Working Class Fitness: Why You Shouldn’t Be Doing Push-Ups

January 13, 2013
Comments off

Working Class Fitness LogoI’m going to make a statement that many people won’t like hearing… especially trainers.

The vast majority of people who prescribe or design bodyweight workouts for other people totally screw it up.  Like bad.

As in horrible.

Why? Because there is absolutely no way possible to design a bodyweight program that will have the same effect on everyone, regardless of what the program was designed to do.  This is because everyone has different abilities. So what makes a trainer think that the same push-up workout would be good for everybody?

Tell you what, how about I digress for a minute and give you an example that makes a little more sense.

Let’s say the cool peeps that run asked me to put together an exclusive program for the readers of this site that would help them increase their Bench Press 1RM (1 rep max… in other words, the heaviest amount of weight you can lift in the Bench Press for 1 rep).

Then, let’s say I come out and say that the best way to get stronger in the Bench Press is to do a warm-up set of 135 pounds for 10 reps, then a set of 5 reps with 185 pounds, then 6 sets of 4 reps with 225 pounds.

Now sets and reps aside (I just used those as an example – they’re not really pertinent here), would it be a good program to give people?  Hell no, it wouldn’t!

Why not?

Because who is to say that everyone reading could do 6 sets of 4 reps with 225 pounds?  There might be guys reading that can only Bench Press 245 pounds… meaning this workout would be impossible to pull off with all the sets and reps of a weight so heavy compared to their 1RM.

Other guys might only be able to Bench Press 200 pounds… making the workout impossible on any level.

But on the flip side, there might be some monsters that can Bench Press 400+ pounds, and this workout would be entirely too easy.

See what I mean?

That’s why you never see weight training workouts with actual numbers (how much you should lift) assigned.  Sure, you’ll see sets and reps. And you’ll many times see a percentage of your 1RM prescribed; that way the program can be altered specifically to a guy and his own personal capabilities.

But you’d never see someone tell you how much weight to put on the bar.  That would be crazy, right?

Well, tell me how bodyweight training is any different?

5 sets of 20 Push-ups is going to be different to that 15-year-old kid who’s skinny and never worked out a day in his life than it is to the solid middleweight who’s been an athlete and working out for most of his life than it will for the elite powerlifter who can Bench 600+ in competition, but weighs 330 pounds.

Just like telling everyone to Bench Press 225 pounds isn’t a good idea, telling everyone to do the same sets and reps of a particular bodyweight exercise is just as poor of an idea.

With a weight training program, you can prescribe exercises, but it’s up to the individual lifting to put the right amount of weight on the bar for the given sets and reps (which are defined by the goal one wants to achieve).

Well, bodyweight training has to be attacked from the opposite direction.  The sets and reps will remain the same (because again, they’re dictated by the goal).  However, this time, the weight can’t be changed as you’re using your body.  So instead, you have to pick the appropriate exercise.

Some guys might have to do 5 sets of 20 regular Push-ups.  Other guys 5 sets of 20 Push-ups with their feet on a bench.  Or other guys 5 sets of 20 Push-ups from their knees.  And other guys still, 5 sets of Handstand Push-ups.

See how that works?

Approach bodyweight training from this perspective, and you’ll be getting a lot more out of it.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Before you go to the gym again, you owe it to yourself to find out what kind of MMA workout pro fighters, boxers, recreational MMAists, or just the “regular guy” who wants to be in shape like his favorite fighter *should* be doing.  (HINT – it’s not the crap you see in the magazines.)  To discover the truth, hit up Wiggy at or on Facebook at

(Physical exercise can sometimes lead to injury. and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or fitness advice. Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program, and never substitute the information on this site for any professional medical advice or treatment you may receive or the assistance of a fitness professional.)

  • Dame

    Which is why most good trainers doing body weight programs use time as a measurement instead of reps.

  • God

    Most useless piece of information ever posted online in the history of human existence

    • Lucas Freire

      True that

      • Yannick Messaoud

        All that he post is total crap i been reading since he started posting, also lot of stuff he post makes no sense at all and are more confusing to new people that start training.

  • Oswald Cobblepott

    As a researcher in the field with a Ph.D to boot, i call BS push ups are an indicator of muscular strength and endurance. College wrestlers only do push ups & pull ups during the season and always increase thier bench as a result when they resume lifting months later!

    • Yannick Messaoud

      When i was training in kyokushin karate there was a guy that build on hell of a physique he was doing tones of push ups and set up and that’s it. Also P90X highly uses a variety of push ups in its training.

    • Matt Wiggins

      I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.

      You’ll find *legions* of collegiate wrestlers who do *much* more than just Pushups and Pullups during the season. (Though I’m not sure what difference it would make if this weren’t the case, as the article wasn’t about the efficacy of the Pushup itself, but rather the difference of the relative resistance compared to different individuals a regular Pushup would provide.)

      However, that said, I’m going to have to continue and state that as it relates to specific performance indicators such as the Bench Press (or any other basic strength measurement), that most athletes’ performance on such a test actually go DOWN during and by the end of their competitive season.

      This is because if a collegiate (or high school, pro, or any other competitive level) athlete is doing a proper S&C program, he/she would be backing off whilst in-season. It’s not the point of in-season training to build strength (or power, workout capacity, or any other physical aptitude). Rather, in-season training should be focused on maintenance of such traits, continued prehab, as well as active recovery.

      While you might see a wrestler get stronger on the mat during the season (so-to-speak), this almost never correlates to an increase in strength performance indicators such as the Bench Press. Their improvement on the mat is due to improved wrestling skill combined with improved general strength they should have built prior to the season beginning. They they become more proficient at using that strength specific to wrestling throughout the season.

