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How Much Weight Do You Actually Push Up During a Pushup?

Updated on March 25, 2016
How much weight are you lifting during a pushup?
How much weight are you lifting during a pushup? | Source

I'm sure many of you fitness gurus out there have asked yourself this question after doing a few hundred pushups. Us non-fitness gurus have had the same aching question for quite a while too. "How much weight did I just lift?" you might ask yourself after a good round of pushups. Was it 90% of my body weight? No, maybe it was 50%? Well, in this article I will calculate the percentage of your body weight that you would expect to "push up" during both regular and inclined pushups.

Proper Push Ups

Before I begin with the math, lets define what a pushup is. More specifically, lets discuss proper form and technique. First, get onto the ground. Elevate your body using your arms. Your back must be straight like a board. Don't let your gluteus maximus stick into the air or hang low. There should be a 90 degree angle between your arms and the floor. Your hands should be placed about one and a half times your shoulder width apart and pointed parallel to your body. Your body should be raised on the balls of your feet. Your feet should also be touching or no more than shoulder width apart. When you go downward, only bend your elbows. You can come back up once the elbows break the plane of your back.

Good form is the key to your success and the validity of this calculation
Good form is the key to your success and the validity of this calculation | Source

Mathematical Assumptions

I will calculate the percentage of body weight resisted during a pushup for an average sized person (I used Leonardo Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" to properly scale the human structure because there was no other source of body measurements I could find). Since the resulting number will be a percentage, it will be correct for any person who has the same dimensions or ratio of dimensions as the average person calculated here. However, if you have abnormally short or long legs or arms compared to your height, the calculation will not necessarily be valid for you. For the purpose of the calculations, the center of gravity for a human is assumed to act through the hips.


The characteristics of an average 25 year old American male are:

  • Height: 70 inches (1.778 m)
  • Palm to Shoulder length: 23 inches (0.5842 m)
  • Shoulder to Hip Length: 24.75 inches (0.62865 m)
  • Hip to Ankle Length: 31.5 inches (0.800 m)

For Inclined Pushups, the following objects will be used for the calculations:

  • Standard Chair Height: 18 inches (0.457 m)
  • Standard Counter Top Height: 32 inches (0.813 m)

Method/Calculations

I will calculate the resultant forces in the hand (e.g. arms) of a human using the principles of engineering statics, Newton's Second Law of Motion, and the assumptions stated above.. The metric system will also be used to simplify the calculations.

Regular Pushups

Weight (W) is equal to the mass of an object multiplied by the acceleration of gravity.  We don't need to know the person's weight in this example because we are only computing a ratio (percentage)
Weight (W) is equal to the mass of an object multiplied by the acceleration of gravity. We don't need to know the person's weight in this example because we are only computing a ratio (percentage) | Source

Using trigonometry, the angle between the floor and the plane of the back is 24.1218 degrees. The horizontal distance from the foot to the hip is 0.7301 meters and to the hand is 1.304 meters.

The forces in the Horizontal Direction are zero. Fx = 0

The sum of the forces in the vertical direction are: FY = FHand + FFoot - W = 0

The sum of the moments about the foot is MFoot = (0.730m)×W - (1.304m)×FHand = 0

Because we have cleverly chosen where to place our moment equation, it is the only one we need to solve to determine the force in your hand.

1.304FHand = 0.730W

Therefore, FHand = 0.5598W

Inclined Pushups on a Chair

Here, an inclined pushup is performed on a standard chair with a seat 18 inches above the ground.

The man's body is elevated on a chair that is 18" tall.
The man's body is elevated on a chair that is 18" tall. | Source

Using trigonometry and the Pythagorean theorem, the horizontal distance from the feet to the hands is 1.475 meters. The angle between the plane of the back and the floor is 39.24 degrees. The horizontal distance from the feet to the hip is 0.620 meters.

