Monday, September 6, 2010

Assess your upper body strength.

Erika doing the push-up
When it comes to upper body strength, the push-up exercise is most likely the king of strength training exercise. It is no wonder then, that the U.S. army uses it to assess the physical fitness of its personnel.

Push-up is a compound exercise that works multiple muscles in your body. The exercise primarily targets your chest and triceps. In addition, it also works your shoulders and back. 

The U.S. Army fitness standards require all its personnel to do this exercise during the physical fitness test and points are awarded based on how many push-ups the person can do in a single stretch - without any rest, except for the authorized rest position. For example, to get the maximum 100 points, one has to do a specific number of push-ups (based on age) as per the following table:

Age Range # of Push-ups for 100 points
17-21 71
22-26 75
27-31 77
32-36 75
37-41 73
42-46 66
47-51 59
52-56 56

The full points table is available here.

This got me thinking. I am reasonably fit with my running and resistance workouts but how many push-ups can I currently do? And most importantly, how many push-ups could I really do if I train for it?

After a few days of preparations, I tried my first push-up test. I struggled to do 50 non-stop push-ups. According to the U.S. Army table, this would get me 82 points out of 100. That's pretty discouraging as I hate getting anything less than 100%.

The good news for me is that this number 50 can easily be improved. That is because push-ups, like any resistance workouts, requires training to become good - and I have never trained in push-ups. So I immediately started a push-up training program to see how far I can improve in 8 weeks. Since push-ups is a resistance workout, it is important that we treat this exercise like any other muscle-workout. This means:

    1. Train to failure (i.e. do as many as you can do till your muscles can take it no more).
    2. Give at least 48 hours rest to your muscles before exercising the same muscle again.
    3. Take enough proteins to allow your muscles to grow.

If you are a beginner to push-ups, you can follow this 8-week U.S. Army training plan to improve your push-up capabilities. You can also try this push-up improvement exercises.

I will report back in 6-8 weeks about my progress. I am fairly confident that I should be able to do 66, if not more.


  1. Take a look at this program:

    It's not too bad.

  2. Yeah. I saw that and even printed their 1-page summarized program that can fit on a single page.

    The problem is that it may not be applicable for all people. The 100 number is treated as an absolute target - without any consideration to the age of the person. Obviously, that will not work for all people. The U.S. Army program takes the age into consideration.

    But nevertheless, it's a nice challenge.