The legendary Bruce Lee, among his formidable arsenal of martial arts skills, was a master of the pushup.
- He could do two-fingered pushups on one hand with ease.
- He could do pushups with 250lbs on his back.
- And he routinely did 1000 pushups a day as part of his training.
This last feat highlights a key component of pushups training, and one that is internalized in this training plan:
Many training plans floating out there on the internet miss the mark by adopting a “train 3 times a week approach”. This is a sub-optimal approach to training. You’ll probably make progress, but it’ll be slow and frustrating.
Follow the plan here to progress as fast as physiologically possible.
Rules and Guidelines
This training plan is a set of guidelines, which, when you follow them correctly, provide a natural, sustainable and optimal progression of pushup numbers over time. Our training philosophy is based on the the greasing the groove methodology.
Here are the guidelines, which, when followed correctly, organically creates the best training plan to achieve this objective.
- Train pushups every day.
- Perform a minimum of 4 sets of pushups per day.
- Perform an all-out pushups test once per week.
- Halve your test score for the number of pushups to do per set.
- Training volume increases organically over time.
- Do not exceed 4 sets per day for the first two weeks.
- After the first two weeks, add one extra set to your daily pushups per week (optional).
- Do only normal, “shoulder-width” pushups until you score at least 50 in your weekly pushups test.
- Exhaust all gains from greasing the groove before changing up your training.
Note: a walkthrough example is given at the end of this article.
1. Train pushups every day
- Consistency is the key to improving your pushup count. Pushups are massively muscle-memory dependent.
- This isn’t like traditional weightlifting where you fry your muscles and need 2-3 days to recover. It’s a regular, minimum effective dose to stimulate improvement.
- As you’ll read below, this MUST be coupled with low intensity sets. You cannot sustainably do pushups every day if you are going near to muscular failure.
2. Perform a minimum of 4 sets of pushups per day
- To maximize freshness, space out each set as much as possible.
- e.g. Set 1 @ 8am, Set 2 @ 12 noon, Set 3 @ 4pm, Set 4 @ 8pm.
- When life gets in the way, do your best to maintain as much time between sets as possible. Strive for at least 30 minutes rest between sets.
- A schedule that works well for many is two sets in the morning and two sets in the evening, each with 30 minutes rest inbetween. Then at the weekend space out sets more evenly.
3. Perform an all-out pushups test once per week
- One set all-out effort of as many consecutive pushups you can do, stopping only when you cannot physically do one more pushup with good technique.
- Do not rest more than 5 seconds at the top of the pushup position, and no resting on your knees during the effort.
- Do not cheat yourself. Strive for an accurate representation of your pushups ability.
- Sunday morning is a good time to do your re-test. It gives you the rest of the day to get some additional sets in.
- The number of pushups you do per set is based on the number you score each week in this test.
4. Halve your test score for the number of pushups to do per set
- The number of pushups you do in each set throughout the week is based on the score you get in your weekly all-out pushups test.
- Half your test score, and that’s how many pushups you do per set (50% intensity).
- For example, if you score 20 in the test, you do 10 pushups per set for the following week.
- These are low intensity sets. It should feel easy, like you are leaving a lot on the table each set.
- Given that each set is easy, focus relentlessly on practicing perfect technique. Focus on one specific aspect of the pushup each set. Perform some sets in front of a mirror. Perform other sets with your eyes closed. Deepen that mind-body connection. The real joy of performing pushups is not the number you can do, but mastering the movement itself. It is much like yoga in this regard.
5. Training volume increases organically over time
- Your number of pushups per set are based on your previous maximum pushups test.
- For example, if you score 20 in your test, you do 10 pushups per set for the following week.
- Provided your test scores increase consistently, so too do your pushup repetitions per set.
6. Do not exceed 4 sets per day for the first two weeks
- Intensity is to be built up slowly at first. You are laying the foundation, and it does not take much effort to see good initial gains.