The net force in the horizontal direction is zero: FX = 0

The sum of the forces in the vertical direction are: FY = FHand + FFoot - W = 0

The sum of the moments about the foot is MFoot = (0.620m)×W - (1.475m)×FHand = 0

Rearranging the last equation, we can relate the force in the hand to the weight:

1.475FHand = 0.620W

FHand = 0.420W

Therefore, the upward force in the hands is 42% of your body weight.

Inclined Pushups on a Countertop

Here, an inclined pushup is performed on a standard countertop with the work surface 32 inches above the ground.

A standard counter top is 32" above the ground. Try this inclined pushup position at home. You'll find that it is very easy compared to the regular pushup position.
A standard counter top is 32" above the ground. Try this inclined pushup position at home. You'll find that it is very easy compared to the regular pushup position. | Source

Using trigonometry and the Pythagorean theorem, the horizontal distance from the feet to the hands is 1.311 meters. The angle between the plane of the back and the floor is 53.96 degrees. The horizontal distance from the feet to the hip is 0.470 meters.

The net force in the horizontal direction is zero: FX = 0

The sum of the forces in the vertical direction are: FY = FHand + FFoot - W = 0

The sum of the moments about the foot is MFoot = (0.470m)×W - (1.311m)×FHand = 0

Rearranging the last equation, we can relate the force in the hand to the weight:

1.311FHand = 0.470W

FHand = 0.360W

Therefore, the upward force in the hands is 36% of your body weight.

Conclusion

Based on these calculations, we can say when you are doing a pushup, you are "lifting" about 56% of your body weight (the other 44% is held up by your feet). In other words, for an average 200 pound person, doing one pushup is similar to (but not exactly the same as) doing one repetition on a bench press with about 112 pounds of weight. Now you know about how much weight your body is pushing up during this awesome exercise.

Additionally, we can definitely say that inclined pushups require significantly less force to perform than a regular pushup. For an inclined pushup on a standard 18 inch high chair, you will lift about 42% of your body weight. For an inclined pushup with your hands placed on a standard 32 inch high countertop, it is estimate that you will lift roughly 36% of your body weight.

Verification of Results

To verify this calculation I weighed myself on scale in both the regular and inclined pushup positions as well as the standing position. I did my best to measure the forces in my arms in the above configurations using a standard bathroom scale. It was actually pretty hard to capture the measurements with the scale on the countertop because it kept trying to slide away from me, but I eventually got it (and a good abdominal workout too!). The table below summarizes my measurements and the calculations.

 
Weight (Standing)
Weight (Pushup)
Measured Ratio
Calculated Ratio
 
(lbs)
(lbs)
(%)
(%)
Regular
211
125
59%
56%
Incline 18"
211
100
47%
42%
Incline 32"
211
80
38%
36%


Here is a Graph to help you visualize and compare the results of the calculations versus the measured values.


It's interesting to note that the relationship between inclination and body weight percentage is nearly linear.
It's interesting to note that the relationship between inclination and body weight percentage is nearly linear. | Source

Based on the verification measurements, I would say that the results are a good representation of what you would expect to see in real life.

These calculations also agree with the currently published research on the matter which says that anywhere from 50 to 75% of your body weight is lifted during a standard pushup. Since everyone's body shape and weight distribution differs, the actual percentage of your weight that you lift during a pushup will vary.

Comments

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    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      Interesting. Before reading your hub, my WAG (wild-assed guess) would have been 60% of body weight.

      Here's the first fly in the ointment. The 56% figure is a good first approximation, assuming that the arms have negligible weight.

      Your hands, which contain a small proportion of your total body weight, don't move at all during the PU. And the vertical component of your forearms' motion is almost negligible. And the center-of-mass of your upper arms is 'lifted' by approximately half of the elbow-shoulder distance. Therefore the 56% of body weight is an upper limit.

      Second, the PU shown in the diagram is not really equivalent to a bench press. In the latter, your grip on the barbell guarantees that the relatively powerful pectoral muscles make a big part of the total effort.

      On the other hand, PUs in which the hands are initially close to the torso (as shown in the diagram), recruit the front deltoids more, and place less emphasis on the pecs.

