I’m sure many of you want to know if you can maintain muscle mass with push ups.
There may be numerous reasons why you’re turning to the most popular bodyweight exercise on the planet.
However, one thing’s for sure, you certainly don’t want to lose your hard-earned gains.
So, let’s find out whether the beloved push up is going to be a help or a hindrance for muscle maintenance.
Can You Maintain Muscle Mass With Push Ups?
You can maintain and even build muscle mass with push ups, irrespective of how muscular you currently are. You need to perform a variety of push ups, such as standard, incline, spiderman, etc. You should also use techniques, including supersets, circuits, isometrics, slow tempo.
1. Push Up Supersets and Circuits to Maintain Muscle Mass
Many of us view the push up as a very basic exercise and typically think nothing of cranking out a few reps.
In fact, I would hazard a guess that you even believe that it’s impossible to maintain muscle mass with push ups.
Basically, we view certain rep and set schemes as the ideal way to achieve our body composition goals.
When we hit the most well-known push exercise, the bench press, we generally aim for a specific number of reps.
If strength is the name of the game then it’s 3-5 reps.
If building muscle is your thing then it’s 8-12 reps.
And 15+ reps takes us into the realms of muscle endurance.
So, to build or maintain muscle we look to stay within the 8-12 rep scheme.
Admittedly, I never really bought into this philosophy.
Okay, I do agree that if you want to get strong then you should be lifting as heavy as possible (although, I could argue against this too).
However, I still believe that you can build slabs of muscle and increase your endurance with low-rep work.
Try to tell me that your heart isn’t beating out of your chest and that you’re not out of breath after a particularly heavy bench, deadlift, or squat.
And you know you’re feeling pumped too.
Anyway, back to the point – push ups.
Mix it Up a Little
Rather than specifically focusing on how many reps of push ups you can get in, try to perform a variety of push ups in either a superset or circuit fashion.
The easiest variety would be to perform a standard push up, followed by wide hand position, followed by narrow hand position push ups.
You can aim for 12-15 reps of each with little to no rest between each variation.
Then take a minute’s rest and perform the sequence another 2-4 times.
Trust me, you will get an awesome pump and you’ll probably stimulate muscles (and growth) that are usually ignored when you bench.
Why stop there?
You can do the same with decline, spiderman, and plyo push ups.
What about one-handed, staggered hands, and superman push ups.
How about a 10-rep of each exercise circuit of incline, pike, diamond, Hindu, and incline push ups.
The possibilities are endless.
So, rather than trying to crank out as many push ups as you possible can, mix it up a little.
This is generally how you train in the gym, so why should your bodyweight workouts be any different?
30 Push Up Variations
2. Do Push Ups For Time Not Reps
Staying with the theme of just getting down on the floor and cranking out countless push ups, my advice is to STOP counting reps.
It’s what we do isn’t it?
No matter what your level of strength or fitness, the aim is to get down and perform 10, 20, 30, 50, or 100 push ups in a row.
However, I feel this can actually hinder muscle maintenance or gains.
Much the same as the body adapts to certain exercises and weight in the gym, the same can be said for the push up.
You may be used to completing 30 push ups as a set and so you continue doing this whenever you perform the exercise.
The mind becomes attuned to this specific number.
I also believe that sometimes form and technique goes out the window when we do our push ups in this way.
You’re used to doing 30 push ups, so you just do them in one hit without really concentrating on each specific movement.
Can you honestly say that you complete every single push up with a full range of motion?
Do you touch the floor with every rep?
Are your arms fully extended at the top of the movement?
But what would happen if you just aimed for a certain time and just stopped counting push ups?
Even better is to do this as a superset or circuit as mentioned above, but using a timer.
You’re probably aware that time-under-tension is extremely important when it comes to muscle growth, so a great place to start would be sets of 45 seconds.
The “No Counting Reps” Push Up Workout
Pick two push up variations.
Set a timer for 45 seconds work and 15 seconds rest for a total of 6 minutes.
Then superset your way through the exercises, but concentrate on performing each rep with perfect form.
I know how difficult it can be, but try to NOT count reps at all.
Obviously, adjust the timings I’ve mentioned here based on how many push ups you can currently do.
If your max set of push ups is 10 reps, then you use 20 seconds work and 30 seconds rest.
The aim is to build up to 45 seconds work and 15 seconds rest over a period of weeks.
A few fantastic benefits of doing push ups this way include:
- You are spending enough time-under-tension to actually stimulate muscle growth.
- You won’t actually know when the set is going to end, and as you become fatigued, trust me, this will play on your mind.
