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.)
For most of us, being strong starts at a different place: relative body strength. That is, your ability to move your own body within space. 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.
Years ago I worked with Martin Rooney on a pushup test. It was a 3-minute challenge that was incredible, but there was one flaw: most people I know couldn’t crank out pushups for 1-minute, let alone 3 minutes.
So over the last few years with clients, I’ve used different variations of this test as an assessment to determine baseline strength.
Test to see how you stack up, and then use the guidelines below to become better at pushups.
- Set a timer for 1-minute and then start performing pushups
- Stop counting when time is up, and 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
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Before You Begin: Pushup Test Tips
You really have 2 options that will help you perform your best:
- Perform pushups at a rapid pace and do as many as you can until you hit failure
- Pace yourself and take mini breaks every 10-15 seconds, doing what you can to prolong failure.
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 1-minute, the game 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 quick.
If your pushing strength is good, you might be able to maintain a consistent pace for 30 to 45 seconds, and in that case it’s best to push as fast and as hard as you can, but stop 1 to 2 reps shy of failure, rest 5 seconds, and then sprint to the finish line.
Assess Your 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: anything more than 50 pushups
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.
Want to share your score? Use the hashtag #BeTheChange and let me know how you performed.