Feel the Burn of 2-Minute Push-Ups and Max Pull-Ups Without the Reps

(U.S. Air Force/Joshua J. Seybert)

This is a workout I recommend when people are having trouble improving their two-minute push-up tests and pull-up reps. The first pull-up and push-up are a strength exercise, but to max out these fitness tests, you must turn a strength exercise into an endurance exercise.

Adding in a strength exercise like bench press, weighted pull-ups or pulldowns is a way to pre-fatigue the muscles needed to perform the push-up and pull-up and build strength, too. Give this workout setup a try if you are finding endless reps of calisthenics are not working for you.

You may need to go back to strength then push into muscle stamina and endurance to get past your exercise limitations.

Warmup: Pull-Up and Push-Up Run Pyramid 1-10 With 100-Meter Runs In-Between

This is a standard warmup that only goes as high as you can with both push-ups and pull-ups. If doing 55 reps of both exercises is not considered a warmup for you, only go up the half pyramid to set five and accumulate 15 reps of each. If you cannot do five increasing sets of 1,2,3,4,5 reps of push-ups and pull-ups, then this workout is not for you.

Keep the blood flowing with an easy-paced one-mile run or 10-minute bike to break a sweat and feel the body getting warmed up for the following harder work sets.

Repeat 3 Times

Bench: 10 reps with a weight with which you can barely do 10 reps
Push-Ups: 5-10, immediately after the bench set
Dumbbell Rows: 10 per arm
Sit-Ups or Plank: Pose 1 min

The goal is to go right into push-ups without resting, immediately after the bench press set. This will simulate how the final 5-10 push-ups of a two-minute fitness test will feel. Focus hard on good form and stop if you feel yourself start to shake uncontrollably.

You are done at this point and will waste significant energy when you shake during a push-up test. It is best to drop to your chest and be finished than try to get those last one or two reps when shaking like this. You will need this energy for following events, like sit-ups, plank, pull-ups or run, depending on your fitness test.

After the push-up set in the section above, perform an active rest with the dumbbell rows and sit-ups or plank pose. Then, before you do the pull-up challenge set up below, go for a quick jog for one mile or 10-minute bike.

This next set requires a weight vest at 10-20 pounds to make pull-ups harder, but they are quickly followed by regular pull-ups once you reach your weight pull-up limit.

Repeat 4 Times

Weight Vest Pull-Ups: Max
Pull-ups: Max, but try regular grip and change grip to chin-ups to get a few more reps this set
Run: 400 meters at goal mile pace, without a vest, as pull-up recovery

If you have any pull-ups and push-ups remaining in you, try the pull-up, push-up pyramid you did as a warmup, but in reverse. Do a set of push-ups and pull-ups and each set thereafter, and reduce the next set by one repetition until you get to one pull-up and one push-up.

There's no need to do more than 10 down to 1 in reverse order. Consider this a cooldown set with easy stretches in between sets for 30 seconds or so.

-- 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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