The familiar, humble pushup is a simple exercise that engages muscles throughout your entire body. You can do them virtually anywhere and without any equipment, sports physical therapist Wendy Cao Noakes told Health Digest. You can make them easier by dropping one or both knees, or harder by placing one hand behind your back. You can even target different muscle groups just by changing your hand placement.
It’s no wonder pushups have reportedly been around since at least the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine made pushups part of his routine. Of course, he didn’t call them "pushups." That’s said to have come from strongman Jerick Revilla, who introduced the modern pushup to the general public in the early 1900s.
Nowadays, the pushup is a fundamental fitness move and a litmus test by which to measure your fitness level. For example, Navy SEALs must perform a minimum of 50 pushups, although 80-100 is considered "competitive," according to military.com. And speaking of 100 pushups, the One Hundred Pushups challenge, which has been around for years, is showing no signs of slowing down. But does that mean we should be doing them every single day? According to the experts, this is what happens when you stick to a daily pushups routine.
When you do pushups every day, you may feel less stressed
Pushups are not only excellent for building strength and definition in your pectoral muscles and triceps, they are a fantastic way to immediately reduce stress, fitness expert Andrea Marcellus told Health Digest. The reason: Pushups are a total body exercise demanding a large number of your muscles to fire at one time. Your body responds to that by increasing your heart rate for the purpose of rushing oxygen into your system. That increased level of oxygen immediately releases endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals in your brain that act as your body’s built-in mood elevators. The resulting flood of endorphins, which is the basis for the "runner’s high" you’ve likely heard about or experienced, engenders feelings of relaxation and even optimism. In addition, moderate amounts of exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The key here, however, is moderation — because working out too much can cause the body to release excess stress hormones.
Doing pushups every day will help you focus better
Performing pushups can help improve your mental focus, according to fitness expert Andrea Marcellus. In the same way that we tend to feel less stress when we are less distracted and better able to focus, our focus likewise improves when we are less stressed. Performing pushups can help to reduce stress through the release of feel-good chemicals (endorphins) and by curbing the amount of stress hormones circulating through our bodies.
Moreover, we don’t have to tell you that the heart pumps faster in response to strenuous exercise. It does so for the purpose of rushing oxygen to wherever it might be needed in the body. That sweet rush of oxygen immediately "wakes" your system, making you feel instantly more alert — even if you were feeling overwhelmed and sluggish before you began. Who knew this simple exercise could be so powerful?
Performing pushups every day can help improve your metabolism
When you do pushups every day, you are doing a yourself a huge favor in terms of anti-aging. First, performing pushups can contribute to speeding up the metabolism, which is something we can all use as we get older. One of the sneakiest tools in aging’s arsenal is that, by default, our bodies steadily lose muscle mass over time. This is known clinically as sarcopenia, and it’s sarcopenia we can thank for the loss of as much as 3 percent to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade. Most men will lose about 30 percent of their muscle mass during their lifetimes, according to Harvard Health.
Since muscle mass helps fuel our metabolic fire, this loss of lean muscle mass contributes to an increasingly sluggish metabolism. And an increasingly sluggish metabolism contributes to an increase in body fat (and decrease in lean muscle mass). And so the cycle goes.
The good news, however, is that engaging in weight-bearing exercise helps to avoid the "default" aging setting by increasing the size and strength of our muscles. Since pushups can be done anywhere, any time, and without any equipment, they’re a perfect weight-bearing, anti-aging antidote.
When you do pushups every day, you’re strengthening your core
Since the classic pushup consists of placing hands on the floor and then using our arms, shoulders, chest, and back to lower our body weight and then blast on back up, it’s pretty much a given that pushups are associated with upper body strength. However, when done properly, the pushup is also an effective core workout, Health Digest learned from Dr. Brittany Robles, an obstetrician-gynecologist and NASM-certified personal trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum fitness.
To do a pushup at all, let alone properly, it is necessary to form a strong and stable connection throughout the torso, without which your frontside would drop to the floor, according to Robles. To create that strong, stable connection, it is necessary to engage all the muscles of the core, including the transverse abdominus, which tends to be neglected in many of our daily activities and many of our workouts. The fact that pushups can engage the transverse abdominus is among the things that make pushups such a well-rounded exercise (and one which can help keep us from becoming "well rounded," so to speak).
