Pushups allow you to effectively develop upper body strength without the need for any additional exercise equipment. Despite the lack of additional equipment, a pushup is a strength training exercise that uses your own body weight as its form of resistance. Therefore, strength training principles should be applied in terms of needed rest.
Pushups require movement about both your shoulder and elbow joints. The movement about your shoulder is controlled by your chest and shoulder muscles. The movement about your elbow joint is controlled by your triceps. The three muscles work together to coordinate the pushup movement. To complete a pushup, position your hands so that they’re in line with your chest and slightly wider than your shoulders, with your fingers pointed forward. Rise up onto your hands and toes. Your torso and legs should form a straight line. Maintain this straight line as you bend your elbows and allow them to flare out so that your lower your chest down towards the floor. Continue down until your elbows are bent slightly beyond 90 degrees and then extend your elbows to return to starting position.
Breaking Down Muscle
When you complete pushups, its your own body weight that provides the resistance that your chest, shoulders and triceps must overcome. As you complete sets and repetitions of pushups, this resistance stresses your chest, shoulder and triceps muscles in a way that they’re not accustomed to and thus causes those three muscle groups to become overloaded. Your chest, shoulders and tricep muscles are left broken down and damaged, suffering from minor tears throughout the muscle fibers. Once you complete your pushup workouts, your body immediately begins healing the damaged chest, shoulder and tricep muscle fibers, but does so in a way that the three muscle groups are better equipped to handle the stress that pushups place upon them by increasing in strength and size. Therefore, constantly completing pushup workouts to breakdown of your chest, shoulder and tricep muscles with pushups and then allowing those muscles to heal will eventually lead to significant improvements in both muscle size and strength.
Importance of Rest
The rest period between pushup workouts is necessary in order for this healing process to occur and for improvements to be made. If you complete pushups again too soon, your chest, shoulders and tricep muscles will never be allowed adequate time to heal. Georgia State University’s Department of Kinesiology and Health recommends waiting 48 to 72 hours between pushup workouts. Therefore, three pushup workouts per week, with a day of rest in between each, is the maximum number of pushup workouts that should be completed.
Impact of Intensity
Pushups are not effective at overloading the chest, shoulder and tricep muscles for everybody. Those who have a greater amount of upper body strength will be able to complete a significant number of pushups and their own body weight doesn't provide enough resistance to fatigue and overload their muscles. In these cases, pushups can be completed everyday without detrimental effects. However, because the intensity of pushups don't adequately overload their chest, shoulders and triceps, no improvement in muscle size or strength will result.
If you participate in other strength training exercises besides pushups, it’s important to understand that the rest principle applies to muscle groups and is not exercise specific. Therefore, if you complete a pushup workout one day, you should refrain from any strength training exercises that target your chest, shoulders or triceps for 48 to 72 hours. It’s ideal to complete exercises that target the same muscle groups within the same workout. For example, with your pushups, you could complete chest press, shoulder press and tricep extension in the same session, rest for the appropriate amount of time, then complete all of the exercises again.