Push-ups and squats are basic body weight exercises that offer incredible benefits for the body, and they require zero investment in equipment, money, or coaching. This is exactly why they are awesome. Is it the perfect solution for everyone, regardless of their goal? Obviously, no! However:
If a person’s goal is to develop a weekly exercise habit they can maintain for years (not months!), regular push-ups and squats are a great place to start. They can provide an adequate training stimulus to build strength, build muscle mass, and they can easily fit into a busy schedule for years at a time.
Maybe you’re someone who doesn’t want to go to the gym, or you’re just too busy. No problem, because:
Every able-bodied adult human can do push-ups and squats. In this article, we will explore the reasons why every able-bodied person can and should include these exercises in their daily routine.
Push-ups and squats belong to everyone!
If there’s one thing we’re passionate about here at Lunch Break Fitness, it’s that exercise doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. Though a simple push-up and squat routine may seem too simple, therein lies the beauty.
Many times over the years, people have asked me how to get started on a fitness journey. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting a gym membership or buying some equipment and hiring a coach, a lot of us simply don’t have the time or don’t want to go that route.
Are those people screwed? Nope!
Squats and push-ups benefits
Push-ups and squats offer numerous benefits that range from increased strength to improved mental health. Some of the key advantages of these exercises include:
1. Improved strength
Both push-ups and squats are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. Squats engage the legs, glutes, and core muscles, while push-ups work the chest, triceps, and shoulders. These exercises are perfect for building overall strength and endurance.
2. Better flexibility and mobility
The range of motion required to perform push-ups and squats can help improve flexibility and mobility. They do this by causing us to utilize a full range of motion in the joint, which over time will eliminate discomfort by building strength in those end ranges.
Squats also engage the hip flexors and lower back, which can be particularly beneficial for those with sedentary lifestyles.
3. Increased bone density
Resistance exercises like push-ups and squats can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of disease. Improved bone density also reduces our chance of serious injury.
4. Improved posture
Both push-ups and squats require proper alignment and posture. Regular practice of these exercises can lead to better posture, which in turn reduces the risk of back pain and injuries.
5. Enhanced mental health
Exercise has been shown to boost mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall mental health. Regular practice of push-ups and squats can help improve mental well-being and quality of life.
How to Do Push-Ups and Squats Correctly
Although push-ups and squats are simple exercises, it’s essential to do them correctly to avoid injury and maximize their benefits. Here’s how to do each exercise:
- Begin in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet together.
- Keep your core engaged and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Lower your body until your chest touches the floor, keeping your elbows close to your body.
- Push back up to the starting position, keeping your core tight and your body in a straight line.
- For full benefits, utilize a full range of motion – no pumping reps! Go all the way down until your chest touches the floor, pause for an instant, and then extend to the top, attempting to squeeze your hands together as you do.
If you find that push-ups have become too easy, there are plenty of ways to make push-ups more effective without getting into “circus trick” exercises. I have learned over the years that I’m never too good to just do push-ups!
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward or slightly outward.
- Keep your chest up and your core engaged.
- Lower your body by pushing your hips backward and bending your knees, as if sitting back into a chair. The goal is to lower the crease of your hips below the top of your knee.
- Think about keeping your weight over your mid-foot, and your knees in line with your toes.
- Push back up to the starting position by attempting to “spread the floor” with your feet, and squeeze your glutes at the top.
Incorporating push-ups and squats into your routine
Now that you understand the benefits of push-ups and squats and know how to perform them correctly, it’s time to incorporate them into your daily routine. Here are some tips:
People quit exercising because it’s too hard, but here’s the secret that fit people know: if it’s always too hard, you’re doing it wrong. Exercise sessions should feel challenging but doable.
If you’re new to exercise, begin with a few reps of each exercise and gradually increase over time. Even doing just a few push-ups and squats daily can make a significant difference.
Count SETS, not REPS
The strength and conditioning community widely regards the optimal weekly volume (number of sets) for strength and muscle growth is widely considered to be 10-20 sets per week, per muscle.
It’s also well understood that proximity from muscular failure is perhaps the most important driver of muscular growth and strength adaptations.
With these two pieces of information in mind – we would encourage you to count sets, not reps. In other words, if you’re capable of doing 20 pushups, but you do 12 (because you were supposed to), you will likely get no response from that set.
We recommend getting within 2-3 reps of muscular failure on each set regardless of the number of reps you did. If you did so, you can count that set towards your weekly volume goal.
Have a plan
We’ll let you in on a little secret here: most cookie-cutter plans are bullshit. Why? Because the plan’s author has no idea who you are. How can anyone possibly write a plan for you, without knowing anything about you?
Figure out how you’re going to pack 10-20 sets per week of pushups and squats into your routine. How many times a week can you train?
Will it be two sets of pushups every day before work, and two sets of squats every day after work? Will it be four supersets of pushups and squats, three days per week in the morning?
You can always change your plan as you go, but as they say: failure to plan is planning to fail.
Make it a Habit
Week-after-week consistency is one of the most important factors when it comes to exercise. Try to do push-ups and squats at the same time every workout to make them a habit.
That being said – don’t get wrapped around the axle if you’re inconsistent here and there. Studies are very clear that we have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to missing workouts. The key is that we begin again, and do our best to reestablish a consistent practice.
Limitations of Only Using Push-Ups and Squats (and their solutions)
Though we’re big fans of this style of training, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge some of the downsides. While push-ups and squats offer many benefits, they do have limitations, especially if they are the only exercises you do.
Missing major muscle groups
The most obvious limitation of this style of training is that while it covers many of the major muscle groups in the lower and upper body, it misses some major ones. Namely, it misses the back and biceps, which is exactly why most people who utilize minimalist training include some type of pull-up or row into their routine (visit our push, pull, legs bodyweight program article for some ideas on how to do this).
The other major muscle group missing is some sort of dedicated “trunk” or “core” training. While it’s true that weighted squats work the core tremendously, bodyweight squats lack this element. Of course, this limitation can be mitigated by simply utilizing a kettlebell or weight plate for squats.
Solution: Once you’re adapted to push-ups and squats, try to incorporate some sort of pulling exercise (pull-ups or rows) into your routine. Also consider adding some basic core exercise, like a plank / side plank combo.
As bodyweight exercises, push-ups and squats may not provide enough resistance to continue building strength and muscle mass beyond a certain point.
Solution: Once you have the resources, add a weight, like a kettlebell, weight vest, or adjustable dumbbell into your squats. Many of these implements can easily also be utilized for weighted push-ups as well.
They don’t address the need for cardiovascular fitness
In their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the US Department of Health and Human Services advises us to get at least 75 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular training OR 150 minutes per week of low-intensity cardiovascular conditioning.
Obviously, a push-up and squat routine doesn’t address this element.
Solution: A simple 10-minute walk, twice per day, will satisfy this basic requirement if you don’t have plans to become a cardio junkie. This usually isn’t that tough to sneak in – go for a walk while you’re on a phone call, or listen to an audiobook.
Push-ups and squats may seem like basic exercises, but they offer numerous benefits for the body and mind. By incorporating these exercises into your daily routine, you can improve your strength, flexibility, bone density, posture, and mental health.
So what are you waiting for? Start small, be consistent, and watch as these simple yet powerful exercises transform your fitness and well-being. Remember, it’s never too late to start taking care of your body, and push-ups and squats are an excellent place to begin.