Doing pushups every day can help you do more pushups
"Doing pushups every day will lead to significant improvement in the strength of your chest, triceps, anterior shoulders, and core," according to Dr. Brittany Robles, an obstetrician-gynecologist and NASM-certified personal trainer. And what’s that mean? You’ll be able to do more and more pushups, of course!
Robles’ view is supported by a 2020 study published in the scientific journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, in which researchers analyzed the effects of pushups on 92 recruits from a couple New England firefighter academies. The researchers found was that while the recruits were enrolled in their respective academies (and performing pushups daily), their pushup capacity improved from a median of 34 per minute to 53 per minute. As you might expect, once the training program ended, the new firefighters went on to lose some of those gains. As they say, use it or lose it.
When you do pushups every day, your confidence soars
Committing to doing — and then actually doing — a daily round of pushups can do amazing things for one’s self confidence, according to Ahmad Mickens, founder and head boxing and personal training coach at Revolution Training in Stamford, Connecticut. "I’m a strong believer in consistency," Mickens told Health Digest. "Doing something every day builds good habits and routine. When you build a good habit, it spreads through all areas of your lifestyle, thus building strong self-esteem and confidence." Pushups are one of the foundational exercises at Revolution Training, a place where the non-profit youth boxing program was designed to empower and raise the self-esteem of children.
Mickens’ beliefs are echoed by a 2017 study published in Psychology of Sports and Exercise, which demonstrated that working out has a positive effect on self-esteem and that these effects continue long after the workout is over.
When you do pushups every day, your posture could improve
"When done correctly and part of a balanced program that also includes pulling, a daily pushup practice could help correct your posture and maintain it by strengthening the shoulder girdle, making the shoulders appear less rounded," certified fitness trainer Rick Richey told Health Digest. And personal trainer Darlene Bellarmino agrees. In an interview with Health Digest, Ballarmino added that pushups also enhance good posture because they help to build a stronger core.
While you may be primarily interested in improving your posture to improve your appearance, posture’s importance reaches far beyond looks. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the Korea Academia-Industrial Cooperation Society demonstrated that pushups could help adults with the spinal condition known as forward head posture not only to stand taller but also to increase their lung function. Good posture has also been linked with fewer headaches, better digestion, and increased energy levels, according to Healthline.
When you do pushups every day, your cardiovascular health may improve
Although pushups are often thought of as a form of "anaerobic" conditioning as opposed to "aerobic," a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a relationship between pushup capacity and cardiovascular health. Specifically, the study found that active, middle-aged men who were able to complete more than 40 pushups had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease in the subsequent 10 years than active, middle-aged men who were able to do less than 10 pushups.
When asked to elaborate on the significance of this research, lead study author Justin Yang, occupational medicine resident in the department of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, stated that the findings provide evidence that pushup capacity could be an "easy, no-cost method to help assess cardiovascular disease risk in almost any setting." In fact, Yang went on to note that the ability to execute multiple pushups appears to be a stronger predictor of cardiovascular disease risk than the more commonly used treadmill tests.
While this study does not go so far as to promise that if you practice pushups daily, you’ll lower your risk of heart disease, it certainly makes a strong argument for committing to improving your pushup capacity.
When you do pushups every day, you may be teaching yourself to fall down more safely
"Every second of every day, an older adult (age 65+) suffers a fall in the U.S.," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also noted that one out of every four adults will fall each year in the U.S. and that falls are a leading cause of injury and injury-related death among older Americans. With falls having reached the level of a public health concern in the U.S., it’s comforting to know that in yet another victory over the effects of aging, a regular pushup routine has been shown to better prepare the body for those seemingly inevitable falls.
"Push-ups can teach better muscle memory, so not only is your upper body stronger, but you can quickly react to protect yourself in case you stumble," according to Dr. Edward Phillips of Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. When you fall forward, your impulse is typically to reach out with your arms to catch yourself, which ends up looking and feeling a lot like a pushup. A daily pushup practice strengthen the upper body, including the wrists and hands, so that you will be better able to break your fall without breaking bones, or worse.
