The Push Up Test Protocol & Normative Values

In this article, we’re going to cover what the push up test is, how to perform the test and provide normative data for athletes competing in various sports and at various levels, as well as those in the public services.

What is the push up test?

The push up test, also referred to as the press-up test, is a widely recognised test that has stood the test of time. Its origins can be traced back to military and athletic training, where it has been used for decades to measure upper body muscular endurance.

The push up test involves starting in a high plank position and completing as many push-ups as possible within a certain time period or until technical failure, depending on the specific guidelines you follow – variations of the push up test have emerged over time, including those tailored for athletes and others commonly employed in the public services.

What does the push up test measure?

The push up test is a common way to measure muscular endurance of the upper body muscles, specifically the pecs, front delt and triceps.

Muscular endurance is the muscle or group of muscles’ ability to produce force repeatedly – so, if we get more specific, the push up test measures the pecs, front delts and triceps’ ability to produce force in a pressing movement repeatedly.

How to perform the push up test

To perform the push up test, you will need:

  • One recorder / technical judge
  • Stopwatch
  • Metronome
  • A testing area with a flat surface

Procedure for the push up test:

  • Ensure the athlete completes a standardised warm-up that prepares them for the test they are about to undertake.
  • The push up test begins with the athlete in a high plank position, with their hands under or just outside their shoulders, the core and glute muscles engaged, feet shoulder-width apart and the body in a straight line from head to heal.
  • The athlete then lowers their body to within 2cm of the floor, whilst maintaining a straight line from head to heel and the arms at approximately 45 degrees to the body.
  • The athlete then returns to the starting position by extending the arms fully and repeating this cycle.
  • For the army standard, the athlete should complete as many repetitions as possible within 2 minutes. For the ACSM standard and tailored for athlete, complete as many repetitions as possible continuously until technical failure.

How to score the push up test?

Record the number of push ups completed with the correct technique.  

Variations of the push up test:

There are numerous variations of the push up test, we’ll explore the most commonly known variations below.

Timed Test

In the world of public services, this variation is the most commonly used approach. This variation challenges participants to perform as many push ups as possible within a specified time frame. For the army, this is typically conducted over two minutes, whereas for the Navy, it is over one minute. For other organizations, the variation may be tailored to their specific needs that reflect the physically demanding profession.

Tempo Test

The tempo push up test, in contrast to the traditional push up, introduces a specific cadence or rhythm to the exercise. Participants must perform push ups in a controlled pace, often following a prescribed pattern of down and up movements – this may be one second down, 1 second up using a metronome. This variation not only evaluates muscular endurance but also highlights an individual ability to maintain control and the quality of the push up.

Pros of the push up test

  • Simple administration – the push up test is easy to set up and administer, it can be performed by the individual themselves and conducted anywhere.
  • Quick assessment – the test can be completed relatively quickly, making it convenient in time-limited situations or with large groups.
  • Cost effective – No specialized equipment or facilities are needed, making it budget-friendly.
  • Progressive tracking – the push up test serves as a tool for tracking improvements or declines in upper body muscular endurance over time.

Cons of the push up test

  • Subjective scoring – scoring can be subjective as it relies on an a technical judge or coaches judgement of whether each push up meets the required standard.
  • Motivational factors – results can be greatly influenced by motivation.

Normative scores for push up test

Push up test normative data from males and females from a range of ages can be seen in the tables below.

Push Up Test Normative Values
Canadian Physical Activity, Fitness & Lifestyle Approach (2003)

We recommend taking caution when comparing your score to normative data here. While we’ve researched extensively for sources, we couldn’t verify the specifics of the data or the individuals or teams it represents. We recommend creating your own database of normative data, leveraging your team data or that of other athletes within your group over time to develop a context-specific portfolio of information for you.

Frequently asked questions on push up test

What is a good push up test result?

What is considered a good push up test result depends on your specific goals. For instance, if you’re a diver reliant upon excellent upper body capacity, a good test result might be around 30 push ups. Conversely, if you’re a runner, where upper body capacity holds less significance, doing 8 push-ups could be considered a good test result.

For a broader reference, we can turn to established norms. Among individuals aged 20-29, 28-22 push ups are considered good for men and 20-15 push ups are considered good for women. We advise establishing your own normative standards within the context of the group you work in and your specific goals.

How do I train for a push up test?

There are a couple of approaches you can take to develop your strength to enhance your performance of the push up test, both approaches require progressive overload!

  • Eccentric focus – this focuses on the lower phase of the exercise and then assists the concentric. For example, you could slowly lower yourself down over seconds of the push-up (weighted/non-weighted) and use your knees to go back to the top position of the press-up. Focus on adding more reps week by week.
  • Weight assistance – added additional weight on top of body weight can help overload the body in order to increase strength and improve your maxes. For example, this could be as simple as adding a 5kg weight on your back during a push up. Focus on adding more weight week by week.
  • Band assistance – using resistance bands can help improve the concentric part of the exercise and help you perform more. For example, you can place a band on the rack above you and place it around your chest to assist you in the downward phase of the press up. This can help improve the number of total reps you can do. Focus on adding more reps week by week or using a lighter band for assistance.

What is the push up test?

The push up test measures muscular endurance of the upper body muscles, specifically the pecs, front delt and triceps. It involves starting in a high plank position and completing as many push-ups as possible within a certain time period or until technical failure, depending on the specific guidelines you follow.

Why am I strong but can’t do push ups?

While you may possess overall strength, it’s possible that you may have specific muscle groups involved in the push up, such as the pecs, front delts and triceps, may be weak and may require specific training. Refining your technique can also help bridge the gap and improve your push-up performance.

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