Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
The push-up must be the MOST popular exercise known to man and child. Who didn’t grow up knowing full and well what a push-up was? It was and still is a true upper body test of muscular endurance and stamina. Adopted by the military what seems to be since the beginning of time the push-up has ebbed and flowed its way throughout the fitness realm for decades.
Now with the pendulum swinging toward more functional fitness and bodyweight training, the push-up is making its way back to its rightful thrown as one of the greatest (but still underutilized) exercises around. A perfectly executed set of high-rep push-ups is an impressive act of endurance, stability and core strength.
The benefits of including push-ups in your arsenal cannot be overemphasized. Bodyweight training is the true test of functionality and ability combined with other such moves as pull-ups, dips and various forms of jumps. Your ability to push the majority of your bodyweight from the ground is testament of body control and authentic strength. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to build a big, broad chest in the meantime.
What if your goal is to increase the number of push-ups but you find yourself lagging in the reps department? Part of a full-body program or tacked on to the tail end of a chest routine, challenging yourself on push-up will pay big dividends. So, invest in the eight week program below and get ready to master the time honored push-up.
8 Week Push-Ups Program
Weeks 1 and 2
This program will assume you can perform a few push-ups with good form – around 10 or 20. The first step is to give yourself a quick pre-test. Perform as many as you can practicing proper technique and record your results. This will be your baseline to work from. If you are training your chest, shoulders and triceps with a traditional weight training program, perform your push-ups on a few days after that session.
- Perform push-ups at least twice per week.
- Choose a higher number to perform a total number of reps – about four times your max. For example, if you did 15 push-ups for your pre-test, then shoot for 60 total reps for each session. No matter how many sets it takes for you to reach it, go for 60. You may do 15 on your first set, 10 on your next, 8 on your next and so forth. Keep going and with each session, aim to decrease the number of sets as you progress.
- 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 to name a few.
- Always make sure you are executing proper form: a tight midsection and no bowing of the back. Once your form starts to break down, end the set. Don’t cheat yourself.
Weeks 3 and 4
Now it’s time to up not only your reps but also your frequency. Increase your push-up program to three times per week. One of these days may land on a chest workout day. That is fine – you may be a bit weaker but that is no excuse to quit. If anything it will push your muscular endurance further and you will only benefit in the end.
- Perform push-ups three times per week. Don’t worry about strength as it relates to your chest training workouts.
- Now, increase your total reps even further to around 50%. So, for the example above your new total number of reps to shoot for is 90. Again, do as many sets as it takes to get to that new goal.
- By now some assistance work as mentioned above will come in handy.
- Rest as long it takes for you to recover. This may not have to be very long – one or two minutes tops.
- Keep form and function in check.
Weeks 5 and 6
You will again increase frequency and total rep count. Additionally, you will incorporate some different hand placements such as shoulder width, close- grip and wide. This will not only add variety and break the monotony but it will also challenge your body to react differently and adapt accordingly.
- Increase frequency to four times per week.
- Increase total reps by another 50% of your original number. For the above example’s sake this would be 120.
- Experiment with different hand placements. At this point you should be getting rather proficient at push-ups so adding some variety shouldn’t be a problem.
- Because of the high volume and added techniques, this is a crucial time to reassess form and adjust accordingly.
Weeks 7 and 8
As you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you will again increase total reps and frequency one last time before your big test. At this point you should not only see significant gains in stamina and endurance but also a broader looking chest (not a bad side-effect). Also, your ability to recover should be improved as well.
- Increase frequency to five times per week.
- Total reps will increase another 50% based on your original number – 150 keeping with our example above.
- Continue to utilize the different hand placements.
- If desired, experiment with feet-elevated push-ups, hands-elevated push-ups and decreasing rest periods.
- By now you should be at a point where you can perform quite a few high rep sets. Just be sure as you are challenging and pushing yourself to keep proper form.
Time for the Post-Test
After you have completed the entire eight week push-up program, take a few days off to fully recover before taking your post-test. Push away and record your new and improved result!
Other Factors to Consider
Core strength: Abdominal strength and stability is of utmost importance throughout the program. If your core is weak, you will begin to bow the back and fatigue faster. Be sure you are training your abs as well.
Weight loss: Holding onto extra, unwanted pounds serves you no good on your mission for improving your push-up numbers. Lose the excess baggage and reap not only a better push-up but overall better health.
Neutral push-ups: If wrist pain is a factor when performing the traditional push-up, try getting some neutral push-up handles or the Perfect Push-up kit. If none of those are an option you may need to revert to push-ups on your knuckles with a closed fist.
Believe in your program: If you don’t following through with whatever program you decide to use you will never get to your end goal. Invest your time and effort in a sound program and have to fortitude and discipline to see it through.