
For men over the age of 50, a maximal effort set of 20 push-ups is ever-so-slightly beyond the average, indicating that they are as healthy as their peers in terms of skeletal muscle function.
While there are numerous types of push-up world records, the highest (confirmed) number of push-ups within a single hour was reported to be 3,182 repetitions - a feat performed by an Australian athlete already boasting the title of longest held plank position in the world.
Crossing the average age of the world’s male population of approximately 30 years old with the previously covered push-up statistics can indicate that the average man is capable of performing 13 to 24 push-ups.
It is important to note that this is combining two vastly different sets of data and may be inaccurate, as there has yet to be an international male-focused push-up study conducted by an academic team.
So, how do you measure up to the average?
Remember that quite a number of factors can go into how many push-up repetitions an individual can do - or even whether or not the data reported can actually reflect reality.
Factors like body proportions, a history of injury, bodyweight, training experience and even whether or not these push-up sets are done with correct form can all skew your maximum volume in one direction or another.
What is important is to ensure that you are improving in comparison to your past self, and following proper training methodology.
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2. Rozenek, Ralph; Byrne, Juliana Jason; Crussemeyer, Jill; Garhammer, John. Male-Female Differences in Push-up Test Performance at Various Cadences. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 13, 2021 - Volume - Issue - doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004091
3. Yang J, Christophi CA, Farioli A, et al. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(2):e188341. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341