How many push ups can you do? 20 or 30? 50? More? Maybe you’re one of the unlucky souls who can only manage five reps with questionable form. Say the word “exercise,” and the push up inevitably will be thought of as the movement of choice. For decades and possibly centuries, men have pointed to the push up as a true test of strength, not to mention machismo. How much simpler can it get than to just drop to the ground and start pumping away?
Despite all that, the push up has weaved its way in and out of the realm of fitness over the years. The military and other services have used it as an integral part of fitness testing, but it has all but disappeared from the muscle-building radar.
Whether you’re a functional fitness freak, a diehard, old-school guru or just want to include this classic move to your current program, the push up is one powerful addition to any workout plan. With benefits ranging from optimizing local muscular endurance to increasing overall stamina, core strength, and stability, it’s insane not to include this exercise.
Since the fitness pendulum has swung in favor of bodyweight training, you may have the desire to improve on your push up prowess. Along with pull ups, dips, sit ups, muscle ups, and pistol squats, push ups test real-world, authentic strength and stability, and are a testament of total body control. Increasing reps, strength, and muscular endurance should be a top priority for a standalone bodyweight program, and a big part of any strength routine.
8 Weeks of Push Up Power
Below is an eight-week program guaranteed to increase your push up power. Adopting a serious, regimented program will ensure that you will progress on this classic, yet effective muscle-building exercise.
For the duration of this program, cut down on heavy presses and flys. Maxing out on the bench press and other heavy compound movements may need to take a backseat for a while. Also, flys tend to stress the shoulder joints considerably, so nix them for now.
Since strength and stability of the abdominal area are important factors in the push up, make sure to include plenty of work for your midsection. If you are weak in this area, you will tend to bow and bend at the waist.
For the entirety of this program, ensure you execute each and every rep with proper form and technique. Hands slightly wider than your shoulders, lower down until your chest touches the floor and then press back up while maintaining a straight spine and tight core.
Weeks 1 and 2
The first step is to perform a short pre-test. Perform as many push ups with good form without resting at the top or bottom of the movement. Record your results. This will be your baseline. If you have trained your chest shoulders or triceps recently, be sure to space your pre-test far enough away so that you are fresh enough to give your best effort.
To start your program, choose a high number of push ups as a goal. Start with about four times your max number from your pre-test. For example, if you achieved 20 reps, your new goal will be 80. Now you will perform as many sets as it takes to make it to 80 total reps. You may reach 20 on your first set, 15 on your second, 12 on your third and so on, as long as you reach the total goal. For the first week, rest one minute between sets. During the second week, reduce rest to 30 seconds. Also, work to reduce the number of total sets it takes to reach your total. Do this routine at least twice per week. If you want to add in some assistance training be sure to include bench press, close-grip bench press, shoulder press, front raises and dips. But remember, don’t go super heavy.
Weeks 3 and 4
By now you’re performing quite a few reps with reduced rest. For the next two weeks, you’ll increase frequency, total reps, and keep your rest to a minimum. You will effectively be improving your overall muscular endurance and stamina.
Increase your frequency to three times per week. By now, you should be getting used to training more times per week, so don’t worry about your strength training sessions getting in the way of your push up program. Increase your total reps even further to around 150% of your original goal. For the example above, your new total number of reps should be 120. It may seem like a high number, but just do as many sets as it takes to get to that new goal. Rest should stay at 30 seconds or less. Your goal should be to close the gap between sets so you can perform more reps per set. Stay strict with form and technique.
Weeks 5 and 6
For the next two weeks, you will again increase frequency, reps and reduce rest time. Since you will most likely be getting into the high rep ranges, you can also start using a few alternative hand placements and angles.
Increase frequency to four times per week. Reduce rest time by 15 seconds between sets. Increase total reps by another 50% of your original number. For the above example this would be 160. Experiment with different hand placements and elbow angles; narrow, wide, elbows out, elbows by your sides, etc. This can’t be stressed enough: keep your form in check. This is no time to rush through reps and sets for the sake of getting more reps.
Weeks 7 and 8
The final two weeks will be challenging to say the least, especially if you are supplementing with your regular resistance training program. Increase frequency and total reps once again while decreasing rest. Add in a few new and challenging ways to perform the push up to increase the intensity.
Increase frequency to five times per week. Keep rest periods to 15 seconds or less. You could start by resting only a few seconds for the first few sets and then increase closer to 15 seconds as you move through later sets. Total reps will increase another 50% based on your original number. Yes, for the example above, your new number would now be 200. Continue to utilize the different hand placements and elbow angles. Include several sets of feet-elevated push ups and hands-elevated push ups. Again, keep your form in check.
Now it’s time for your post-test. Do it exactly as you performed your pre-test. This time, you should see a significant increase in reps and an increase in general strength, power, and shoulder stability.
After the eight weeks, sit back and reap the rewards of your increase in strength and push up performance. You can either maintain your current level, or start the program all over again for a new challenge.
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