How Increasing Muscle Stamina Leads to Doing More Push-Ups

Spc. Coca Temoananui, an intelligence analyst from Honolulu, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, strains for an extra push-up in the 2012 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wis.
Spc. Coca Temoananui, an intelligence analyst from Honolulu, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, strains for an extra push-up in the 2012 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., July 16. (Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell/U.S. Army Reserve Command photo)

I recently advised a reader with several options to help improve their push-up regimen. One of those options was to decrease their sets and increase their repetitions but keep the total volume the same at 300 push-ups in a workout (plenty!). This is crucial as it ensures you're still challenging your muscles enough.

Here are some specific ways to introduce muscle stamina-building workouts so you can continue to perform push-ups in two-minute fitness tests, versus burning out at just over a minute:

Add More Than Push-ups

Upper-body workouts should include more than push-ups. To balance out the push-up muscles, you should also pull in multiple directions and add other variations of pushing exercises (dips, overhead presses, etc.). Don't just do push-ups. In this workout, we are doing the same volume of push-ups that you are used to, but increasing the set repetitions to push your perceived (and real) limitations:

Warm-up with a pushup/jog pyramid to 10 (55 total push-ups):

  • Run 50 meters, one push-up;
  • Run 50 meters, two push-ups;
  • Run 50 meters, three push-ups;

Continue jogging, adding stretching, up the pyramid until you get to Set 10. Now you are warmed up.

Super set: This circuit is not your typical sub-max rep workout. Our goal is to push your push-up and plank-holding ability so that the two-minute mark is not something that causes failure 50% into a timed event:

Repeat five times.

  • Pull-ups 5-10
  • Push-ups 2 minutes (do as many push-ups as you can in two minutes but when you fail, stay in the "up" push-up position or plank pose until two minutes is completed.
  • Easy jog 400 meters or bike two minutes

This is the bulk of the workout, but the next section is more focused on balancing out your push-up muscles by adding more planes of motion and pulling exercises that also challenge the core:

Repeat three times.

  • Pull-ups 5-10 (or pulldowns 10 if difficult)
  • Dumbbell rows 5/arm, done in the push-up position
  • Dips 10 (or triceps extensions)
  • Biceps curls 10
  • Military press 10
  • Easy jog 400 meters or bike for two minutes.

This style of workout is not just a push-up workout. As you can see, the focus is on the push-ups and the auxiliary muscles to help you build a more stable platform and handle more push-ups. It also allows for maintaining aerobic training and pulling/planking movements and positions.

All of these will be tested throughout your military fitness testing cycles, regardless of the branch of service. These upper-body combinations of exercises will help you become more balanced and stronger and increase muscle stamina for fitness testing and movements through obstacles (over walls, up ropes, under the wire, etc.).

If you are stuck at a moderate level of push-ups and need to improve them, try adding this workout 2-3 times a week for a month and see whether you notice any improvements in push-ups and other activities. There are many ways to improve pushups, and this is a way that works well, not the only way. Try it and see whether you see the results that have taken people from 40-50 push-ups on a two-minute test to 80-100 in just a month or less.

Progressive Overload: It might be time to make some set/rep changes to your training plan. 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 achieve 300 push-ups in as few sets as possible (six or less). This is also known as the Max-Rep Set Workout, a proven method to boost your push-up scores.

Related: 3 Tips to Help You Push Past the Push-up Plateau

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