Do Push-Ups Burn Belly Fat? (Facts You Need to Know)

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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Some of the fitness colleagues I have at the gym routinely include mega reps of different push-up variations in their clients’ regimens, and I must say some of those guys really have finely sculpted bodies with shredded abs.

I wondered if push-ups are what gave those guys abs and if it could be an effective approach to reducing belly fat since it's a compound strength exercise.

So I devoted one month to reading everything relevant I could find about push-ups and their relationship with weight loss, and I discussed those with some notable calisthenic athletes.

Here are my findings.

Quick Summary

  • Push-ups, primarily strength training exercises, are not the most effective for fat loss as they don't significantly increase heart rate.
  • Correct push-up form involves a high plank position, hands shoulder-width apart, and contracting muscles in a straight line before motion.
  • A study in JAMA Network Open suggests men capable of over 40 push-ups in a row have a lower risk of cardiovascular issues.
  • In my opinion, combining push-ups with a balanced diet and other exercises is essential for effective belly fat reduction.

Are Push-ups Good Exercises for Fat Loss?

Front view of a person doing push ups

Push-ups aren't good exercises for fat loss by themselves as they usually don't trigger the heart rate required for quick fat burn.

However, they can contribute to the overall caloric output as they engage multiple muscle groups.

Alright, let's break it down simply. Push-ups are great for muscle building and boosting your resting metabolic rate, which, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), means you'll burn more calories even when chilling out [1].

They work multiple muscles at once and can really torch calories, especially in high-intensity workouts or circuit training. This also ramps up fat burning.

I recommend switching up your push-up routine with variations like incline, clap, or diamond push-ups to keep trimming that waistline. This approach keeps your muscles engaged and burning more fat.

How to Execute Correct Form?

A line of athletes doing push ups as training

I'd say push-ups are often the first step into strength and conditioning training.

They're a fundamental exercise in our industry, yet it's surprising how many people still don't get them quite right.

To correctly perform a push-up, do next:

  1. Take a plank position with your hips, legs, and feet aligned in a straight line.
  2. Place your hands a bit wider than your shoulders, with your palms directly under your shoulders.
  3. With your eyes gazing downwards, contract your core muscles, leg muscles, and butt, and pull your shoulder blades down and back.
  4. Slowly go further towards the floor, bending your elbows and pushing your shoulders backward until your chest touches the ground.
  5. Stay downward for a few seconds, breathe out, then push your body to the starting position.

Performing this exercise correctly and in the right form will reap the most benefits, regardless of how many push-ups you can do.

Push-Ups and Core Stability

Push-ups, a classic bodyweight exercise, offer more than just calorie burning; they are pivotal in enhancing core strength and stability, crucial elements for comprehensive fitness.

Engaging a wide range of muscles, push-ups primarily target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, but their real power lies in the simultaneous activation of the core muscles.

This engagement of the abdominal and lower back muscles during push-ups helps in building a strong, stable core.

A robust core not only improves posture and athletic performance but also boosts metabolism. This metabolic enhancement indirectly aids in fat loss by increasing the body's calorie-burning efficiency, even at rest.

What Number Per Day is Optimal?

A personal trainer teaching push ups

The ideal number of daily push-ups depends on your shape and abilities. For rookies, start with a smaller number and slowly increase with time to avoid injuries and soreness.

The situation is that most people overdo them while others don't do enough.

In my experience, a regular person should be able to do between 50 and 100 push-ups in a day. However, if it's something extraordinary and new for you, do as many push-ups as you comfortably can, and don't obsess over numbers.

A study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that men who can do over 40 push-ups in a row are less likely to develop cardiovascular issues later in life than those who can do only ten or fewer [2].

"How many you can do at one time offers a real-time measurement of your strength and muscular endurance and is an easy tool to help you improve."

- Dr. Edward Phillips, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School

FAQs

What are The Disadvantages of Push-ups?

The disadvantages of push-ups are potential injuries that may occur if you overdo this exercise and put too much stress on the joints and elbows included in performing this exercise.

Common issues include elbow injury, wrist pain, and lower back pain.

The incorrect form of push-ups can also cause more severe problems with the shoulders and elbows, which is typical for upper body exercises like pull-ups.

How Many Calories Do 20 Push-ups Burn?

How many calories 20 push-ups burn depends on factors like body weight, workout intensity, age, and sex.

In general, push-ups burn around seven calories per minute, so if you can do 20 push-ups in a minute, that's the number of calories burned.

Why Do Push-ups Never Get Easier?

Push-ups do get easier with time and practice. For them to become near-effortless, you must practice this movement regularly to overcome initial strength deficiencies, joint pain, and lack of training. When your body starts to get used to it, you'll be able to do many push-ups daily.

 


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14692598/
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2724778
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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