Ask Stew: High Repetition Calisthenics Methods

A Soldier from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) does push-ups as part of an Army Physical Fitness Test. (U.S. Army/ K. Kassens)
A Soldier from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) does push-ups as part of an Army Physical Fitness Test. (U.S. Army/ K. Kassens)

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. Often candidates for any of the tactical professions are required to take a general fitness test to qualify for certain jobs. The more physically demanding or competitive to enter those programs, the higher the standard typically.

Here is a question from a long-time 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 4 times of 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 and I will say, 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, if you want to get better at push-ups and max out most push-ups tests in any of the tactical occupations, to reach the 100-plus mark, you have to build your muscle stamina to handle two minute sets of nearly non-stop 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 four to five times that persons' 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 was able to help 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 was able to maintain 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 exercises (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 over 25 years is the pull-up push and the push-up push. These are 14 day programs that increases volume about four to five times a person's current max score each day for 10 days straight. 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 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.


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