5 Tips to Help You Achieve Your Push-Up Goals

U.S. Army Sgt. Jacob Page performs hand-release push-ups during the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
U.S. Army Sgt. Jacob Page, assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, performs hand-release push-ups during an Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) that kicked off the First Corps Marksmanship Competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 26, 2024. (Sgt. Samantha Cate/U.S. Army photo)

The battle with a total volume of repetitions or miles and their speed and pace is nothing new to people preparing for military fitness tests and follow-on training. While building up the total volume of various exercises is great, you must add a faster pace and greater muscle stamina per set to take your foundation base training to the next level. Here is a question from a military recruit working hard to improve push-up scores to be more competitive on the Navy Diving Physical Screening Test (PST):

Stew: I can do 300 push-ups in a workout without a problem, but I struggle to get more than 70 in a set. Any Suggestions? Thomas

Thomas, this is common. Many people work hard to build up their total push-up volume progressively but fail to hit the desired numbers on a two-minute push-up event in many of our military's fitness tests. It is very similar to the military member new to running who builds to 30 miles a week over six months but still cannot pass the 1.5-mile timed run. The volume is there, but the speed is not.

Here are some options to try to build your push-up speed and produce bigger sets to increase muscle stamina:

Make Some Set or Rep Changes to Your Training Plan

Double the number of your push-up sets instead of, say, doing 20 sets of 15 reps to reach your goal of 300 total. Increase individual set repetitions to push the muscle endurance required for a two-minute push-up test. Progress with bigger sets each week until you can get 300 push-ups in as few sets as possible (six or less). This is also called the Max-Rep Set Workout.

Do 2-Minute Sets

If you are testing for two minutes, make your training sets that long. You may not be able to do push-ups the entire time, so when you fail, stay in the plank pose or the up push-up position. The set does not end until you have been in the push-up/plank position for two minutes.

Many people fail two-minute push-up tests, because they cannot do a two-minute plank pose. Now that plank poses are tested throughout the military, this should help you in both exercises. The inability to complete a two-minute push-up test is often a core issue, not a push-up issue.

Death by Push-ups

We did a workout mixing the two testing events: planks and push-ups. You do a five- to 10-minute plank pose, but every minute on the minute, you do 10 push-ups. This has physically and mentally demanding qualities to it, and the name of the workout adds to that demand.

Adjust Your Speed Technique

Consider the speed of your up-and-down repetitions. There is no reason to waste push-up reps by slowly going to the down position. Relaxing your chest and arm for a split second and letting gravity take you to the bottom position is recommended. You must only exert effort on the up movement of the push-up. This will allow you to do more repetitions and speed up your repetitions before gravity starts chipping away at your total reps in a two-minute set.

Weightlifting or Weight-Vest Option

This is another recommendation if you feel it is a strength issue. See the link above for several more weight, weight-vest, push-up and bench-press combination workouts.

Combine these recommendations, and your push-up sets will get bigger in a month or less. Remember, don't do daily push-ups. You need to recover from 300+ push-ups in a workout at this volume level. Do the Classic Week of PT, so you perform a PT Pyramid on Monday, a PT super set Wednesday and a max-rep set workout Friday or Saturday. These workouts will add variety to your push-ups and get you out of the 30 sets of 10 plateau.

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