It's no surprise that push-ups are good for you — but can doing push-ups every day be too much of a good thing? The answer is "maybe," depending on your fitness level and what the rest of your fitness regimen and lifestyle look like.
Doing a set of light push-ups every day won't hurt you — but the definition of "light" varies according to your strength and general physical condition.
How Much Is Too Much?
The general rule of strength training — which includes exercises like push-ups — is that you should work all your major muscle groups at least twice a week. That is in keeping with the physical activity guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, which are intended to help you develop optimal health.
You can even add a third workout during the week — but there's a catch. It's tempting to assume that your muscles get bigger and stronger when you work out. But as exercise physiologists with the University of New Mexico explain, your muscles actually grow and strengthen during the recovery period between workouts, when they repair the muscle trauma caused by the workout itself.
Because of that, and to prevent overtraining, you should give your muscles at least 48 hours of rest between workouts — more if you're sore. That applies to push-ups too, if you're doing them to a degree that actually breaks your muscles down. If your push-up workout is challenging enough to leave you sore within the next day or two, or if you struggle to complete the sets, those are both good clues that you're working hard enough that your muscles need a recovery period.
However, if you're already strong enough to do full sets of push-ups without taxing your muscles, or if you choose a modified push-up that makes it easy to get through those sets, your muscles won't have worked hard enough to need that rest time. That means you can do light push-ups every day, although these light workouts usually aren't enough to give you real progress in muscle strength or size.
To boil it down to the simplest terms: If you're cranking out a quick but easy set of push-ups in the morning when you get out of bed, it won't hurt you, and it's a great way to wake up. But if you want to use push-ups to build strength or muscle size, you need to challenge your body with tougher workouts — and that means your muscles will need that rest time between workouts.
Read more: 10 Different Types of Push-Ups
One thing you can do is work other muscle groups in the days between your push-up workouts. For example, if you do a push-up workout or other chest exercises on Monday, you could do back exercises or leg exercises (or both) on Tuesday, then go back to your chest muscles on Wednesday if they've sufficiently recovered.
Are Push-Ups the Best Exercise?
Push-ups are a great option for working out your chest, arms and shoulders, because you can do them anywhere and don't need any special equipment. You can drop to the ground and crank out a set of push-ups during your jog around the park, incorporate them into your daily calisthenics, or do a few sets in the weight room or gym stretching room.
But if you're more focused on building stronger or bigger chest muscles than on finding a convenient way to work out, push-ups might not be the best core exercise for you. According to a study sponsored and published by the American Council on Exercise, the three most effective exercises for isolating your chest are: the barbell bench press, the "pec deck" machine, and bent-forward cable crossovers.
There's nothing wrong with doing push-ups too — but if building chest size or strength is your goal and you're able to do those other exercises, they may give you faster and more noticeable results.
Downsides of Push-Ups Every Day
If you're doing light push-ups every day for a month or even longer, that won't necessarily cause overtraining. The key is that you must be working out at a level that's easy for you.
But if you're doing too much other physical activity and getting too little rest in addition to those push-up workouts, you could be headed for a case of overtraining syndrome. And if you're doing hard push-up workouts every day, or even on alternating days without sufficient rest to recover, those can contribute to overtraining.
The American Council on Exercise lists several symptoms of overtraining to watch out for, including excessive fatigue, mood disturbances, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, chronic injuries and even depression. You might also find that previously easy workouts start feeling more difficult than they should — another classic sign of overtraining.
The Rest of Your Body
It can be tempting to focus on exercises like push-ups because they develop your chest, arms and shoulders, which are all readily visible in the mirror. But don't forget to work out the rest of your body too, both for the sake of your health and for a balanced physical appearance.
If you enjoy the no-equipment, do-anywhere aspect of push-ups, you can get a full-body workout by adding in exercises such as lunges, squats and calf raises for your legs, followed by inverted rows or (if you have access to a pull-up bar) pull-ups for your back.
Pull-ups are a particularly challenging exercise, but you can make them easier by putting a sturdy bench beneath your pull-up bar and pressing off that with your legs for an assist. If you have access to dip bars, those make an excellent substitute for a low pull-up bar; and if you have a gym membership, some gyms have an assisted pull-up machine that will also help boost you up to the bar.
Light Calisthenics for Daily Use
What if you're doing light push-ups as part of a quick morning calisthenics routine, and want to include the rest of your body as well? Consider adding some of the following exercises:
- Toe touches
- Jogging in place
- Jumping jacks
- Side lunges
- Non-jumping burpees
- Downward dog
- Bird dog
- Alternating crunches (aka bicycle crunches)