Determine Your Strength With The Pushup Test

Plate pushups are for more advanced runners, as they require a strong core, but build a sturdier foundation. Photo: Vance Jacobs Photography

Pushups are a key indicator of a runner’s strength level.

In this follow-up article, we get to the second part of our question. If we now know what it means to be strong as a runner, how do we know if we are strong enough?

In this respect, I start with a simple pushup test with my athletes. I want to see how many chest-to-floor, butt squeezed, vertical forearm pushups my athletes can do (see previous article: Better Pushups For Better Running).

But wait! Before you start banging those suckers out, make sure you are indeed going full range with vertical forearms and a tight butt! Doing pushups in this manner not only shows your strength but your athletic skill level, and it’s the conjunction of skill and strength working together that I want to test!

RELATED: Are You Strong Enough?

New Runners: Can you do 5-10?

Beginner runners who struggle to do less than five pushups tend to lack the postural strength to run with the upright posture and quiet upper body needed over even short distances. Instead, these weaker runners over-rotate in the upper and lower body, and arch or round in the lower back.

These runners simply lack the core strength and shoulder stability to run upright. From what we see at San Francisco CrossFit, runners who lack this positional strength also tend to see the most hip, knee, ankle and foot strike problems. They are the under-built bridges we previously discussed.

Intermediate Runners: Can you do 15-20?

For intermediate runners focusing on a 10K to a half marathon, we want to see 15-plus full range of motion, butt-squeezed, vertical forearm pushups. Passing this benchmark demonstrates sufficient positional strength to be able to run with good posture over these medium distances.

Advanced, Competitive, Or Ultra Runners: Can you do plate pushups?

As the competition gets steeper, the race gets longer and the conditions get tougher, we need to build sturdier, more robust runners. We can challenge our pushups not only with increased volume but also with increased load.

For more advanced runners, we expect 10-15 pushups with a 25-pound plate (for women) or a 45-pound plate (for men) on their back. This may seem a little extreme, but runners who can safely handle these additional loads will really thrive when the going gets tough come race time.

RELATED: The Atomic Pushup

Review

Keep in mind we use the pushup test for ballpark numbers to test basic posture and positional strength. We need more than good pushups to run well.

In addition to our strength training, run drills are important to practice, and we practice them all the time. Runners do need to be strong enough to perform these drills, however, and get something out of them. In the bigger picture of a runner’s development, this strength question is the lowest hanging fruit to attack.

If you pass these strength tests then great, we can advance to more fun and technical running drills and workouts. But if you are positionally weak and unable to pass these tests, a change in running shoes, orthotics and even run technique will have only marginal results.

Follow a plan that builds a stronger bridge—as tested with these pushups—and reap the rewards of stronger running in any weather, terrain or distance.

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