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As titled. Why do people say pushups are useless for muscle growth if you can do them in high rep?

Why not just slow down the tempo and making it hard enough that you can do only 10 reps? Why is this not an effective (and safer) strategy for muscle growth?

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There is a meta-analysis by Schoenfeld that discusses the effect on hypertrophy when alterating repetition duration. They found that hypertrophy is similar when training with repetition durations ranging from 0.5 to 8 seconds, as long as sets were performed close to failure. They also found that training with a repetition duration greater than 10 seconds is likely inferior for hypertrophy.

Thus, slowing down your repetitions or even adding pauses can be used to progressive overload your bodyweight exercises.

On the other hand I need to adress that in all of the studies discussed by the Shoenfeld meta-analysis both the slow rep and the fast rep groups never worked outside what most people would consider the 'hypertrophy range'. The fast groups generally never went over 30 reps in a set.

Therefore, to directly adress your question: It is certainly questionable whether slowing down your rep tempo for an exercise you can do 50 repetitions of is an effective way of progressive overloading. If you would do the repetitions so slow that you can only do 10 reps as you write in your question, then the repetition duration would certainly be beyond 10 seconds, which is likely inferior as pointed out.

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You need to progressively overload a muscle for stimulate growth as your body adapts to the movement. Once you slow down enough, you'll be performing (essentially) a static hold. How do you progress from there? Longer times will increase your endurance but not so much muscle growth.

Slowing down works for a while but at some point you need to increase the resistance with more weight. This answer has extra information about stimulating hypertrophy on a muscle.

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  • FWIW, outside of stopping the movement entirely, slow push-ups aren't really static, although I guess you could see it as a continuum of static holds in a sort of Xeno's exercise plan. :-P That said, common practice for bodyweight adherents is to increase the effort, whether through more difficult pushups (elevated, diamond, wide, etc) or just adding weight via a backpack or accommodating child or pet.
    – Sean Duggan
    Mar 15, 2023 at 12:59
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The rule is that "using a resistance so light that you could do a very large number of reps is suboptimal for hypertrophy", not that "doing high numbers of reps is suboptimal for hypertrophy".

If you can do 100 pushups, slowing them down to the point where you can only do 10 doesn't change anything. It's still a resistance so light that you could do 100 (normal speed) pushups, so it's still suboptimal for hypertrophy.

Or, looking at it differently, you could say that a set that takes you more than, say, 2 minutes to fatigue is suboptimal for hypertrophy. Doing 100 normal speed pushups in 3 minutes is then no different from doing 10 tempo pushups where each rep takes 18 seconds, for a total set time of 3 minutes.

You need more resistance, and tempo work does not provide that.

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    @nz_21 the resistance is the amount of weight you're moving, not how difficult the movement feels. Tempo is lifting the same resistance more slowly. Mar 14, 2023 at 0:58
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    @nz_21 The primary driver for hypertrophy is mechanical tension, not 'muscle tears'. Extremely oversimplified this means you want to fatigue your muscles. When working with very light loads the sets take so long that it is your central nervous system that will fatigue and force you to abandon the set before your muscles do. Mar 15, 2023 at 4:01
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    @nz_21 Your muscles absolutely do know the weight number you're lifting (or, more precisely, how much muscular tension is needed to overcome it). It's called 'mechanotransduction'. More weight increases tension on the muscle. Slower tempo doesn't. Mar 15, 2023 at 4:08
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    @nz_21 central fatigue is defined as a reduction in your ability to voluntarily activate a muscle. There is no easy way to tell when this occurs. Here is a study that compares the extent of central fatigue when using different loads. Mar 15, 2023 at 15:11
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    If to you studies and scientific research are on par with the opinion of your average gymbro then I am not sure why you asked your question on a site that generally expects answers to be research based. Just go ask a gymbro. Mar 15, 2023 at 23:53

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