      Anyway, voted up, and with some extra chutzpah points for pushing the envelope of your comfort zone.

    • Richawriter profile image

      Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thank you for that informative piece there, Cwanamaker.

      I do pushups as often as possible and it is useful to know just how much of my body weight I am lifting while doing so. It is also a useful bit of info to impress my pushup doing buddies with!! :)

      Take care. Rich :)

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona

      Yeah, i've made a lot of assumptions for this calculation. Note that during the pushup motion, your weight distribution will change. The closer to horizontal your body is, the closer to 50% the estimate becomes. Of course, if you have abnormally long arms for your body, you may be lifting more than 56% of your weight.

      In this example I assumed that all of your weight acts through your hips. Ideally, I would have calculated this using a series of distributed forces to represent a 'true' distribution of ones body weight. However, I could not locate any detailed information on a person's weight distribution.

      And yes, a pushup is not exactly the same as a bench press. Depending on your technique and position, you could utilize different muscles during the exercise.

    • cydro profile image

      Blake Atkinson 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Well done, I've never seen anything on this before! You've almost inspired me to do a pushup. Well then again I could keep wasting time on hubpages. And my pizza looks good too.

    • Daniel C. Metz profile image

      Daniel C. Metz 5 years ago from Seattle

      Interesting! I've always wondered

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona

      Haha pizza sounds good. I weighed myself to see what the result would be and I got 58%. This is very close to Larry Field's estimate of 60%. More detailed information about this is in the article.

    • epatera profile image

      epatera 5 years ago from Nebraska

      Now I know why push ups are so hard!

    • thejovial profile image

      thejovial 5 years ago from United States

      What happens when you elevate your feet? I know that my workouts get tougher. How does this apply in that case? Does the weight increase?

    • azahorik profile image

      azahorik 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA/Venice, Italy

      Great hub. I've always wondered this myself, since I often find myself on the road and switching to push-ups instead of bench presses to stay in shape. The number sounds about right intuitively in spite of differences in form, as well, since I'm doing about as many push-ups as I could do bench press reps at 50%-60% of my bodyweight.

      I'd be curious to know how much weight gets added to the mix with decline push-ups, though.

    • billiebender profile image

      billiebender 5 years ago from Washington, DC

      Awesome post, I've always wondered about this too.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 5 years ago from Northern California

      thejovial wrote:

      "What happens when you elevate your feet? I know that my workouts get tougher. How does this apply in that case? Does the weight increase?"

      My guess is that the answer to your question is yes. Let's look at the boundary condition, where you're upside down, and your feet are directly over your head. The feet are not holding up any of the body's weight, and all of it is supported by the palms of your hands. Assuming that you have excellent balance, these handstand push-ups are really tough!

      However the fraction of your body weight that's supported by the hands would decrease as you lowered your feet, and transferred some of the weight 'downstairs'.

      One non-obvious factor that may increase the difficulty of elevated-feet-push-ups is that the relatively strong pectoral muscles are used a bit less, and the relatively weak front deltoids (shoulder muscles) come into play.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 5 years ago from Arizona

      Most definitely elevating your feet makes the weight increase. Someday I will get around to updating this hub to include those kind of pushups too.

    • conqueranycourse profile image

      conqueranycourse 4 years ago from New York City

      hahaha...My may doing push-up is wrong.. Thanks for this

    • Michael Lo 4 years ago

      OMW, you finally just answered my question!!! I'm Chinese and I have abnormally long arms, and I have always wanted to know whether it would make a difference!!! TYSM!!!

    • V-Dub 4 years ago

      I actually used a weighing scale to measure the weight I exerted on the scale when I was in the up position and down position of a pushup and found out that I was using 75% of my body weight in the up position and around 80% in the down position! Not sure if this is accurate since it only measures the force exerted by my hands and not feet but maybe since the arms are the ones doing the movement maybe it's right

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      V-Dub - Yes It sounds like you probably did it right. Your body shape is probably very different from what I used in this analysis.

