Ageing processes affect our bodies entirely from head to toe. Besides noticing wrinkles and grey hairs, we may experience slides and changes in our movements, balance and speed. As we age, it is harder to immediately get up after laying down, going up the stairs seems laborious and makes us breathless, and lifting and carrying grocery bags is real nausea as hands are getting tired much quicker.
These shifts in our performance of daily, down-to-earth tasks are the results of a decline in our cardiovascular endurance (VO₂ Max), flexibility, mobility and muscle strength which can be determined by undergoing grip strength or push-up capacity tests.
In this article, we will discuss push-up capacity – a crucial muscle strength indicator that can make projections about our future general wellness and heart health.
What is the push-up test?
Typically, push-ups are used to assess upper-body strength. This test is a simple and quick way to determine a person’s strength and endurance. In this test, you have to perform as many push-ups as you can in a given timeframe (one minute). After completing the test, you can compare the results with the chart and see whether your push-up number is in line with your actual age, or whether it is in a younger/older range.
Besides being a marker of your upper body and muscle strength, the push-up test has been shown to be a great heart health indicator. Multiple studies prove that the better your push-up performance, the healthier your cardiovascular system is. According to pundits, if you are able to perform 40 and more push-ups in one go, you have a chance to lower the threat of CVD by up to 96%. The studies’ results vary as other risk factors of cardiovascular diseases should be taken into consideration, just bare push-ups won’t save you if the lifestyle is brimming with smoking, drinking, unhealthy diet and irregular sleep pattern.
The effect of age: what happens to your push-up capacity as you get older?
Ageing is hard on all our fitness markers. As we age our VO₂ Max, grip strength, mobility and flexibility go down. This inevitable drop doesn’t omit push-up capacity either.
Age-related processes in the body with muscle loss as the main culprit, lead to a lower push-up capacity. Performing 37-46 push-ups in one minute is considered a ‘good’ result for men between the ages of 18-29. Meanwhile, the ‘good’ level drops to 19-24 push-ups a minute at 50-59.
This negative decline can be also noticed among ladies. Thus the ‘good’ levels go down from 30-35 modified (from knees) push-ups at the age of 18-29 to 17-20 modified push-ups when being 50-59 years old. Thus, the average number of push-ups decreases as we age regardless of gender.
Factors that affect push-up capacity decline with age
Age-related decline in push-up capacity results from multiple factors, including:
1Decline in muscle mass and strength
Ageing devours our muscles insanely, causing a decrease in muscle mass (and function) at a rate of 1% per year from the time a person reaches middle age. When reaching the age of 80-90, seniors can lose up to 50% of their muscle mass, which may lead to a decline in their quality of life. This age-related muscle decline makes it harder to perform push-ups and other strength-based exercises.
2Decreased flexibility and joint mobility
The process of growing older also affects flexibility and mobility. The average person loses 25-30% of their flexibility by age 70.
Mobility decline also plays a role in both physical performance and daily living. Thus, senior people have a harder time getting out of bed, getting into a chair, and moving around, these impairments are happening due to the mobility drop.
Thus, because of having less flexibility and joint mobility, it is harder for older people to perform pushups with proper form and technique.
3Chronic health conditions
Older people are more likely to develop various chronic conditions due to various risk factors including weaker immunity, low-quality life, harmful habits, inactivity, etc. These diseases are detrimental to overall health, wellness as well as physical performance.
Arthritis is a disease that causes especially negative effects on a person’s physical performance including the push-up capacity. Globally, more than 350 million people are affected by arthritis. Arthritis is a condition which makes the person suffer from inflammation or swelling of one or more joints which makes it harder or even impossible to do push-ups.
4Reduced cardiovascular endurance
When doing push-ups almost all muscle groups are involved, this forces your heart to pump more blood as the exercise requires more energy to be delivered with oxygen. This correlation shows that push-up capacity is vastly dependent on cardiovascular endurance. And, as cardiorespiratory fitness in adults tends to decrease with age, it is more daunting for older people to do a large number of reps.
Older people are more susceptible to injuries predominantly caused by falling. This is because of age-related loss of muscles, problems with balance and blood pressure and drops when a person gets up after laying down or sitting.
According to the statistics provided by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention every minute, one elderly person falls. Annually 36 million falls occur among people from the age of 65 and older; one out of five falls leads to severe injuries such as broken bones and head injuries.
Prior injuries to the chest, shoulders, or wrists can impact a person’s ability to perform pushups.
What should your push-up test results be?
The push-up test results cannot be applied to every single individual in the same way. The following factors contribute to your push-up performance are:
– Age – the ageing process leads to a decline in push-ups.
But ageing cannot cross out all the efforts unleashed into your physique by working out regularly. Interestingly, but world’s push-ups record was set by a man of 52 years.
– Gender – according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, males can generally perform more push-ups than females. The reason for this may be that man’s body’s weight distribution allows them to perform push-ups at a faster pace.
This is why when undergoing the push-up test ladies have to do moderate (from knees) push-ups. For a more accurate assessment biologically, males tend to be stronger and the moderate technique will decrease the need for upper-body strength in a test of muscular endurance.
– Training level – your overall training level is an important factor that affects how well you can perform push-ups. If you consistently work out and target various muscle groups this may lead to an improved ability to perform push-ups. Complementary exercises such as planks, dips, and rows, can lead to increased strength and endurance, allowing you to do more reps.
Training age also plays a role in your push-up capacity. Training age is the number of years that you have been training, for example, if you are a 40-year-old male that has been practising weightlifting for ten years then your training age is ten years.
Train in age determines your fitness level as well as how many push-ups you can do. The more experience you have in training, the better your fitness level and the better your results and push-up test.
– Muscle strength and balance are both important factors of a successful push-up performance. If some muscle groups are weaker, they may tire quickly during a set of push-ups, leading to a smaller number of repetitions that can be performed. Imbalance can put unnecessary pressure on joints and make you unable to do many reps and, even worse, increase the risk of injury.
– Weight – how much your weight may also influence the push-up performance. While you’re doing push-ups, you’re lifting around 70% of your body weight upwards and about 75% downwards. Thus, if you weigh less it might be easier to do push-ups, but the number on the scale is not always the case as your muscle strength and fitness level play more important roles.
– Technique – proper form and technique are crucial for performing pushups effectively and reducing the risk of injury. You will be able to maximise your results on the test if you use proper form during each repetition.
You should keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart while doing a push-up. Afterwards, lower your body so that your chest almost reaches the ground, then go back up to the starting position with fully extended arms.
For a better understanding of how the classification moves across genders and ages, see the push-up charts below developed by the Copper Institute.
Thus, if you can do more push-ups than the age group you belong to, you may consider yourself ‘younger’ in terms of fitness age. Unfortunately, it also applies in reverse.
Ageing really affects all processes in our body including muscles. The huge number of age-related factors cause a decline in muscle strength and make us perform fewer push-ups. The good thing is that we can always try to slow down and significantly reduce the drop in muscle strength identified by push-up capacity via physical activity. It’s definitely worth trying as the ability to do push-ups shows how healthy the most important organ, the heart, is. There is nothing impossible, and as we see even a 52-year-old person can do 100+ push-ups just unleash a bit of effort 🙂
Not enough? Here is more!
Dane Miller from @Garage Strength is a USAW International Certified Weightlifting Coach, who has years of experience developing multiple Olympians, dozens and NCAA champions.
In this video, Dane answers the question ‘Do push-ups really work?’ and gives more insights about push-up performance and their value for health.
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