      But at the same time, most wrestlers are also spending several weeks engaged in activity that has a main emphasis of intense conditioning and work capacity – both of which are usually counter-productive to strength gains in the weight room. Couple that with the fact that many wrestlers (depending on their off-season weight to their “walking around weight” during the season to what weight they compete at) are losing weight – not including cutting – before and/or during the season, and you have a situation in which many times, 1RMs usually decrease after the season – not increase.

      And this is true of most sports – not just wrestling.

    • ash123

      This may be the dumbest post I have ever read. But since you are a “researcher” in the field I am sure you can provide specific examples and or links to cited research studies to support some of these claims. I am interested to hear:

      Where do you have your PHD from?

      What college has wrestlers “only” doing pushups and pullups during the season?

      How much did their bench press go up, average per person on team in pounds or percent?

      What was % difference in bench press performance pre and post season?

      What was the number of pullups and pushups performed as in-season workouts and how often (sets/reps/days)?

      How are pushups an indicator of muscular strength? have you “researched” and drawn any coefficients of correlation between max pushups performance and limit strength exercise, i.e. bench press, overhead press, etc.?

      Now if you would prefer to admit you dont have clue what youre talking about it and you made up everything in your post….obviously you do not need to answer me. Otherwise, as a fellow expert in the field, i am always interested in reading exercise research and theory so please provide links. Thanks in advance

  • StealingFire

    So why shouldn’t we be doing push-ups?

    • Matt Wiggins

      Re the title of the article – I will own that, and say that it is more misleading than I had intended. I had actually meant for there to be a “?” at the end (but neglected to add it), to imply that there are certain situations for certain people in which simply just doing pushups wouldn’t be the correct choice.

      The comparison between Bench Press and Pushups wasn’t the main point of the article. Rather, it was meant to only exemplify the issue I was trying to point out.

      You wouldn’t prescribe the same Bench Press program (to include sets, reps, and weight on the bar) to everybody, as their individual capabilities very well may differ. Doing sets with 225 pounds will be hard for some guys and easy for others.

      It is no different with bodyweight exercises such as the Pushup. Sure, any two guys could do the same Pushup program in terms of sets and reps, but it very well could be different for both of them, depending on their bodyweight. At the same time, depending on their relative strength (strength:bodyweight ratio) level, the program could affect their bodies very differently – just like Benching 225 could.

      We know and realize that weight on the bar should be adjusted to suit one’s capabilities, yet this is rarely (if ever) discussed as it relates to bodyweight training. There is just as much need to adjust resistance levels (as determined by whatever the goal is) with bodyweight training as there is with weight training. However, we aren’t able to magically change how much we weigh, as we are able to change how much weight is on the bar.

      So instead, the alternative is to use a different exercise if necessary.

      That was the intended point of this article.

      I apologize for the title and hope that this makes the point I was trying to get across a little more clear.

  • From what I gather this article states that different people need different workouts. It has nothing to do with push ups.

    Other then having a misleading title, being painfully long, and being written for a 12 years old audience, this article offers nothing.

  • Trevor

    Seriously? MMA weekly I am a strength and conditioning coach and this is garbage! You need someone to write articles send me a message @ ************************************ and if not I suggest people start reading Tnation cause this **** is horrible.

  • humby49

    what a poorly written, confusing article. And even worse the misleading headline. NOwhere in here does it say no to push ups. The editor who wrote the headline obviously didnt get the article which was more about trying to apply relativity to bench and push ups…a lot of it was pointless…

  • PhranktheTank

    It’s a little drawn out, but all he’s trying to say is that everyone’s body weight differs. You can’t tell a 300lb client to do 20 push-ups any more than you can tell a 135 lb teenager to put 200 on the bench. You have to take body weight into account.

    • Matt Wiggins

      Not only bodyweight, but overall capability (to include strength, power, endurance, etc) as it relates to their desired levels of those same capabilities, age, and so on.

  • Haywood Jablome

    This news just in, different people need different exercise metrics. We’ll have the entire story at ten….wait…that was the entire story

  • Big Bad Brad

    WHAT IDIOT WROTE THIS? Working class fitness or working class IDIOTS without a real job???? I’d love to pound the smack out of the idiots skull who wrote this. I may just go Columbine on them this stupidity irritates me that much. What science what study where the hell did these fools study??? Harvard like me? I doubt it. More like the state Pen. I’m a former NCAA D1 athlete to boot as well as a 3 time All American. What did you do fool????? BRING IT BITCH! DIFFERENT PEOPLE ALSO WEIGHT DIFFERENT WEIGHTS DUMBASS! GO F YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY DINGBAT!!!!

    • PhranktheTank

      All, the smell of bs and testosterone

    • lol ya and i live on the moon with a 3 tittied green alien who shits out ice cream …no one believes you

  • Big Bad Brad


  • Boodangler

    This article made me cringe from start to finish. Unless you have an IQ of 4, you should know that every workout suggestion you ever read online needs adapting to your own abilities. Keep doing those press ups kids.

  • Christine Lehman

    Yeah, these suggestions Matt makes may *sound* simple but there are way
    too many trainers out there who insist on a “one size fits all” approach
    to fitness. When I joined 24 Hour Fitness last year the personal trainer immediately had me get on the floor and do some push-ups. Guess what? Since I have arthritis (which he would have known if he’d just asked me a few simple questions first), my kneecap popped, and I wound up having to be in physical therapy for 6 months.