The push-up is an iconic exercise that has gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years. In the old days, the push-up was declared to be one of the best exercises for building the chest, shoulders, and arms. The old-time strongmen were right! The push-up is outstanding in this regard, so what’s the problem?
As I see it, there are two primary issues. The first is technique and the second is high reps. The prime movers for the push-up are the pectoralis major, a fast twitch Type IIb muscle fiber. The next in line are the triceps which are a mixed fiber type but a small muscle group to handle 60-80% of your bodyweight. The pectoralis major is designed for fast, explosive action, and yet it is certainly capable of pulling off endurance. The catch is that the approach most people and institutions take is all wrong. What most people do it train the push-up with too much of an endurance focus and turn forward pressing into a slow and weak movement. What you need to understand is that if you train the push-up with explosive volume, the stamina comes along for the ride.
High Rep Push-ups are Dumb
Here’s a simple question. When, in any activity, will I ever be required to forward press my arms 50-80 times in a row? Especially against a load equal to 60-80% of my body weight? Go ahead, I’ll wait…
The answer is… Never. The only thing that even comes close is fighting, which requires punching and pushing. Any fighter and grappler will tell you that you need pushing to be very strong and explosive and you need strength-stamina in your punching. You also need slow grinding strength, especially in grappling to create and maintain space and distance. This slow stuff will be against the body weight of your opponent, as will the powerful pushing. The strength-stamina is for the lightweight load of your arms. Thus, you need explosive, fast twitch ability; you need quasi-isometric strength and submaximal strength-stamina. My friends, these things are not opposing, they are complimentary if you train them right and let me assure you, long sets of push-ups are all wrong!
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