How Many Push Ups are Needed to Develop Your Chest?

Woman doing push-ups

You might think those exercises from gym class can’t be effective for developing your grown-up muscles. Think again. You can use pushups to build the chest of a professional football player. Former NFL great Hershel Walker dropped to the deck for 1,500 pushups a day. You may not need the strength to stiff arm a linebacker, but you can build strong pectoral muscles with far fewer pushups than the 12-time pro-bowler.

Pushup Program

Cadets at the Virginia Military Institute use a progressive system that increases the number of pushups they do over a period of weeks. Following this system, at the end of 10 weeks, you will be doing 100 to 200 pushups a workout, three times a week on nonconsecutive days. This plan will add layers of lean muscle to your chest, shoulders and triceps while also boosting your endurance.

Proper form

Before you begin your pushup routine, you need to get the correct form to maximize the exercise’s benefits while reducing your chance for injury. Start at the top of the pushup position with your body in a straight line from your head down to your feet. Focus your gaze on a spot between your hands; lifting your head can injure your neck. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders. Distribute your weight on the outside of your hands to prevent wrist strain. As you lower, your hips and torso should remain in a straight line to avoid sagging or arching your back. Keep your elbows close to your sides and let your chest lightly touch the ground before you push back up.

Building Reps

Following the VMI plan, the first day of each week will focus on total repetitions in one workout. Your goal is 100 push ups in 30 minutes. You can split the reps up in as many sets as you want. For example, you could do five sets of 20 or one set of 50 plus two sets of 25 or any combination that works for you. Obviously, if you can’t do 100 reps in 30 minutes, your first goal is to build to that any reps. From there, you will do 100 reps per workout for weeks one to three, 150 for weeks four to six and 200 for weeks seven to 10.

Multiple Sets

The second pushup session of each week splits your workout into five sets of as many pushups as possible in each set. You want to feel like you hit a wall at the end of each set. If your arms are shaking on the last rep, you are doing it right. After the first set rest for 60 seconds; after the second set, rest for 90 seconds; after the third set, rest for three minutes and after the fourth set, rest for 90 seconds again.

Complete Sets

Before the third weekly workout, you need to know how many pushups you can perform consecutively without rest. Once you know that number, you create a set based on dividing that number approximately in half. In other works, if your rep number is 30, you will do sets of 15. If your number is more than 40, you will do sets of 20 to 25 reps. Initially, perform two complete sets and work up to a third and eventually a fourth.