The push-up is an old school, barebones exercise. But it’s an essential muscle-building move that’s incorporated in every well-toned athlete’s training program because it delivers results. Push-ups target your arms, chest, back and core. Which means they’re the key to looking better with your shirt off. What’s even more amazing is that they’re a barometer of your overall cardiovascular health as well.

A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that men who can complete 40 consecutive push-ups have a 96% lower risk of coronary artery disease and heart attacks in the future compared with those who can only do 10 or fewer. The study monitored the exercise of more than 1,100 active firemen and followed their health over the next decade. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular disease events than was aerobic capacity as estimated by a treadmill exercise test.

The good news, according to Justin Yang, a Harvard physician and one the study’s authors, is that even if you’re not hitting 40 but can still perform more than 10, you’re doing some good. The researchers found that your heart disease risk decreased with every push-up completed over the baseline of 10.

Ready to start working on your push-up regimen? Us too. For some guidance, we turned to Alden Mills, the three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander, founder of Perfect Fitness and author of “Unstoppable Teams: The 4 Essential Actions of High Performance Leadership.”

A correct push-up

Why is the push-up such a barometer of health?

Everyone’s heard about the value of the plank exercise because of its benefits in core alignment, posture and overall muscle activation throughout our kinetic chain. A push-up is nothing more than what I call an active plank. It requires stabilization, balance, strength and some cardiovascular conditioning to perform multiple in a row.

Explain your Perfect Push-Up technique.

The basic concept is mimicking functional movement patterns. When you throw a punch your fist rotates; when you bench press with dumb bells your hands naturally rotate. That was the idea behind rotating pushup handles—enable your body to move the way it is naturally intended. Going a little deeper, think about your kinetic chain of your feet for a moment: how you plant your feet initiates a cascading series of muscle contractions through your body.

Perfect Fitness Rotating Push-Up HandlesFor example, how you position your feet during movement engages different gluteus muscles. The same applies when using your hands. Position your hands directly under your shoulders and your elbows will naturally point towards your feet thus engaging more of your triceps. Move your hands two-hand widths wider than your shoulders and your elbows will point in opposite directions (east and west so to speak) which activates more of your chest. Add rotation and the three different hand positions and you get a wonderful upper body workout.

When’s the best time to tackle some push-ups?

Anytime. Really, it’s up to you and what works for your schedule. I’m a light sleeper and the endorphins generated from push-ups keeps me awake at night. I like starting the day with some slow steady push-ups. I mean like a really slow plank. Then, throughout the day, I make a game of sneaking in push-ups. Like right before I go to the bathroom (I have to wash my hands anyhow, right?) or even during meetings in the afternoon when folks are getting tired from too many carbs at lunch. The good news is the effects you receive from doing them throughout the day are accumulative. So don’t fret on when to do them, instead focus on just pushing them out!


Here’s an old trainer trick: Take the number of solid push-ups you can do, and divide that in half. Complete five sets of that number, resting 60 seconds between each set. (For example, if you can do eight perfect push-ups, you’ll do five sets of four push-ups, followed by a minute rest.) Your next workout, deduct 5 seconds from your rest. Eventually, you’ll be down to no rests in between sets, enabling you to do 20 solid push-ups in a row.

Source: Valet Magazine