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Push-Up Density Training Program

Bang out high reps of push-ups like Rocky Balboa with this proven density training method.

how many push ups can you do

Admit it, at one point or another you’ve wanted to be able to bang out more push-ups. Everyone has had this goal, myself included. 

The push-up is a classic exercise, made famous as the go-to upper body exercise for the military, boxers, and of course, Rocky Balboa himself. And best of all, you can do push-ups anywhere – at the gym, in your bedroom, at the office, a hotel room, you name it. Wherever you go, push-ups are there for you!

Getting to 10, 20, even 30 straight push-ups is fairly easy for most fit people, but at some point you hit a ceiling that won’t seem to budge. So how do you break through that barrier and do more push-ups? I have one proven method: Density Training.

Master Your Push-Up Technique

Before you start my Density Training program, make sure you're doing push-ups correctly. For a complete guide to proper push-up form and technique, see my Push-Up Master Class article. 

And here's a video offering a helpful push-up technique tip:

The Details on Density Training

Density training is a technique I like to use for bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups where you complete more reps of the exercise in less time over the course of a weeks-long (or months-long) program.

So, let’s say you’re weak at push-ups and have a goal to work up to 20 consecutive push-ups. Personally, I think a fit male should be able to do 40 push-ups consecutively (and an in-shape female, 30), but if you’re not even doing 20 at the moment, start with that as your goal. You can work up to 40 or 30 (or more) over time. You should always set a realistic goal.

With a goal of 20 consecutive reps, the density training protocol will work as follows…

First of all, your goal will be to complete 40 reps of push-ups in each workout. Why 40 instead of your goal of 20? Because if your goal is to do 20 consecutive push-ups, you’ll want to overshoot that in your workouts to build the necessary muscular endurance.

And how will you do that, seeing is that you’re not even doing 20 reps consecutive? By resting throughout the workout. Yes, it’s 40 push-ups, but not consecutively.

You’ll start in Phase 1, where you’ll break up the 40 total reps of push-ups into 10 sets of 4 reps. And there’s a time limit here: You have 10 minutes to complete the 10x4 set/rep scheme.

With the same number of sets as minutes allowed (10), it’s pretty easy to figure out you’ll do this. At the start of each minute, do 4 push-ups, and then rest the remainder of the minute (50 seconds or so) until the top of the next minute, when you’ll do the next 4 reps. CrossFitters would call this an “EMOM,” short for each “each minute on the minute.” This EMOM format will be present in all phases of the Density Training program, regardless of your rep goal.

Once you’re able to get all 40 reps done in 10 minutes or less (doing 4 reps at the top of each minute), you’ll move onto Phase 2. As the phases progress, you’ll do the same 40 total reps, but in less time; this means you’ll be doing fewer sets, more reps per set, but with shorter rest peroids.

In Phase 2, for example, you’ll have 8 minutes to do 40 push-ups. You’ll break that down into 8 sets of 5 reps. Again, do this as an EMOM. At the top of each minute, do 5 reps, then rest remainder of the minute. Once you’re able to complete all 40 reps in 8 minutes or less, you can move onto Phase 3.

Keep in mind, the phases do NOT have time limits in terms of how many days or weeks to stay in a given phase. Each phase will last as long as it takes you to achieve the prescribed reps. So, if the first time you do the Phase 1 workout you’re not able to complete all 10 sets of 4 reps within 10 minutes, that’s fine. Maybe you got the 4 reps up until the fifth or sixth round, but then fell off and couldn’t get to 40 total reps in 10 minutes. If that’s the case, the next time you do the push-up density workout, you’ll repeat the Phase 1 workout with a goal to get closer to 40 reps in the allotted 10 minutes.

Once you’re able to do all 10 sets of 4 reps in under 10 minutes, it’s time to graduate to Phase 2. If this takes you 2 weeks, fine. Or 3 weeks or 4 weeks or 5 weeks, whatever. Go at your own pace.

Here's the complete Density Training program for a goal of doing 20 consecutive push-ups:                       

Density Training Push-Up Program

Goal: 20 Consecutive Push-Ups

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 10 4 10 minutes 40
2 8 5 8 min. 40
3 7 6 7 min. 40
4 6 7 6 min. 42
5 5 8 5 min. 40
6 4 10 4 min. 40

Once you complete Phase 6 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 20 reps consecutive.

Testing Your Reps Throughout the Density Program

To see how you’re progressing toward your push-up goal (in this case, doing 20 consecutive push-ups), do an informal push-up test after completing each phase.

For example, once you complete Phase 1 (where you’re able to do 40 reps in 10 minutes or less), wait a couple days, and in a separate workout see how many consecutive push-ups you can do.

