Ask Stew: High-Repetition Calisthenics Methods

Guardsman does push-ups during Best Warrior Competition.
Georgia National Guardsman Spc. Jonathan Florencio, representing the Ellenwood-based 78th Troop Command, participates in the hand-release push-up exercise during the state Best Warrior competition at Fort Stewart, Georgia, on March 8, 2019. (Spc. Tori Miller/U.S. Army National Guard photo)

Getting better at higher-repetition calisthenics tests in military, police and fire fighter professions is the goal of Phase 1 of Tactical Fitness -- Getting to the Training. Candidates for any tactical profession often are required to take a general fitness test to qualify for certain jobs. The more physically demanding or competitive these programs are to enter, the higher the standard typically is.

Here is a question from a longtime reader and listener of these articles and videos and asks a very good question about the level of volume required to improving training in calisthenics fitness testing:


in one of your old videos, you said if you want to do 100 push-ups at a time, you need to do four times that throughout the day. That thing got stuck in my mind. I apply it to various things in my own life. Where did you find such a wonderful formula? Thanks, DB

Great question. If you have been in a business for 20 years, you have become better at explaining yourself as well as maybe even evolved and learned other options to achieve similar goals, maybe even with less work.

Generally speaking, yes, to reach the 100-plus push-up mark, you have to build your muscle stamina to handle two-minute sets of nearly nonstop movement.

That takes time as you first have to build the strength enough to do a push-up. Your first few push-ups are a strength exercise. After 20 repetitions, push-ups become an endurance exercise. Your ability to buffer lactate and keep moving requires you to push previous limits by increasing volume significantly.

To answer your question about the volume increase formula, I looked at many of my workout creations over the years. I noticed that the volume increase was roughly a progression that built up to 4-5 times that person's  current maximum effort score.

For instance, if you could do 20 pull-ups, the workouts most people could handle was 100 repetitions of pull-ups spread throughout the workout, maybe in a pyramid, super set or max rep set-style of workout. The same was true for push-ups and dips. That volume helped people maintain or progress to higher numbers, depending on how they arranged the repetitions.

The more easy (non-failing sets) the student did, the student maintained current levels or had a slight bump in performance after a rest day. The more difficult (several sets to failure) it was, the student increased quickly.

Now with this type of volume, it is not recommended to do these exercises daily. In fact, do not do daily PT at this high volume. The best option is to split the upper body and lower body into two parts and do them on alternating days. Or you can do the same with push (chest, shoulder, triceps) and pull exercises (back, biceps) on alternating days.

Increasing Volume for Daily PT, but Limited to 10 Days

However, one such method that I have been using with men and women for more than 25 years is the pull-up push and the push-up push. These are 14-day programs that increase volume about 4-5 times a person's current max score each day for 10 days in a row. Read the directions, though, in the links.

For instance, if you can do 50 push-ups on a PT test, you would do 200 to 250 push-ups each day for 10 days straight, rest three days (no pushing) and test on day 14. Consider this the overload principle applied to calisthenics. On day 14, many people have seen a 50%-100% increase in test repetitions (depending upon when they started).

This program is not recommended for extended use; only do it for two weeks, then resort back to calisthenics every other day.

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

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues