Fitness

The Fastest Way to Do More Pushups

What is real strength? Try this bodyweight test, analyze your score, and learn how to do more pushups with a simple 4-week program.

If you want to be fit, you don’t need to start with free weights or fancy machines. The foundation of fitness is movement. And the movements you need to master for any exercise start with your bodyweight.

If you can’t do a pushup (or many of them), you’re likely wasting your time (or setting yourself up for injury) by trying to bench press your way to a better body.

Pushups aren’t sexy or impressive. But, when you spend a lot of time with some incredibly fit people and you discover something very quickly: You don’t have to lift a ton of weight to be considered strong.

Some of the most incredible feats of strength don’t even include any weight at all. (Whereas others certainly do; no matter what you think of powerlifting, watching someone move 700 or 800 pounds is simply amazing.)

If you can perform a lot of pushups and all of their different variations, then you can go a long way towards building upper body strength, muscle, and definition.

Why Pushups Are So Good For You

man doing a pushup

Years ago, I worked with Martin Rooney on a pushup test. If you don’t know Martin, he’s one of the best coaches in the world and has worked with endless pro athletes and Olympians. Every time I train with Martin, it feels like I would hit a new PR.

In addition to being a great coach, Martin would create challenges designed to make you stronger and fitter. One of those was a 3-minute pushup challenge.

The challenge was built to help you do more pushups, but there was one flaw: It required a level of strength and endurance that limited who could use the challenge as a way to get better.

Most people I know can’t do pushups for more than a minute, let alone 3 minutes.

The challenge was still brilliant because it opened your eyes to the importance of relative body strength.

All too often we base strength on an arbitrary amount of weight you can move, when — in reality — how well you can move your own body is one of the best ways to assess fitness levels and build strength. Not to mention, bodyweight tests can help clean up issues with your form that can cause injuries once you add additional weight.

All too often we base strength on an arbitrary amount of weight you can move, when — in reality — how well you can move your own body is one of the best ways to assess fitness levels and build strength.

When you have relative body strength, you are in control of your body and can move well, whether you’re pushing, pulling, squatting, or picking something up off the ground. It’s why bodyweight movements like pushups and pullups can be a great initial test of strength, and even challenging for those who have been training for many years.

Doing more pushups has lots of upsides. But, figuring out the right program to build strength and endurance is where most people struggle. It’s time to change that.

How To Do More Pushups: The Assessment

As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed.”

If you want to do more pushups, you need to figure out if you need to build strength, endurance, or both. Your path to more pushups starts with a simple 1-minute assessment and then includes a program to help guide your improvement.

The test below is one I’ve done for years with clients, and it works incredibly well for helping you become better with bodyweight exercises. (You can do similar variations with other exercises.) I’ve used different variations of this test as an assessment to determine baseline strength.

Step 1: Set a timer for 1-minute and then start performing pushups until the time is up.

Step 2: Record the number of reps you performed.

Pushup Rule #1

For a rep to count, you must go all the way down (chest 2 inches above the floor), pause, and you must lock out your elbows at the top.

Also, you can’t let your hips sag or allow your knees to touch the floor. [In other words, your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders.]

Pushup Rule #2:

You can rest whenever you want, but the clock must keep running

Before You Begin: Pushup Test Tips

You have 2 options that will help you perform your best on the pushup test:

Option 1: Perform pushups at a rapid pace and do as many as you can until you hit failure and can’t do more.

Option 2: Pace yourself and take mini breaks every 10-15 seconds, doing what you can to avoid failure and complete as many as possible.

In the initial test, Rooney recommended a 15-second break once you started to slow down. This was necessary with a 3-minute running clock. But with only one-minute, this assessment is a little different.

If you’re a beginner and not as strong, resting every 10-15 seconds will be beneficial to you because fatigue will catch up quickly.

If you’ve been training, you might be able to maintain a consistent pace for 30 to 45 seconds. In that case, stop 1 to 2 reps shy of failure, rest 5-10 seconds, and then do as many as possible until the time is up.

Grading Your Pushup Performance

The following scores are based on the averages of my online coaching clients. [Note: women tend to have scores that are 5-10 pushups less than the scores shown below.]

Below average: less than 15 pushups (Remember the rules above, for a legit rep it’s impossible to go any faster than 1 rep per second with the pause at the bottom and lockout at the top.)

Average: 20 pushups

Good: 30 to 35 pushups

Excellent: 40-45 pushups

Extraordinary: 45-50 pushups. If you’ve completed more than 50 pushups, you cheated. You need to pause at the bottom and top of the movement, so every rep should take a minimum of 1-2 seconds.

How to Become Better at Pushups

If your pushup score is lower than you’d like, there’s a quick fix that will help make your upper body more powerful and explosive.

Follow this pushup protocol, trying to perform each rep as fast as possible, and after 8 workouts take the test again and see how you improved.

Week 1 (two workouts): Perform 10 sets of 8 repetitions of pushups. Rest two minutes between sets. If you can’t do 8 pushups, rest as needed following the same strategy used in the test.

Week 2 (two workouts): Complete 8 sets of 10 repetitions with 1 minute of rest between sets.

Week 3 (two workouts): Perform 6 sets of 15 repetitions with 1 minute of rest between sets.

Week 4 (two workouts): Do 4 sets of 20 repetitions with two minutes of rest between sets.

Take 5 days off from pushups, and then take the test again and see how you did.

[prompted-search initial-state=”open” /]

READ MORE: 

How to Build the Perfect Bodyweight Workout

The Tension Weightlifting Technique: How to Make Every Exercise More Effective

The Truth About the 7-Minute Workout

27 Comments

  1. Hi “coach”!

    I’ve been doing your pushups workout using your strategy for 3 complete weeks now. I’m really average at pushups (max 21) and I really want to become good and maybe excellent. I use to do 30, but I would injure myself doing so. Then I wouldn’t do pushups for a year because I’m always afraid of injuring myself by pushing myself to my limits. Then, a year later, that cycle would haunt me again. Your program worked for me the first 2 weeks. By the third week though, I couldn’t acccomplish 6 X 15 pushups : I would get 15-15-15-14-11-10 at best. How should I approach week 4? Also, I just notice by reading on your site again that I was suppose to do the workout twice a day! Man… I was only doing it once. Should I restart from week 1 ? Anyway, as you can read, I need a little bit of guidance… Thanks in advance for helping me! I really like your pushups strategy though. J-F from MTL Peace!

    1. 2x a week, not twice a day from what it reads.

      Pretty interesting protocol. I’ll give it a try and report back

  2. Hi Coach!
    Thans for this stepwise program.
    I just want to ask you to assure me if we should do 2 workouts every week? Or every day? It is imporrtant for us to know that so that we can get benifit not injure our muscles.
    Thank you very much.

    1. Hey Oscar, glad you found the article valuable. You’ll do two total pushup workouts per week. Each week repeat the workout assigned twice. Ideally, you’d space these out 2-3 days apart to help maximize recovery. My favorite way to do this is by stacking a pushup workout on my upper body training days.

    1. Shay, perform the workout two times a week. I’d recommend spacing the workouts 2-3 days apart to help maximize recovery.

  3. Hi Coach.

    As of right now I’m in the extraordinary zone. Just did 50 pushups in a minute and all of them where assessed by a spotter. I dont understand the idea of training only twice a week? Last month I did the 100 pushups a day challenge and my pushups went from 42 a minute to 50 a minute. I feel like this plan would be quite detrimental to my training? This month I’ll be doing a different kind of workout that was recommended to me by a Sgnt in the Air National Gaurd. He said that I should do my max amount of pushups, ’60’ and then decide it by 3 and do 3 sets with 1 minute of rest in between them. And I’m doing this daily. I understand the idea of allowing your muscles fully regroup. However, I’ve found that if you let your muscles fully regroup they quickly adapt to the workout and you start losing gains. Now, I think your workout makes sense if you where benching, or doing weighted pushups, but for bodyweight training I believe you would need to do a lot more and start incorporating weighted pushups to get maximum gains. Could you either reply to this or send me an email explaining the workout style?

