Do You Suck at Pushups? Read This...

Cody Wright

August 19, 2020


When I was training for rescue swimmer school, I used to have a recurring dream where I could effortlessly do pushups, I felt weightless! About once a week I would wake up to find out that I was in fact not a pushups god and would settle into the reality that I could realistically do about 40 pushups, maybe 45 on a good day. At the time, the elusive number I had to hit was 50 pushups. 50 was the minimum I needed to pass the PT in test for USCG Helicopter Rescue Swimmer School. This was only the minimum, however I had heard from past students that the instructors loved to miscount or dock a few pushups for poor form. I knew I needed to be closer to 60. Eventually I was able to reach 60 pushups and breezed through the PT test in rescue swimmer school.


If you’re like me, you’re probably struggling to get your pushup numbers up. That’s why I’m writing this! I want to divulge some of the workouts and training strategies that have worked for me, so you don’t have to waste your time trying workouts and strategies that don’t work. Recently I went from about 60 pushups max to anywhere from 80-90 depending on the day!


If you’ve been plateauing with your pushups, that’s a sign you need to change up your tactics. Although you may think doing more pushups more often would be the solution to getting better, that’s not the case. You likely need to start mixing in other styles of PT and weightlifting to change the stress on your muscles and build overall strength. If what I described sounds like you, time to mix it up!


For the next four weeks, limit your PT to 1 day a week and start hitting the weight room. Do bench press, chest flies, dumbbell flies, overhead shoulder presses, triceps dips (with weight), weighted pull-ups and any other weight exercise that works your arms, chest and upper body. You should be doing anywhere from 3-5 sets depending on the day with reps of 15-8. I’m not going to go into specifics on this, since it depends on your position in any given training cycle. If you need exact direction, you should just get Win the Summer or try some coaching with me, but I digress. This should be in the form of 2-3 weight session through the week. You can still train your cardiovascular system during this time via swimming and running, just give the PT a rest and restrict it to once a week.


After those four weeks go into a mix of weights and PT, increase your PT session to 3-4 times a week and decrease the lifting to 1-2. In those PT sessions you should be doing high intensity work with high reps per workout. The best way I’ve found to do that is through PT pyramids. Here’s an example of a PT pyramid workout.


Set 1: 5 pushup, 5 flutter kicks, 1 pull-up

Set 2: 10 pushups, 10 flutter kicks, 2 pull-ups         

Set 3: 15 pushups, 15 flutter kicks, 3 pull-ups         

Set 4: 20 pushups, 20 flutter kicks, 4 pull-ups

Set 5: 25 pushups, 25 flutter kicks, 5 pull-ups

Set 6: 20 pushups, 20 flutter kicks, 4 pull-ups

Set 7: 15 pushups, 15 flutter kicks, 3 pull-ups

Set 8: 10 pushups, 10 flutter kicks 2, pull-ups

Set 9: 5 pushup, 5 flutter kicks 1, pull-ups


You can also do PT in various rounds with a given rest period or no rest period between sets. Here’s another example.


PT: Do 6 rounds


20-25 pushups

15 flutter kicks with hands on shoulders

10 burpees

10 wide grip pushups

Rest 45-60 seconds between laps


You can get creative with these types of workouts, just remember the goal is to get a high volume of PT in with a short rest period. You can do this for another 3-4 weeks. After you do that, give your body a week to rest and try a PT test. You will see significant improvements in your PT scores if you follow these instructions.