How many phases it takes to hit your 20-rep goal will vary from person to person. Some people will find that once they can do 6 sets of 7 reps in 6 minutes (completing Phase 4), they can do 20 reps consecutive. Yet others may find they’re not quite to 20 at that point and need to move onto Phase 5 to continue progressing toward their goal.

That said, Phase 6 should be the final stopping point for just about everyone. Once you’re able to do 4 sets of 10 push-ups in 4 minutes or less, you should definitely be able to do 20 straight push-ups.

When To Do Push-Up Density Training Workouts

I recommend doing the push-up density training workout on chest days, at the beginning of your chest workout. Or, do it on a completely different day, at least 2-3 days after your previous chest workout. You want to be at your freshest when doing this workout, so don't do it the day after a hard chest workout.

For best results, do the push-up density workout 2 times per week. You can opt to do it only once a week if you like, but at twice weekly you’ll reach your push-up goal a bit faster.

Push-Up Density Program for Other Rep Goals

In the above example, I used a goal of 20 consecutive push-ups. However, many JYM Army members are probably already doing 20 fairly easily. Getting up to 40, or 60, straight push-ups is a different story.

The push-up density program can accommodate any rep goal with a simple tweak to the above sets, reps, and time.

Whatever your rep goal is, double that number, and that’s how many total reps you’ll do in each workout. So, if 40 push-ups straight is the goal, you’ll do 80 push-ups per density workout, 1-2 times per week; if the goal is 60 push-ups, you’ll do 120 reps per workout. (In my Fitter, Faster, Leaner program, I used 60 as the goal.)

As with the 20-rep example, each phase will see the number of sets and time decrease and the number of reps per set increase. The number of reps per workout will stay roughly the same throughout. (There are instances where the total reps in a workout don't hit exactly 40, 60, 80, or 100; this is only because the number of sets doesn't go evenly into the total number of reps.)

To make it easy for you, here are the protocols for goals of 30, 40, and 50 push-ups consecutive. For 60 reps, use the chart at the bottom of my Fitter, Faster, Leaner Program Overview article. 

Density Training Push-Up Program for 30 Reps

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 10 6 10 minutes 60
2 8 8 8 min. 64
3 7 9 7 min. 63
4 6 10 6 min. 60
5 5 12 5 min. 60
6 4 15 4 min. 60

Once you complete Phase 6 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 30 reps consecutive.

Density Training Push-Up Program for 40 Reps

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 10 8 10 minutes 80
2 8 10 8 min. 80
3 7 12 7 min. 84
4 6 14 6 min. 84
5 5 16 5 min. 80
6 4 20 4 min. 80

Once you complete Phase 6 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 40 reps consecutive.

Density Training Push-Up Program for 50 Reps

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 10 10 10 minutes 100
2 8 13 8 min. 104
3 7 15 7 min. 105
4 6 17 6 min. 102
5 5 20 5 min. 100
6 4 25 4 min. 100

Once you complete Phase 6 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 50 reps consecutive.

Density Training Push-Up Program for 60 Reps

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 12 10 12 minutes 120
2 11 11 11 min. 121
3 10 12 10 min. 120
4 9 14 9 min. 126
5 8 15 8 min. 120
6 7 17 7 min. 119
7* 6 20 6 min. 120
8 5 24 5 min. 120
9 4 30 4 min. 120

*Once you complete Phase 7 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 60 reps consecutive.

Density Training Push-Up Program for 70 Reps

Phase Sets Reps Time Alloted Total Reps
1 14 10 12 minutes 140
2 13 11 11 min. 143
3 11 13 10 min. 143
4 10 14 9 min. 140
5 8 18 8 min. 144
6 7 20 7 min. 140
7* 6 24 6 min. 144
8 5 28 5 min. 140
9 4 35 4 min. 140

*Once you complete Phase 7 (if not sooner), you should be able to do 70 reps consecutive.

Density Program for Other Exercises

This density training protocol works well for any bodyweight exercises, not just push-ups – pull-ups, dips, sit-ups, you name it.

It even works for the NFL Combine 225-pound bench press test. Let’s say you have the lofty goal of getting 20 reps on bench with 225 pounds (you would have to be a pretty advanced lifter to have this goal). Follow the exact same density protocol as I outlined above, with one important caveat: You’ll need a spotter close by for the times you fail on a set during the workout.

You can also use the density program for other lifting exercises like squats. Maybe you have a goal of getting 225 or 315 on squats for 20 reps. It works for any number of things.

For an in-depth look at Density Training for multiple exercises, check out my Density Training Program article.


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