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Some personal stats: 52 yo. 140 lbs. 5'9"

My max for push ups in one set is around 35.

My 1RM for bench is 145 lbs.

If I use 75% 1RM for doing sets of 10 reps, I should lift around 110 lbs.

If I get in push up position with my hands on a scale, it says around 95 lbs, and if my feet are elevated 18", then it says about 105 lbs.

Sorry for the long-ish set up, here are my two main questions:

When I do the feet elevated push ups, I did about 25 to get close to failure. If the scale says I'm pushing around 100-105 pounds, that seems to conflict with bench press 75% 1RM @ 110 lbs. for 10 reps. The push up and benching weights are pretty close, but the reps are very different. I don't think I could bench 100 lbs. 25 times. What accounts for the difference?

While I'm curious about the difference in that first question, the second question is more practical. If I want to do those elevated push ups for hypertrophy, can I shorten the rest between sets so that I can only manage about 10 reps per set to get in the hypertrophy zone? I've heard the saying "your muscles don't know how much weight your lifting, only the stress they're under." I figure pre-exhausting and limiting rest could created the necessary stress if it's adjusted to stay in a 10 rep zone.

I did a pre-exhaustion set of 25 push ups, then with some trial and error found 20 seconds rest, put me in the 10 rep zone. I did 4 more sets. Reps were 10, 10, 8 then 2 more with a few seconds pause, 5 reps last set took me to failure.

It felt like a good chest workout, but I wasn't sore the next day. (I do push ups about 5 day a week, so I guess that accounts for lack of soreness.) I could add another set, or reduce the rest by 5 seconds.

But, before I try tweaking these workout numbers I want to know, can a push up workout like this, limiting rest to increase the intensity, lead to hypertrophy similar to benching for 10 rep sets? If not, why?

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When I do the feet elevated push ups, I did about 25 to get close to failure. If the scale says I'm pushing around 100-105 pounds, that seems to conflict with bench press 75% 1RM @ 110 lbs. for 10 reps. The push up and benching weights are pretty close, but the reps are very different. I don't think I could bench 100 lbs. 25 times. What accounts for the difference?

The variable you are missing is your arms. When doing pushups, the full weight of your arms are not being pushed up, but they will count on the scale. In the bench, your arms + the weight on the bar is being pushed up.

If I want to do those elevated push ups for hypertrophy, can I shorten the rest between sets so that I can only manage about 10 reps per set to get in the hypertrophy zone?

The "hypertrophic zone" is really just stating that training volume within a certain intensity is what actually drives hypertrophy, and not so much the rep ranges. This means that you need to get sufficiently close to muscle or form failure in each set and perform enough sets per week to optimize hypertrophic results. In a 2016 Meta Analysis, 14/15 articles analyzed favored higher volume over lower volume. In short, if you are shortening the rest, you will likely be lowering the total volume which will negatively affect hypertrophy. This is the same reason that drop sets and super sets are only useful if you are short on time.

It felt like a good chest workout, but I wasn't sore the next day.

DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is not in any way associated with hypertrophy. A recent paper hypothesized that it is neural microdamage, not muscle microdamage which would explain why it is not associated with hypertrophy, but is still a hypothesis for now. This could also explain why you don't experience DOMS on exercises that you train consistently.

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  • Maybe I asked the question the wrong way. Can a push up workout be programmed to give similar effect as bench pressing 10 reps x 5 sets @ 75% 1RM? Replacing that bench press workout is what I would like to do. I can edit the question or post a new one, if that's best. Jun 17 at 13:50
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    Push ups can only be programmed to simulate the bench press up to a point due to weight constraints. To try to simulate it closer you can try to use weight vests or switch to dumbbell bench press (which is much healthier on your shoulders anyways). You can also try different variants of pushups, similar to what you tried with elevating your feet to get more load. Pyke pushups for example are extremely difficult and could be a good replacement. Could you tell me why you are looking to replace the bench press so I can give more specific advice? Jun 17 at 14:35
  • I workout at home, but don't have a bench. I really don't want to get more equipment. I have dumbbells 5-20 lbs. and a bar (pipe) with 100 lbs. of plates. I could do floor press. Also, I'm doing other barbell upper body work along with pull ups, so want some chest press work to balance that. Jun 17 at 14:40
  • Since you are benching relatively close to your body weight just changing up the type of pushups should be sufficient then. I would recommend trying diamond pushups, pike pushups, hindu pushups, archer pushups, etc. All of these at your body weight should be equal to or harder than what you are benching. If you really want to simulate bench press, floor press is an equivalent movement, but the bench press really isn't the best movement for shoulder health anyways. Jun 17 at 14:54
  • Floor presses are supposed to be gentler on the shoulders than bench press: barbend.com/floor-press-benefits. Also using a bit narrower grip than your strongest grip is better for the shoulders. Using dumbells sounds like a good idea. I will try this.
    – Andy
    Jun 20 at 18:48
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My personal experience is that I went from OK progress with benchpressing 3 sets 1 x a week to poor progress doing 5 sets of push-ups twice a week when my gym was closed due to Covid.

However it seems that it is possible to build impressive size and strength by bodyweight training alone, at least for younger men (1).

It also seem that is at least possible to maintain impressive size and strength by bodyweight training alone for elder men (2).

The key seems to be to do a "crazy" amount of sets of many variations with little rest.

Personally I now do 5 sets of push-ups and 5 sets of dips per bodyweight workout in the park and am hoping that this will work better than the 5 sets I did previously. Alternatively I do 5 sets of weighted push ups at home.

(1) How to Build Actual Size and Performance With Advanced Bodyweight Training

(2) BIG CHEST WORKOUT - PUSH UPS ONLY with 58 Year Old Joe

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  • Did you miss where I said my feet are elevated 18 inches? That a slight bench include equivalent. Anyway, I rigged up a way to do weighted pushups, weight strapped from shoulders, and up on chairs for floor clearance. From what I've read, weighted push ups are a good alternative to bench press, using 65% body weight for standard push up position plus the extra weight added. I a lightweight so a 15 lbs. dumbbell got me to 75% of my 1RM at bench press. Jun 25 at 20:23
  • Yes I must have missed that. Yesterday I did pushups with a 15 kg plate on my back and that worked fine for me. My shoulders feels better than when doing bench press so I think I will stick to this. Anyway I think it is important to weight the push-ups. Central park Joe from my video link seemed to be doing 100 sets (!?) of push-ups for his chest workout. For a beginner he recommended 15 sets. That takes a lot of time and then he has only covered 1/2 his upper body.
    – Andy
    Jun 28 at 7:24
  • Herschel Walker is supposed to have been doing 2000-3000 push ups every day. Ed Coan on the other hand seems to have been bench pressing only 1 a week. So it seems the volume required for doing unweighted push-ups increases exponentially with your strength whereas for powerlifter style training it goes down.
    – Andy
    Jun 28 at 7:26

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