    Thanks

    Jonathan Mitchell.

  4. Hey Adam,
    No doubt great tips to build endurance for doing more pushups. Surely gonna implement these tips next time when I am sweating in gym 🙂

  5. Do I perform two workouts daily or two sets per week? I am going to be 70 in 5 weeks and want to do 70 push-ups straight.
    Thanks, David

    1. Hey David, great goal! For this specific workout, you’ll perform the assigned workout (so, for week 1 you would do 10 sets of 8 repetitions of pushups) twice per week. Ideally, do these workouts 2-3 days apart.

  6. What an interesting blog. The struggle was real in doing pushups, but that helped me a lot. Thanks!

  7. “…it’s impossible to go any faster than 1 rep per second with the pause at the bottom and lockout at the top”.

    This gave me an image in my mind of people who perform a burpee by bouncing off the ground as they go into the pushup lol. But it’s true. Any exercise should be performed slowly with control, unless the goals are speed and agility.

    1. Don’t get us started on burpees 🙂
      Thanks for reading, David.

  8. Hello,

    On a good day I was able to to 60 plus or so push ups, on average however it hovers around 50. I took the challenge to be able to do 200 without pause. I started with 5 sets of 20 with a 3 minutes rest between sets. I would do that every 3 days (sometimes every 4 days). I would add to the last set 5 extra, then to the last 2 sets, and so forth. I am now at 5 sets of 35. I noticed that at the beginning doing all 20 was easy but now my last set are tedious.

    Am I on the good track? Is the something I should modify something?

    Best regards,

    Sammy Madisson

    1. I’ve never seen anyone do 200 consecutive pushups (and that includes 8 years of military service). It’s an aggressive goal, and if it’s important to you, go for it.
      However, I would argue that after a certain point, you don’t need to do more pushups – you need to do better or more advanced pushups. 5 sets of 35 is fantastic. Great work. My suggestion is to now work on getting stronger (loaded pushups or ring pushups).

  9. I’m trying to improve my number of pushups. I’m in the below average range. I found that I definitely need to take mini breaks in order to squeeze out eight pushups, at least once I hit the fifth or sixth set. What do you mean by breaks? Can my knees touch the ground? Do I need to stay in plank position? How is it a true set if I rest in the middle?
    I’m a beginner in fitness, so any help is appreciated. Thanks!!

    1. There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks as you improve your push-ups. And be sure to take an actual break. Stand up, shake it out for 10-20 seconds, and then dive back in. You want to recover enough that you can maintain great form for all 8 reps. And as long as you don’t break for a couple of minutes, this will still count as a “set.” We call these cluster sets, or, sets with mini-breaks included. They’re highly effective for building strength.

    1. Bob, the training program in this article only asks you to do two workouts per week.

      However, if you’d like to do daily pushups (which can work well for many), lower the reps and only perform a couple of pushup sets each day. Think less about going to failure on each set and more about the total work adding up over the week.

  10. Hii Coach, Can we reduce our weight by doing pushups. If this can happen then please share with us.Today everyone want to be fit.But everyone is unable to do so due to his busy schedule wheather it is because of the office or for some other reason.Just a while , i was not able to pay attention to my fitness due to my office timing.And whenever i read an article about WeRun App.it helped me a lot to regain my lost fitness.using this, i formed a group and added my friends to it.And then used to run with my friends.

  11. I can do 2 sets of 40 then last 2 sets of 50 is that good I might not do them fast but I can do this type of sets

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.