How much weight is really lifted during a push-up?

Blog Post

The Cooper Institute
The Cooper Team
March 7, 2011

As previously mentioned, the push-up exercise has been proven many times as an effective means of strengthening and assessing muscular endurance of the upper body. Specifically, the push-up has been shown to activate muscles of the triceps brachii, pectoralis major, serratus anterior, anterior deltoid, and trunk muscles. Ways to activate more muscles in the push-up has also been explored.

Changing hand positions was explored by Cogley et al.1 They looked at performing conventional push-ups with a narrow hand placement compared to shoulder width or wide hand placement. Results found that an increased number of muscles were activated in a push-up with a narrow hand placement compared to wide hand placement. Doing push-up like this might also have increased risks, however, due to torque at the elbow. Push-up devices have also been explored, such as the Perfect Push-upTM, discussed previously.

But how much weight is really lifted when performing push-ups?

In a study by Suprak et al.2 the amount of weight lifted during a push-up was researched. Twenty-eight subjects performed modified push-ups and full push-ups. Measurements were taken in the up position and the down position. They found that the following percentages of bodyweight were being exerted by the upper body during the push-up:

Modified Push-up Full Push-up
Up Position  53.56% bodyweight supported 69.16% bodyweight supported
Down Position  61.80% bodyweight supported 75.04% bodyweight supported

Using the above information, the following could be concluded:

For a 140-pound person doing a modified push-up, he or she would be lifting:

  • Approximately 75 pounds of his/her bodyweight in the up position
  • In the down position, he/she would be lifting approximately 86 pounds

For a 190-pound person doing a full push-up, he or she would be lifting:

  • Approximately 131 pounds of his/her bodyweight in the up position
  • In the down position, he/she would be lifting approximately 142 pounds

Many individuals hold push-ups in the up position. But the information above indicates that one would be lifting more weight in the down position. As a result, you might try holding a push-up in the down position to offer more challenge in your push-ups.

It isn’t recommended to have a friend sit on your back. Nor is it suggested to put weight plates on your back. But feel free to discuss other ways that you use to add challenge in your push-ups and increase the amount of weight lifted.

1Cogley, R.M., Archambault, T.A., Fibeger, J.F., Koverman, M.M., Youdas, J.W., Hollman, J.H.; Comparison of Muscle Activation Using various Hand Positions During the Push-up Exercise. J Strength Cond Res 19: 628-633, 2005.
2Suprak, D.N., Dawes, J., Stephenson, M.D.; The Effect of Position on the Percentage of Body Mass Supported During Traditional and Modified Push-up Variants. J Strength Cond Res 25: 497-503, 2011.

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our email list for the latest Cooper Institute news and updates.