    • Adam 4 years ago

      I must say the math is very impressive. Good job

    • logic 4 years ago

      do a push up on a beam scale

    • Kris 4 years ago

      how about, if legs are up in counter and the hands on the floor??

    • Kris 4 years ago

      I, asked that in a hurry. jajaja, well at work a friend did 15 regular push ups, he is about 150lbs, im 215lbs and did 35 push ups, inclined. My push ups , i had my feet up in the counter about 3 feet high. They said i did more because its way easy to do them the way i did. Is that True?

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      Kris - In that position the weight that you are pushing up increases. One day when I have more time I will update this article to include decline pushups. Thanks for reading.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      Doing pushups with feet on a countertop should be harder than regular pushups because you "lifting" a larger percentage of your body weight. However, the higher your feet are the more your shoulder's play a role performing the exercise - this could make the exercise seem easier depending on how strong your shoulders are in comparison to your chest and triceps.

    • C X E 4 years ago

      What about doing pu with your feet on something elevated?

    • C X E 4 years ago

      DW team, I got it. Simple year 9 trig. All you need to do is reverse the diagram, making theta larger and hence the Fw on the hand becomes larger as well. Good effort guys nd gals!!

    • C X E 4 years ago

      Looking back on previous comments it looks like my question was answered after all. However, the theoretical equation doesn't take in2 count a changing theta!! hmm this would also mean a changing force throughout the push up ae. As you get closer to the floor during th PU, theta gets smaller hence Fw on arms gets larger (well that's what it feels like..). For this reason, comparing the weight you push in a pushup should not be closely compared to other things that have a fixed weight like dun bells etc. Plz correct me if i'm wrong for i'm not certain if what I said is true.

    • fituniversity profile image

      fituniversity 4 years ago from Fort Worth TX

      Great article! Well done.

    • GoldenThreadPress 4 years ago

      Very informative @HubPages! Well documented and love the graphics. Super job!

    • weightliftingtom profile image

      Tom Foldey 4 years ago

      I'm also interested in the decline push BW% ! Love the exercise math though thanks :)

    • TThomasson profile image

      TThomasson 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great article, I have recently perfected my push-up and really enjoy doing them.

    • jravity1 profile image

      jravity1 4 years ago from bellevue, MI

      Nicely done

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      jravity1 - Thanks! This was a fun one to write.

    • Ohio Freemason profile image

      Mount Vernon Lodge #64 4 years ago from Norwalk, Ohio

      Very fun hub. I generally do regular or decline where I put my feet on a chair or bench. I have asked this question before and it is nice to see someone answering it. Thanks.

    • Gambit Joe 4 years ago

      What about push-ups on your knees? Any math wiz want to calculate?

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      Gambit Joe - Sounds like a good idea. Perhaps I will calculate that in the future too.

    • Or just do a press up on a bathroom scale. lol 4 years ago

      Bathroom scale

    • 3 years ago

      You calculation essentially boils down to the ratio of l/h (hip to ankle distance over shoulder to ankel distance) to determine the percentage of the load that is applied on the hands. However this simpy shows the distribution of the weight from the hands and feet at the top holding position. If you take the results to its limits then you'll find it gives no actual indication of the amount of work applied by the hands ( even if we completely disregard the biomechanics of the pushup motion itself). For example if a person has relative long arms for his given height, this will increase his shoulder to ankle distance(the hypoteneus of the triangle) for a constant horizontal distance between the hands and feet on the ground. By your result the force distribution on the hands will be smaller since the l is kept constant while the h increases. This simply means that at a more elevated position a greater portion of the person's weight is supported at the feet( which makes perfect intuitive sense). Like wise for a person with shorter arms the hypotenues has to shrink for a constant hand to feet distance. the ratio of l/h is now larger since h*( in the denominator) is now smaller. Therefore this analysis merely shows a force distribution of a person's weight at the top of the pushup motion but can't really be credited to give any indication of the load or force application in the movement itself.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 3 years ago from Arizona

      P - yes this is an analysis of a static system. Movement would cause a change in the magnitude of the forces. To solve that numerically would require a complex dynamic analysis. This is beyond the scope of this article.

