Pushing Up Your Limits

by Stew Smith

I received a fun email from a former Marine who likes to push himself still and those around him. He writes:

Stew, I have been using your workouts to get my pushups up to 100 in 2 minutes (as a Marine we focused on pullups as you know) and got it last week. Now I an thinking of doing push-ups for some kind of record - thousands maybe?

Also if you would I have laid down the challenge in my office to do 15 pullups / 40 pushups for 3 sets in under 6 minutes. Any ideas on how to train / strategize that one?

Good job with the push-ups tests in two minutes goal! The super-sets, pyramids, and timed rep sets work pretty well to build up to those goals even for us 40+ year olds. But to train for the higher rep no time limit push-ups contests you need to change your focus. As you know for a two minute test it is all about speed as an above average score is one push-up per second or faster even.

I compare the two styles of push-ups to running a 100m sprint for time and running a marathon. Both are still running, but two entirely different methods to train as well as energy systems that are used.

For the higher goals you want to pace yourself and go slowly so your muscles can recover during the long duration. But you actually let gravity take you down - no exertion and come up relatively fast - and pause at the top with arms straight (muscles relaxed) - using more bones to stay up than muscle. This type of steady pace can help you last longer in the push-up contest, but you also need to practice working other muscle groups in order to stay in the UP position.

Watch for Tendonitis!
This type of repetition will wreak havoc on your elbows / shoulders so you need to recover well with good foods / ice after hundreds of push-ups workouts / stretch well.

Lower back / abs
Working the back muscles and stomach muscles is critical as well. A yoga based plank pose (UP push-up position) is challenging if you try to hold it for more than 3-5 minutes. You will have to build up to several hours sounds like. This takes time to perfect - give yourself a good year of this core training and it will make push-ups a ton easier.

Pushup workouts
I would start out with multiple sets of push-ups done at a steady pace. Start off with ten minutes of push-ups non-stop - meaning - you cannot place your knee on the floor for 10 minutes. But you can rest in the UP position after a set number of push-ups.

This is actually pretty good training for you SEAL candidates out there as I remember days of hanging out in the leaning for for 45-50 minutes doing sets of 30-50 pushups until the instructors were tired. Add a little surf zone (sand and water) for better results!

Second question on 15 pull-ups / 40 push-ups contest

Sounds like you are on a 2 minute interval. So I would tackle this one by doing:

- 15 pull-ups / drop down immediately for 40 push-ups
- this will take 1 minute tops
- Take about 30-45 seconds to rest / stretch and begin set #2.
- Repeat with 1 minute rest on last one if needed.

But basically you have to be able to do multiple sets of 15-20 reps of pull-ups - make your workouts that. The two exercises (pull-up / push-ups) are opposing muscles groups so they should not tire you out from one exercise to the next.

Once you get good at this timed test with rest, decrease your rest time until you can roll through this workout with no rest at all. It can be done - just takes practice. Then your office will say, "Don't mess with that guy - he used to be a Marine!"

Thanks for the email, I think I will challenge my group of future military guys who train with me to the same workout. For all readers, if in the Maryland area, come check out the free workouts I do for all pre-military / LE guys. We also take in former military guys too!

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.


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