How to Reach the Next Level of Push-ups and Pull-ups

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A participant in the Maltz Challenge performs push-ups at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
A participant in the Maltz Challenge performs push-ups at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., March 9, 2018. The CrossFit-style competition features a 400-meter run and challenges in pull-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups and more. (Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II/U.S. Air Force photo)

Here is an email from a military man seeking to get better at his pull-ups and push-ups for an upcoming PFT for special-ops selection.

"Thank you for the 14-day Pull-up and the Push-up routine. I did it to the letter, doing on average 130 pull-ups and 300 push-ups per workout. I went from 19 solid pull-ups to 22 solid pull-ups, and 76 push-ups to 86 in 2 minutes.

"Now that I have come this far, what else can I do to get up to 25 solid pull-ups and 100 push-ups in 2 minutes?"

Because you already have a solid foundation on which to build, I would not recommend the Pull-up/Push-up Push workout if you are already getting more than 15 pull-ups and 75 push-ups. However, the advice on what is the next step is still the same.

The next step after the Push-up Push and the Pull-up Push Workout is to get back into a normal split routine, doing pull-ups and push-ups a maximum of three times a week.

Here is what I do not only to maintain 25-30 pull-ups and 100 push-ups, but also to help folks like you to achieve those goal scores on a fitness test.

The maintenance plan is three workouts during the week:

  1. Pyramid Routine
  2. Superset or Circuit 
  3. Max-Rep Workout

Workout #1

Do a pyramid-type workout with pull-ups, dips, push-ups and an abdominal exercise of choice (usually crunches, sit-ups, flutter kicks or a variety of all). The goal is to build up to a maximum repetition set of all exercises in the workout.

Check this one out, for example: PT pyramids.

**Note: Always balance out your workout with a good upper- and lower-back routine, as you do get many reps with these workouts that focus on the chest, shoulders and stomach muscles. See this plan (PDF)

Workout #2

Superset but sub-maximum repetitions:

  • Run a quarter-mile in 90-100 seconds.
  • Pull-ups 5-15
  • Push-ups 40-50
  • Sit-ups 40-50 (or abs of choice)
  • Repeat above for 5-10 sets, depending on your fitness level. The goal is not to go to muscle failure.

Workout #3

Max-out workout.  It is OK to fail this workout and push your max every set.

  • Max pull-ups
  • Max push-ups 1:00
  • Max sit-ups in one minute  (pace out 50-55 reps)
  • Optional run of a quarter-mile in 90 seconds  (I do this some days, not all.)
  • Repeat above until you hit 100 pull-ups. Once you can reach 100 pull-ups in 4-5 sets, then shoot for 150 pull-ups in a total workout.

**Note: Try not to rest during any of these workouts; the rest is built into the circuit by working another muscle group. Try to take some time to stretch and drink some water between sets but no longer than 15-20 seconds.

This process will take a few weeks. Usually people stuck at 15 pull-ups will be able to do 20-25 pull-ups in 4-6 weeks with this type of physical training system.

There are many ways to get better at pull-ups. This is a proven method that I have been using for more than 10 years with future special-ops members. Send in some other ideas that have helped you in the past reach the 20 pull-up mark.

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. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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