    • 3 years ago

      A better way of find the actual force applied through the movement would be to start from an energy conservation standpoint. Take the initial energy of the system as the potential energy at the relative midpoint of the body. Then equate this value to the work done through the movement. The work is a function of r cross f , use a double integral for the varying theta and varying force. Solve and plot to get a varying force distribution with theta. If someone is bored and wants to MATLAB this go ahead. Alternatively you can solve for the limits of the force at the top and bottom of the movment.by assuming we take you're distrbution value of the hands at the top as a starting point we can solve for the force application on the bottom. But this method is more crude.

    • 3 years ago

      nice article nonetheless

    • andyglean profile image

      Andy Little 3 years ago from Richardson, TX

      Thanks! I've often wondered how much weight I was pressing when doing pushups but never took the time to do the research. Your hub and its comments consolidated my research efforts.

    • ketage profile image

      ketage 3 years ago from Croatia

      I have always wondered but could never figure out how to count it out, my guess would have been 50%, but that would have been a number I pulled out of my hat. Great Visual aids.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I do 100 inclined push-ups a day. It's a fantastic stress reliever and all over body workout. I had no idea I was lifting 36% - 42% of my body weight! Now I understand why I ache so much!! Ha!! Thanks for the great hub!!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 3 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks for taking the time to think this through and share your results. I particularly like that you tested the results with a bathroom scale - as I was reading, I was waiting for that. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 3 years ago from Arizona

      SidKemp - Thanks for reading. I often try to verify my calculations by an experiment of some kind. It helps add to the authenticity of the hub (and it's fun too!)

    • addiskr 3 years ago

      Exercise is great, check this out i just created a link check it out tell me what you think a free CD http://bevsboutique.findagooddeal.info/

    • stanmurphy profile image

      Stan Murphy 3 years ago from Kansas

      Wow! You really thought outside-the-box on this one! I have done countless push-ups and the amount of weight I am lifting never crossed my mind; just knew it was a great exercise. This really got me thinking. Thank you!

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 3 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks Stan. I enjoy pushups and love working out in general too. Combine this with my natural curiosity and I just had to find out how much I was lifting. Thanks for reading.

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 3 years ago from Earth

      The math is much easier for the vertical and/or handstand push-ups; ha!

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 3 years ago from Arizona

      Insane Mundane - haha it sure is! Not much trigonometry to remember.

    • Bob 3 years ago

      hmmm... be interested to know about the body weight percentage of a decline pushup on a chair with a 25kg (55pound) backpack (im 70kg btw or 156 pounds)

    • Pierre 3 years ago

      This is a great workout and much hdearr than anticipated, especially if you're over 210lbs! I adapted it in a couple of ways. Try plyometric lunges instead of walking lunges (x20) although these stress the performance of the wall squats quite dramatically. And after x3 through why not do a half-set instead of extra cardio?

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 3 years ago from Earth

      Okay, after reading some of the comments, I think I'm going back to free weights... Less questions that way... LOL!

      @Bob: Weighted vests are excellent additives to any body-weight exercise, as I have a couple different weighted vests myself that I use for dips, pull-ups, push-ups, etc.. Since they are attached to your upper body, it is not that hard to calculate the amount of weight to the existing percentage of body weight being applied during your routines. If you are really curious, just go buy a cheap set of free weights. Other than that, you will never know your true "max out" weight that you can lift; simple as that...

    • Oleg 3 years ago

      Im fairly unfit and decedid to change my habits. I can get through only one set and feel like dying in a good way. so ill do one set a day until i can get up 2 sets then do that every second day. Ive never sweated from any other cardio or weight session. even my eyes are sore ahahaha

    • Ender 3 years ago

      I don't know about all that. How do you explain the fact that I weigh about 185 pounds and did pushups with my hands resting on a scale and it read 135-140 pounds during the pushups? That's more like 75% of my body weight.

