Push-ups may seem like an ideal exercise for getting bigger arms because you can do them anywhere without any equipment. Most body building routines recommend exercising with free weights for a reason, however -- you can build the most muscle with exercises that fatigue you after a few sets of 8 to 12 reps. While push-ups may be an intense exercise when you first start out, you will eventually gain enough strength and endurance that you will need to add weight to your push-ups or switch to free weight exercises to make your arms bigger.
Generally if you want to get bigger arms, you want to do exercises that tire your muscles out after in eight to 12 repetitions. Doing low repetitions of exercises with high weight works best for tearing your muscle fibers, which is necessary to get bigger muscles as your body repairs the damaged muscle and increases the amount of tissue. The benefits of low-rep high-weight exercises for building strength and muscles mass was captured by Gerson Campos and colleagues in a November 2002 study in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology." Campos and colleagues showed that trainers that focuses on low-rep high-weight exercises became stronger than those that did many repetitions with low weights.
Push-ups may not be the best exercise for making your arms bigger in the long term. If you are fit you should generally be able to do between 55 and 74 push-ups at a time. You may find that when you first start doing push-ups, a few sets of 8 to 12 push-ups is enough to fatigue your muscles. However, if you do push-ups regularly, it will not be long before you find yourself doing many more than 12 push-ups at a time without getting too tired.
While the optimal rep range for building muscle is around 8 to 12 reps per set, you may still gain smaller amounts of strength and muscle if you exceed that with push-ups. Body building routines that recommend doing low numbers of reps with high weight aim to maximize the muscle growth you get from your workouts. However, you can still gain some muscle from push-ups as long as you fatigue your arms within your anaerobic energy system's limit of 90 seconds. After 90 seconds, push-ups become aerobic, which improves your endurance but may actually contribute to weight loss.
You can increase the muscle-building effect of your push-ups by adding weight. Ask a spotter to hold a plate on your back while you perform push-ups as normal. Or if you prefer to workout at home, you can add weight to your push-ups by wearing a backpack filled with heavy items such as books. Use enough weight to fatigue your arms after a few sets of 8 to 12 reps. However, keep the weight on your upper back around your shoulders. Baring too much weight on your lower back during push-ups may hurt your spine.
- "European Journal of Applied Physiology"; Muscular Adaptations in Response to Three Different Resistance-Training Regimens: Specificity of Repetition Maximum Training Zones; Gerson E. Campos, et al.; November 2002
- Military.com: The Pushup Challenge
- American Council on Exercise: High Reps and Light Weights vs. Low Reps and Heavy Weights?
- ExRx.net: Weighted Push-Up
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.