Doing pushups every day can help prevent bone loss and even build bone mass
Yet another way that a daily pushups practice can help to stave off the effects of aging is by helping to build bone mass. Like muscle mass, bone mass density decreases, by default, as we age. Strength training and, in particular, body-weight exercises (like the pushup) can help to combat the body’s natural inclination toward bone loss, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
And what the NOF is saying has been borne out by scientific research. For example, a 2018 study published in Biomed Research International, which analyzed the then-current literature on the most effective means to both limit bone loss and encourage the building of new bone, found that resistance exercise were effective at both preventing bone loss and actually improving bone mass — in contrast to walking, which helped slow progressive bone loss but did not appear to improve bone mass.
Doing pushups every day may alleviate back pain
Something like eight percent of all adults experience persistent or chronic back pain, which also happens to be the sixth most expensive health condition in the United States. Thankfully, a daily pushups practice can help alleviate lower back pain, according to certified personal trainer Charlie Nash. Nash told Health Digest that when practiced using proper form and as part of an exercise program that features pulling-type exercises (such as pull-ups and rows) to balance things out, pushups can go a long way toward reducing lower back pain that is attributable to weak core muscles (both front and back).
In addition, the endorphins released into your bloodstream as a result of engaging in a strenuous workout like pushups can help to ease physical pain as well as reduce stress, which studies have shown is a significant factor in how humans experience pain (with more stress being associated with a greater perception of pain).
Performing pushups improperly every day can cause lower back pain
If you’ve taken to doing daily pushups in an attempt to stave off lower back pain, there’s something you should know. While pushups can certainly strengthen the lower back and be helpful in alleviating back pain in many individuals, this is only the case when pushups are performed properly. "When your form is not spot on, your daily pushups practice can actually cause you to experience lower back pain," certified personal trainer Darlene Bellarmino told Health Digest.
This is particularly true for those with pre-existing disk issues, according to Lynell Ross, a certified nutrition and fitness trainer. "If you experience low back pain either while doing or after having done pushups, you might want to check in with a qualified trainer to evaluate what might be going on," Ross told Health Digest, "and if the pain continues, it might be worth checking in with a physician, or at least a physical therapist."
Doing pushups every day could lead to injury
Pushups are a great exercise for the entire body, but a daily pushups practice is not without risk. Dr. Brittany Robles, an obstetrician-gynecologist and NASM-certified personal trainer who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum fitness, told Health Digest that it’s important to balance daily pushups with an equal amount of pulling exercises. Otherwise, your exercise habit could lead to muscle imbalances, overuse, pain, and chronic injury.
Utilizing the proper technique is critical to maintaining an injury-free daily pushups practice, according to the sports medicine professionals at Adelaide Crowe Sports Medicine Clinic. For example, if you tend to poke your chin forward, pushups can cause neck pain. If you fail to engage your core, relying only on your arms and shoulders to lift and lower the body, you’re risking injury to your arms and shoulders. Wrists can also take the brunt of improper form and/or a failure to balance pushups with pulling work, according to physical therapist Heather Jeffcoat, who told Health Digest that it’s not uncommon for her to see tendinitis in patients who are loading up too much on their wrists and hands, rather than engaging their core.
Doing pushups every day could lead to burnout, boredom, or worse
"Unless you continually update your program to reflect the changes your body has already experienced, you are almost guaranteed to plateau at some point along your journey toward reaching your strength-training goals," certified nutrition and fitness trainer Lynell Ross advised Health Digest, "and it would be very surprising if you didn’t feel bored or burnt out at some point." "To avoid burnout, boredom, or reaching a fitness plateau, change up your routine with different types of pushups."
Ross has her clients alternate among traditional pushups and knee pushups, wide pushups and narrow pushups, and forward pushups and backward pushups. And all it takes is a subtle change in the placement of the hands. In addition, it can help to do your daily pushups as part of a more varied exercise program. A daily pushup routine doesn’t have to be boring to be effective!