Last updated on October 7th, 2021 at 09:22 am
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The push-up is an excellent benchmark of physical health and fitness. Since it requires no equipment and only a small plot of space on the floor, it’s also the most accessible test of pure upper-body strength. Yet our recent survey found that few Americans can perform push-ups at a level that meets national standards.
Last year, COVID-19 caused many gyms from coast to coast to shut their doors in an effort to combat the virus. As a result, more and more gym-goers took to their living rooms to work up a sweat, catch a pump, or simply get their all-natural dopamine kick. During this time, push-ups were a mainstay in many of our workout routines.
However, this doesn’t appear to be true for the majority of Americans. According to our recent survey, most Americans can’t do more than ten straight push-ups, which may mark a decline compared to pre-pandemic standards. Although for some this won’t sound alarm bells, on closer inspection it reveals a serious problem in the average American’s health.
At Gymless, we recently launched a nationwide survey of Americans that found that 53.8% of adults cannot perform more than ten consecutive push-ups. The question was put simply:
“How many push-ups can you do in a row?”
The survey involved 1,403 participants above the age of 18 whose data was collected between August 2nd and 24th, 2021. The results above (Fig 1.) indicated that 36.4% of American adults report being able to perform fewer than five consecutive push-ups. An additional 17.4% report being able to perform between six and ten.
In other words, 53.8% of Americans self-report being unable to perform 10 straight pushups, whereas a minority (46.2%) report being able to. Of those unable to perform more than 10 or push-ups, approximately 31% identified as men.
The chart below (Fig. 2) demonstrates the age breakdown of each response category. Here we find another surprising result: the majority of those unable to perform 10 push-ups are aged 54 or younger. However, those aged 55+ makeup the largest age group of any within the sub-5 push-up response category.
In terms of raw numbers, 740 survey respondents claim that they cannot perform five continuous push-ups. This was the single largest response group, more than doubling the number of responses in the 6 to 10 category (320).
Interestingly, those who said they could only do between 6 and 10 push-ups were only 24% more numerous than those who claimed to be capable of 51 or more push-ups.
Another surprising finding was that the group with the fewest respondents by weight was the “31 to 40” push-up category. Only 4.52% of respondents noted that they were capable of performing push-ups in this repetition range.
The survey, which was conducted by Gymless, featured a nationally representative sample of American adults. The respondents were sourced by Google Surveys, and included respondents from every U.S. region and state, including Alaska and Hawaii.
Among the respondents, 51.9% self-identified as female and 49.1% as male. Interestingly, a plurality of survey respondents indicated that they reside in the “Southern” region of the U.S. (38.3%), compared to the North-East (17.2%), Midwest (20.5%), and the West (24%).
The responses were generated over a two-week period commencing on August 3, 2021, in which answers were submitted via the Google Surveys submission platform.
Readers should note, however, that there is a small methodological grouping error present in the study. The response categories “Less than 5” and “6 to 10” are exclusive of those who can only perform five repetitions.
While we acknowledge this error, we have no reason to believe that this omission has skewed the data in any meaningful way—presumably, those we can perform exactly five push-ups would’ve chosen the response category directly above or below.
These findings are significant because they hint that there may have been a regression in bodyweight fitness levels among U.S. adults in recent years.
According to a 2019 report by Livestrong, the average number of push-ups by age in the U.S. is significantly beyond those yielded in our survey. Below, we’ve copied the national averages contained in the Livestrong report:
The data in the Livestrong report comes from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology as well as the American College of Sports Medicine. Although their data isn’t based on first-hand accounts of the national average, they represent what sports medicine professionals consider to be the benchmark for an adult in each age category.
While we can’t say for certain that the average American’s push-up count has declined over the years, we can say that our data yields grim results compared to physician’s standards. Since the average American cannot perform more than 10 push-ups, we can conclude that they also fail to meet the benchmarks established by national medical bodies.
A groundbreaking New York Times report from 2019 found that one’s max-effort push-up count is a better predictor of future heart problems than one’s treadmill run times. In other words, push-ups are a better indicator of heart health than cardiovascular exercise.
In the above report, there’s a paraphrased quote from Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In it, the authors mention that Dr. Kales advises those whose “[push-up] count should end before 10…to talk to your doctor or a trainer about how to increase your fitness and strength.”
A 2019 study by Justin Yang and colleagues published in JAMA Network found a negative association between one’s push-up capacity and cardiovascular disease risk. In fact, those who could perform 40 or more push-ups were found to be 96% less at risk of heart health problems over a 10-year follow-up period.
Clearly, push-ups aren’t solely about bragging rights and getting a pump. Rather, they’re one of the best tools we have for evaluating one’s heart health. The numbers don’t lie—those who excel at push-ups are significantly less at risk of heart disease than those who don’t.
No matter whether you’re currently above or below the national average, you can always stand to gain from adding a few reps to your push-up count. After all, push-ups are strongly associated with heart health and longevity, and can lead to long-lasting functional strength.
Push-ups are one of the cornerstones of upper-body calisthenics—that is, bodyweight exercises that don’t require any additional equipment. With a well-regimented calisthenics program, anyone, regardless of their fitness level, can build whole-body strength, flexibility, and heart health. All this, without damaging or putting undue stress on your joints.
If you’re interested in getting started with calisthenics and bodyweight fitness, check out our instructional video on standard push-ups hosted by trainer Pat Chadwick. There, you can learn the fundamentals of this critical upper-body exercise—whether you can do one, ten, or one hundred.
To take your calisthenics training to new heights, consider learning more advanced variations of the push-up. Our helpful guide videos can assist with learning safe and healthful alternative push-up exercises such as the diamond push-up, the pike push-up, the superman push-up, and finally the decline push-up.
For a closer look at the survey data, view the full report on Google Data Studio. Or, view the PDF report embedded in the screen below.
My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a qualified personal trainer with Level 2 and Level 3 Personal Training Certificate. As a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.
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