7. After the first two weeks, add one extra set to your daily pushups per week (optional)
- In the first two weeks you do four sets per day. In week 3, you are permitted to increase to five sets per day (i.e. each day throughout week 3 you do five sets per day).
- In week 4, you are permitted to increase to six sets per day (i.e. each day throughout week 4 you do six sets per day). And so on.
- Do not increase the number of daily sets by more than one per week.
- This progression is optional. It comes down to your own assessment of how well you are coping with the increase in training load. You may decide to increase the number of sets every other week, or once every three weeks. Remember, even with no additional sets, there is still a natural progression over time – your weekly tests should be increasing in number, therefore the number of repetitions per set in each following week increase. So do not be in a rush to add additional sets.
8. Do only normal, “shoulder-width” pushups until you score at least 50 in your weekly pushups test
- There isn’t any need to start adding different pushups variations until you are proficient in the basic pushup. Proficiency starts at a minimum of 50 pushups.
9. Exhaust all gains from greasing the groove before changing up your training
- Greasing the groove (i.e. lots of low intensity pushup sets space throughout the day, every day) is by far the most effective method to initially increase your pushups numbers, so stick with it for as long as you can while still seeing gains in your numbers.
- You can expect approximately 6 weeks of greasing the groove gains until you begin to plateau – eventually you reach the point where you have optimized your neurological fitness, at which point you need to begin following an advanced training plan.
- If you are still seeing gains beyond 6 weeks with grease the groove, by all means milk those gains first. There is no point skipping to the advanced training plan earlier than necessary, doing so will not accelerate your progress. Quite the opposite in fact.
A Walkthrough Example
Joe has decided to undertake the 100 pushups training plan. He does an initial test on Sunday morning to see how many consecutive pushups he can do and scores 15 before he falls into a heap on the floor.
In week 1, he therefore does 4 sets of 7 pushups per day (half of 15, rounded down).
On Sunday morning he does a re-test, and scores 18 pushups.
In week 2, he therefore does 4 sets of 9 pushups per day. At the end of the week, his retest score is 22.
In week 3, he adds one set per week, for 5 sets of 11 pushups per day. Retest score is 27.
In week 4, he decides to stay with 5 sets during the week (5 sets of 13 pushups), and increase to 6 sets at the weekend (6 sets of 13 pushups). Retest is 30.
In week 5, he increases weekday to 6 sets of 13 pushups, and maintains weekend sets to 6 also. Retest is 32.
Some days life gets in the way for Joe, and he only manages 4 sets per day. This is perfectly fine, as he meets the minimum number of sets per day, understanding that consistency of training over time is the important thing.
Some days Joe isn’t feeling it, on these days he still performs 4 sets, but decreases the number of pushups per set to 25% of his max pushups score.
Joe continues in this fashion until his pushups scores don’t improve for 3 weeks straight. It appears he has exhausted all gains from greasing the groove, and moves on to the advanced training plan.
What This Training Plan Is Not
This training plan is not a spoon-fed prescription of week-by-week pushup numbers to hit. I see it all the time, “Week 1, do 3 sets of 8 pushups on Day 1, 3 sets of 9 pushups on Day 3 etc”. This is an arbitrary approach that sets you up for failure when you eventually, and inevitably, miss your numbers.
Instead, by following our protocol, your training is based within the parameters of what you score on a maximum pushups test. Therefore, the program never “gets away from you”, while at the same time optimizing your progress by using greasing the groove training.
Don’t overcomplicate your training. Train every day at low intensity and your performance in the weekly pushups test will naturally progress your training over time.
Don’t add unnecessary intensity too soon, and try to space out your sets throughout the day as much as possible within the constraints of your typical day. When you’re not feeling it on a particular day, drop back down to 4 sets and reduce the intensity.
One further goal of your training is to perfect your technique. Focus on one aspect of technique during each set, remain “present” throughout the movement, never viewing pushups as something to “get out the way” before you get on with your day.
Good luck! Questions are certain to arise during the initial stages of your training, check out the Frequently Asked Questions section to see if they have already been covered.