Growing up, many of us are told to do push-ups and sit-ups to get buff. But nobody ever tells us how many push-ups we need to do to actually get those results.
Some people will get ripped doing just 20 push-ups, and others will need to do hundreds. When it comes down to it, different people need different numbers.
But ultimately, you need more than just push-ups to get ripped.
OK, What Does “Ripped” Mean?
The biggest issue with getting asked how much of a single exercise someone needs to do to get ripped is that “ripped” has a different definition depending on who’s answering it.
Instead of trying to guess everyone’s personal opinion on this topic, there’s a very loose definition that’s commonly used based on body fat percentage:
- For men: About 12-15% of body fat will allow some abs to show through
- For women: Below about 17-20% will reveal some ab musculature
Knowing these numbers and getting a good mental image of them will help you to establish your own goals.
Additionally, there’s an old saying that what gets measured matters. If you’re able to measure your progress, then you’re proving it matters to you.
If the goal is to be ripped, it’s much better to have a body fat percentage number to aim for than a vague mental image because that’s a pretty unreliable reference. On top of that, the end goal will continually change if you frequently see yourself and find dissatisfaction in your appearance.
Set Your Goal & Starting Point
To really get a ripped chest and show off how buff push-ups can get you, you need to set a goal and document your starting point.
The easiest way to do this is to record your starting point first. Begin by taking a picture in whatever attire you feel to be most appropriate.
That is your starting point. Every improvement you make will be compared to that initial photo – NOT YOUR GOAL.
Measuring against your starting point is the better option for the same reason that Dave Ramsey recommends using the Snow-Ball Method for paying off debt.
If you hit little goals along the journey, you’ll get more motivation to build on to the bigger goal. Before you know it, you’re at the end of the journey and successfully built into a giant avalanche.
Then comes the second part of this step: Setting your goal.
Once you have your starting point, you need to decide on the end goal. Use the SMART goal planning method to make sure you can achieve your goal.
When you create your goal, you need to hit the criteria of being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
With this in mind, you can use your baseline to create a SMART goal and begin planning how you’ll get there.
The Training Plan
It was said earlier, but it must be reiterated: Push-ups alone will not get you ripped.
The human body is incredibly adaptable. This study here shows exactly that. It actually shows the importance of overloading the muscles to see continued muscle growth.
Using some reasoning, though, it’s very safe to assume that if you do the same thing over and over, you won’t see results.
This explains the biggest reason why push-ups alone won’t get you ripped, no matter how many you do.
There’s some truth to only doing one exercise and gaining size and strength. For example, this study shows that doing unilateral training results in total-body growth.
Why doesn’t anyone recommend this long-term, then?
It goes back to the body’s adaptability and the fact that there’s only minimal carryover to the opposite side. So doing push-ups will inadvertently grow your legs, but there’s a limit to the growth.
Remember: The Focus Is on Getting Ripped
OK, let’s get back to the plan.
You can’t just make something up without thinking it through. There’s a reason there aren’t any bodybuilders that do a primary bodyweight routine for their competitions.
When the goal isn’t to just get buff – that’s to say, just packing on muscle without consideration for how you look – then free weights are the undisputed champ.
But the goal is to get ripped. Therefore, push-ups should be included in the workout to help you get a ripped upper body – just not the sole basis of your workout. Doing a lot of push-ups will guarantee you get good at doing push-ups, though.
If your goal is to be total-body ripped, then a total-body workout plan is optimal. You can still do a lot with bodyweight-based workouts. Just look up CaliMove on YouTube if you don’t believe it.
The biggest issue with bodyweight workouts and long-term progression is that your body weight will hit a point where you’ll likely not weigh enough to add volume to your training. You can always add more reps, but doing three or more sets of 100 reps or more is tedious and unrealistic.
Also, after doing a certain number of reps, it begins to be more about you building cardiovascular strength than muscular strength. That’s why bikers and runners are so thin.
If you insist on doing a workout with the primary movement being push-ups, that’s doable. You can even add resistance bands into the mix to increase the resistance of normal push-ups.
Just make sure you program in other large movements to hit your other body parts. A great starting point is to incorporate a push, a pull, a leg, and a hinge movement.
This will get your body working in every plane of movement and will lead to the largest amount of muscle gain.
Never Neglect Diet
100% – this is everyone’s least favorite aspect of getting ripped: Diet and nutrition.
You’ll never fully achieve your goals without having a plan. And a great plan isn’t all about the workouts. It also focuses on the nutrition aspect.
When it comes to getting ripped, your nutrition is definitely the most important part. Doing as many push-ups as you can is great, but it’s really stupid to do that and not have the correct nutrition to actually see the benefits of those push-ups.
If you’re untrained or have low experience, then you don’t need the numbers of a bodybuilder or anything like that.
For those that are intermediate, it becomes more important. For more experienced lifters, here’s a study on the optimal numbers for you to hit.
For everyone else, here’s a broad overview that’s extremely useful.
Your primary focus needs to be on your macronutrients. These are:
And they should be consumed in a correct percentage of your total caloric intake. Those percentages are:
- Protein: 25-35%
- Fats: 20-40%
- Carbohydrates: 25-55%
How Many Calories Do You Need?
Your next question is probably about how many calories you need, so my anticipated response is that it depends on where you’re starting and what your goal is.
A quick explanation is that you should calculate your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). TDEE is just how many calories your body needs in order to simply exist in maintenance.
Knowing this number, which can be roughly estimated with a TDEE calculator online or more accurately via a fitness tracker and food tracking app (like MyFitnessPal), you can then calculate how many calories you need to consume in order to gain or lose weight.
More calories will lead to a gain, and the inverse will lead to a loss of weight. Then, there’s recomposing your body by planning your calories out so minutely that you’re essentially maintaining your weight but gaining muscle and losing fat.
That’s an extremely advanced technique and often too complex and scientific for many people. Of course, the easier option is to go through phases of gaining and cutting until you reach the optimal size and composition you desire for your body.
As long as your plan is sustainable for the long term, it’s likely to be successful for you to live your optimal life and get ripped.
How Many Push-Ups Will Get You Ripped?
After that massive rabbit hole, we finally circled back to the original question – How many push-ups will get you ripped?
“It depends” is probably the most annoying response, but it’s the most accurate. You really need to make sure you do the big three things before getting a solid number to answer the question:
- Get your starting point and set a goal
- Create a plan to reach your goal
- Make sure you have a diet plan as well
The answer “it depends” hopefully makes more sense now. If not, there are plenty of other resources on this site that will help you. Start with this blog, which is a free resource with plenty of information at your fingertips.