- This is the ideal opportunity to use perfect form, as you’re not worrying about a specific number of reps.
So, forget reps and concentrate on time and see what happens.
3. Slow Down and Use Isometrics
By slowing down your reps and incorporating isometrics you are creating a completely different stimulus for the muscles.
One that they are probably not used to.
Not only can this help to maintain, but it will lead to new muscle growth as well.
The Basic Isometric Push Up
My Advanced 4-Stage Isometric Push Up
Once again, look to incorporate a variety of push ups with this method.
Here’s how to use this technique with standard push ups.
Start off in the “up” position and I want you to lower yourself in 4 stages.
So, literally lower yourself about 2-3 inches and then hold for 8 seconds.
While you’re holding this position I want to really squeeze the target muscles, namely the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
To go one step further and turn this into a full-body exercise, squeeze the glutes, quads and core as well.
This is an isometrics squeeze and will really help you to focus on the mind-muscle connection.
Then lower yourself a further 2-3 inches and complete the 8-second “squeeze-hold” again.
Repeat this a third time and then a fourth.
On the fourth “lowering repetition” you should be in the bottom position of the push up.
You can go back through the gears and slowly push yourself up, while stopping and squeezing for 8 seconds at each stage.
Or you can simply push your way back up to the top and start the sequence over again.
The choice is yours.
Either way, you’ll find it hard to perform many more than 5-6 reps maximum before fatigue sets in.
The aim here is to slowly transition through each stage of the push up and really making sure that you squeeze the target muscles whenever you come to a stop.
If you think about it, this will literally take one minute or longer to perform one rep.
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Why Are You Trying to Maintain Muscle Mass With Push Ups?
I guess there could be a number of reasons why you’re turning to push ups in order to maintain muscle mass.
So, let’s have a look at what I believe are the 3 most common.
Going on Holiday
I know I’m guilty of never 100% taking a break from working out, even when I’m on holiday.
I’m supposed to be relaxing and enjoying myself.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Depending on where I’m going, I’ll typically look to book a hotel with a gym.
That being said, I have enjoyed many “remote” holidays, which offer no such luxury.
So, push ups and bodyweight squats are usually the order of the day.
However, there’s a few reasons you shouldn’t really worry about exercise at all.
Firstly, skeletal muscular strength generally stays exactly the same for up to 3 weeks, even for the most well-trained individuals.
In fact, it’s our cardio and aerobic fitness that starts to diminish first, potentially within just a few days.
Therefore, as long as you’re not on vacation for longer than 3 weeks, you’re good to go.
Secondly, I know I’m definitely not the only, but I tend to push myself to the point of overtraining prior to going away.
I mean, you want to look ripped and fantastic while strolling down the beach, don’t you?
It’s not unheard-of me to train hard, heavy, and long every single day for about 15-20 days before I go on holiday.
So, by treating your vacation as a total deload week or two, you could actually find that your body composition improves.
Finally, plain and simple, you’re on holiday stop worrying about it and enjoy yourself.
The dreaded curse of the injury usually spells a stall for your gains.
I’m hoping that the reason you’re turning to push ups to maintain muscle mass is a lower body injury.
Because if you’re hurting whenever you perform a bench press or overhead press, then don’t think you’ll be able to crank out a few hundred push ups without making things worse.
Personally, depending on the seriousness of the injury, I would generally recommend taking a complete break until you heal.
I know when I herniated a couple of discs in my lower spine that I let it completely heal before performing a single rep of any type of exercise.
My injury had occurred because of muscle weaknesses and imbalances, so I didn’t want to start focusing solely on a push exercise, while completely ignoring my lower body and back.
So, please have a think about it first, and consider if you’ll make things worse even by focusing on just push ups.
No Access to a Gym
At the time of writing, this is a very topical issue.
I don’t know about everyone else, but at the moment I have no access to a gym because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Suffice to say, my workouts have been focused on bodyweight training and using the equipment I have available to me.
This is a valid reason to focus on push ups, and I’ve definitely done my fair share over the last few months.
I’ve used the techniques that I have described above and I can attest to the fact that I have not only maintained muscle, but actually added some too.
Bodyweight exercises ROCK!
Hopefully, I’ve got you covered here on how to maintain muscle mass with push ups.
As you can see it’s all about using push up variations and employing numerous techniques.
I think the main issue when it comes to maintaining or building muscle mass is that we often focus on doing the same things over-and-over again.
This will never work.
Are you ready for a Push Up Beast Challenge?
This happens to be a 30-day push up workout that forms one part of a truly awesome training program I’ve recently reviewed.
Discover more in my Bodyweight Beast Review.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.