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 3 years ago from Earth

      @Ender: Your ass must have been really high in the air, seriously...

    • SamitaJassi profile image

      Samita Sharma 3 years ago from Chandigarh

      Well done my friend; great message for millions of people. :)

    • Alfin Loencontre profile image

      Alfin Loencontre 3 years ago

      Very good article, I had never asked that question.

      And much less know the answer.

      Thank you.

    • redfive profile image

      Levy Tate 3 years ago from California, USA

      What an informative hub! Thanks for sharing, pal. Voted up :)

    • youssef 3 years ago

      i do 70 pushup in one serie

    • Bwesole Denis profile image

      Dennis Bwesole 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for sharing and great images too. Push ups are a great work out for your core and there are other tips for a flatter stomach here http://www.growtallerwithshinlengthening.com/flats...

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan

      Nice technical info there, good to know that. I always wondered what kind of weight I was pushing in a push up.

    • Steel Engineer profile image

      Steel Engineer 3 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine

      I like that you adjusted for the higher center of gravity of males. For women, these proportions will be slightly less.

    • dis-cover profile image

      Nikolic Predrag 2 years ago from Serbia, Belgrade

      Honestly, I never thought about it. I learned something new. Hub is well documented and with good graphics. Thanks for the great hub!!

    • ilikegames profile image

      Sarah Forester 2 years ago from Australia

      Wow now this is an interesting idea for a Hub. Extremely interesting answer to an age old question.

    • MarkG 2 years ago

      I agree with the overall method used for your calculations, however one important detail has been omitted.

      Your calculations are perfect for a headless human.

      When you do a pushup, you are also lifting your head and this needs to be factored into the calculation.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 2 years ago from Arizona

      MarkG - the weight of your head is implicitly included in the calulations already.

    • Frienderal profile image

      Frienderal 2 years ago from Singapore

      An interesting hub! Push-ups are definitely the most convenient and cheapest way to get a good work-out to our core muscles! :)

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 2 years ago from Arizona

      Frienderal - Agreed! Pushups are my favorite exercise that requires no equipment to complete.

    • Jay 2 years ago

      I will admit to being terribly out of shape. But about 6 or 8 months ago, I started doing counter pushups while my coffee is brewing at work. I'm up to 50 two or three times a day, and recently started adding 15 windmills also. I'm 5'10 and about 255 or 260. I can say may arms are definitely solid now.

    • CWanamaker profile image
      Author

      CWanamaker 2 years ago from Arizona

      Jay - that's awesome! Keep up the good work.

    • Jimmys Money blog profile image

      Jimmy 2 years ago

      Excellent article. I've incorporated the plank also into my press-ups. Tough but good.

    • Steel Engineer profile image

      Steel Engineer 2 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine

      According to Marine Corps philosophy, you actually push up the earth. The Marine is in control and alters events around him. Oorah!

    • Mazen 2 years ago

      In the incline pushup on countertop, what assumptions did you make on the body position? A person can do such a push up with different angles (between arms and the countertop)... that will change the calculation. Perhaps you can provide some input on the calculations?

      Thanks a lot.

    • plopperzz 20 months ago

      I must say, you made some assumptions that quite drastically change the value of the force on the hands. The arms on average are about 6% of your body weight, and while you aren't lifting your arms too terribly much, they shift the center of mass of the entire system which changes the force on the hands to be around 75% of your body weight at the top of the pushup.

    • TheBizWhiz 19 months ago

      Awesome Hub. Math usually puts me to sleep, but when it is applied to a subject I am interested in, it makes it makes a difference. Great job!

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 18 months ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

      Great article. I knew the angle made a difference, but did not understand the math. Thanks for your explanations.

    • Christina Marie 8 days ago

      For a regular push-up just multiply ur weight by 1.688

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