Estimates of exactly how many calories a single press-up (or push-up) burns vary somewhat, from about 0.29 calories each to 0.36 calories per press-up, depending on the research you cite (Cohen, 2012; McCall, 2017).
However, a 2014 study from researchers at Arizona State University (Vezina et al., 2014) (and based on an earlier thesis by Vezina in 2011) suggest that the older methods of measuring energy expenditure (EE) may have underestimated the calorie burn from strength-training exercises. Vezina and colleagues reported EE in terms of METs, which (according to them) yield a more accurate figure than a straight calorie burn estimate because it takes into account the exerciser’s weight.
What are METS?
- One MET (metabolic equivalent) is defined as the energy it takes to sit quietly (Harvard, 2018).
- For the average adult, this is about one calorie per every 2.2 pounds of body weight per hour; someone who weighs 160 pounds would burn approximately 70 calories an hour while sitting or sleeping.
- To convert METS to calories burned, first estimate your daily basal metabolic rate (BMR) by multiplying your weight in pounds:
- By 10 for women; or
- By 11 for men.
- Divide the result by 24 to get your BMR per hour.
- Multiply the result by 6.91 METS to get your calories burned per hour doing press-ups.
- That number is about 432 for a 150 lb woman.
- Divide by 60 to get 7.2 calories per minute, and divide the number of press-ups you can do in a minute – 15 (for example) to get a result of 0.48 calories burned per press-up.
“One limitation to this way of measuring exercise intensity is that it does not consider the fact that some people have a higher level of fitness than others. Thus, walking at 3 to 4 miles-per-hour is considered to require 4 METs and to be a moderate-intensity activity, regardless of who is doing the activity—a young marathon runner or a 90-year-old grandmother. As you might imagine, a brisk walk would likely be an easy activity for the marathon runner, but a very hard activity for the grandmother.“ (Harvard, 2018).
The purpose of the study was to evaluate the EE of four modes of resistance training (RT: press-ups, curl-ups, heaves, and lunges) using two different calculation methods for estimating EE. Twelve healthy men with a minimum of one year of RT experience were randomly assigned to an RT circuit. Each circuit contained the four RT exercises in a specified order. The participants completed three trials of their assigned circuit during one visit to the laboratory. Oxygen consumption was measured continuously throughout the trial using indirect calorimetry.
Two different calculation methods utilised to estimate EE included:
- The traditional method (TEC) estimated EE by calculating the average oxygen consumption recorded during each activity.
- The nontraditional method (NEC) estimated EE by calculating the average oxygen consumption recorded during the recovery period.
Independent T-tests were used to evaluate mean EE differences between the two methods.
- Estimates of EE obtained from the NEC were significantly higher for all the four activities (p < 0.001).
- Using the NEC, three of the four activities were classified as vigorous intensity:
- Press-ups: 6.91 METs;
- Lunges: 7.52 METs; and
- Heaves: 8.03 METs,
- Whereas none were classified as vigorous using the TEC.
Findings suggest that the methods the researchers used to calculate the EE of anaerobic activities significantly affect EE estimates. Using the TEC may underestimate actual EE of anaerobic activities.
As is usual with science, different researchers develop different methods of measuring the same thing, for example:
- Non-steady state method (kJ per set, not kJ min–1) to estimate the total energy costs (aerobic and anaerobic, exercise and recovery) (Scott et al., 2014).
- Measurement of oxygen consumption (VO2), carbon dioxide production (VCO2), and respiratory exchange ratio (RER) to represent oxidative contribution, and analysis of capillary blood lactate to represent glycolytic contribution (Irvine et al, 2017).
Cohen, J. (2012) Here Are Some 100-Calorie Workouts For Your Work Day. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2012/10/23/here-are-some-100-calorie-workouts-for-your-work-day/#67a95a97d934. [Accessed: 20 February, 2018].
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (2018) Measuring Physical Activity. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mets-activity-table/. [Accessed: 20 February, 2018].
Irvine, C., Laurent, M., Kielsmeier, K., Douglas, S., Kutz, M. & Fullenkamp, A.M. (2017) The Determination of Total Energy Expenditure During and Following Repeated High-Intensity Intermittent Sprint Work. International Journal of Exercise Science. 10(3), pp.312-321.
McCall, P. (2017) Caloric Cost of Physical Activity. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6442/caloric-cost-of-physical-activity?pageID=593. [Accessed: 20 February, 2018].
Scott, C.B., Luchini, A., Knausenberger, A. & Steitz, A. (2014) Total Energy Costs – Aerobic and Anaerobic, Exercise and Recovery – of Five Resistance Exercises. Central European Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine. 8(4), pp.53.59.
Vezina, J.W. (2011) Energy Expenditure of Resistance Training Activities in Young Men. Master’s Thesis. Arizona State University. Available from World Wide Web: https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/56672/content/Vezina_asu_0010N_10580.pdf. [Accessed: 20 February, 2018].
Vezina, J.W., Der Ananian, C.A., Campbell, K.D., Meckes, N. & Ainsworth, B.E. (2014) An examination of the differences between two methods of estimating energy expenditure in resistance training activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(4):1026-31. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000375.