Last updated on September 17th, 2022 at 11:13 am
I can’t be the only one to ever wonder is it better to do push ups fast or slow?
The push up is probably the most basic of all bodyweight exercises.
And yet there are literally hundreds of variations and different ways in which you can perform the push up.
So, should you be performing push ups slowly or as fast as possible?
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Is it Better to do Push Ups Fast or Slow?
The correct technique for a push up is to lower yourself in a slow and controlled manner and then explode up. However, slow push ups are better for building muscle and strength. Whereas, fast push ups will build explosive power and cardiovascular fitness.
The “Correct” Way to do a Push Up
As I say, there are so many ways in which you can perform a push up that it’s difficult to know if there is a “right way”.
However, when performing a standard push up I guess there is a technique that we should all follow.
For me, this involves slowly lowering yourself to the ground, for a count of 2-3 seconds, and then exploding up as fast as possible.
By lowering yourself in this slow and controlled manner you are more likely to adhere to strict form.
Your core should remain tight throughout the entire set of push ups.
Additionally, you shouldn’t allow your hips to sag or be too high at any point either.
I also tend to contract my quads and glutes when performing push up, almost turning it into a full-body exercise.
This will always be my preferred way to do push ups.
If anything I may also perform push ups at an ultra-slow pace.
However, I cannot say that I have ever performed fast-paced push ups.
This is not to say that they are “wrong”, it’s just not a style of push up that has ever appealed to me.
The RIGHT Way to do Push Ups
Slow Push Ups Are Better For Time-Under-Tension
I would hazard a guess that one of the main reasons many of us perform push ups is to build muscle.
A fantastic exercise that hits the chest, shoulders and triceps, and can definitely build muscle in all these areas.
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One of the best techniques when it comes to building muscle is to increase time-under-tension.
I’m sure there’s an exact science to it, but I’ve often seen 40 seconds quoted as the “sweet-spot” when it comes to muscle growth.
Basically, if you perform a set (of any exercise) for 40 seconds you are in prime muscle-building territory.
This actually makes a lot of sense when we look at conventional reps performed to hit each training protocol.
Let’s say an exercise has a 2-second concentric and a 2-second eccentric.
So, 4 seconds per rep.
We typically train strength at 1-5 reps, muscle at 8-12 reps, and endurance at 15+ reps.
So, the “sweet spot” for muscle growth is around 10 reps.
Now, you could of course argue that doing 20 reps also increases time under tension.
Although, the thinking here is that because the exercise is “easier” to perform it is viewed as more of an endurance exercise than one for muscle.
That’s not to say that you won’t build muscle in this rep range. You’re just likely to build more at a lower rep range.
You could also argue that performing fast-paced push ups for 40 seconds should then be viewed as a great muscle-building exercise.
However, I would counter-argue that a lot of the fast push ups will use momentum and your form won’t be as strict.
So, proper time-under-tension isn’t being adhered to.
This is just my opinion, but I feel that slow-paced push ups are much better for muscle and strength development.
Fast Push Ups Build Power
If you’re looking for explosive power then fast push ups are the way to go.
This is ideal if you participate in a sport that requires pushing speed and strength.
Most combat sports come to mind, although “pushing power” will also be required in many ball-related sports where the ball is held in the hands.
This is typically why you’ll see people who train as boxers, MMA, or Muay Thai fighters, performing push ups extremely quickly.
There will still be some muscle and strength benefits to doing push ups this way, but in the main it helps to build explosive power.
In fact, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claims that fast push ups are better than plyometric push ups for building explosive upper body strength.
Plyometric push ups could include clapping hand push ups or push ups where you drop from a kneeling position and then push yourself back up to your starting position.
An article by Men’s Health goes into the additional benefits for explosive power from doing fast push ups.
How to Make Your Push Ups Explosive
Better Technique With Slow Push Ups
As I’ve alluded to above, I think slow push ups will definitely ensure that you’re using correct form.
Due to the controlled manner in which you perform slow push ups it’s far easier to make sure that you’re lowering yourself correctly, and then fully extending at the top.
With fast push ups there may be a tendency to perform “half push ups”.
In effect, your chest doesn’t get as close to the ground, and your elbows will always maintain a bend in them.
Now, while this may not be considered great technique, it really does depend on your purpose for performing push ups.
If you’re simply looking to perform as many push ups as possible, or your aim is to build explosive power, do you really need perfect technique?
Once again, from a personal perspective, I always feel that any exercise should be done with correct form.
However, my main aim with push ups and other exercises is to build muscle and strength.
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Better Cardiovascular Training With Fast Push Ups
I guess it stands to reason that the faster you perform any exercise the quicker your heart will beat.
I still look at push ups performed at “traditional” speed as a great conditioning exercise, but you can certainly turn this up a notch.
So, if getting a cardio workout is your aim, fast push ups will definitely help you achieve this.
Now, don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned I think the traditional pace will still have some great benefits for your heart and cardiovascular system.
Don’t believe me, perform a set of push ups close to failure, take a minute’s rest, and repeat this process 3 more times.
You will definitely be breathing a lot heavier and your heart rate will be a lot higher.
With that being said, when you perform push ups at a much faster pace, your cardiovascular system is certainly working a lot harder.
Basically, the better the cardio workout you get from push ups, typically the more calories and fat you can burn.
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This is obviously viewing push ups in the simplest of terms, and using the basic push up as an example.
Let’s not forget that there are many variations of the push up, some of which are better suited to cardio than others.
But, as I say, if you’re looking for more of a cardio workout from your push ups, go fast.
The Best Rep Speed For Push Ups
So, in answer to “Is it Better to do Push Ups Fast or Slow?” I guess the answer is it depends.
If you’re looking to perform push ups in the traditional way, then lower yourself in a slow and controlled manner before exploding back up.
Should your aim be to build muscle and strength, then the slower you perform push ups, the better.
Basically, you’ll get more time-under-tension and you probably won’t be able to perform ultra-high reps of push ups.
And if your aim is to build explosive power and cardiovascular fitness then fast push ups are the way to go.
Therefore, in reality, it does very much depend on what your training goals are.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with some variety, so feel free to mix it up a bit when it comes to push up speed.
If you want to take your push ups to a whole new level then make sure to check out the Warrior Zero Bodyweight Challenge
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.