This is a workout I recommend when people are struggling to improve on their 2-minute push-up tests and chin-up reps. The first pull-up and push-up are strength exercises, but to maximize these fitness tests, you need to turn a strength exercise into an endurance exercise.
Adding a strength exercise like bench press, weighted chin-ups, or pull-downs is a way to pre-exhaust the muscles needed for push-ups and chin-ups and also build strength. Try this workout setup if you find endless repetitions of calisthenics aren’t working for you.
You may need to go back to strength and then go into muscular endurance and endurance to overcome your training limitations.
Warm up: Pull-up and push-up run pyramid 1-10 with 100-meter dashes in between
This is a standard warm-up that only goes as high as you can with both push-ups and pull-ups. If 55 reps of either exercise doesn’t count as a warm-up for you, just go halfway up the pyramid to do five sets, accumulating 15 reps on each. If you can’t do five increasing sets of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 reps of push-ups and pull-ups, then this workout isn’t for you.
Get the blood pumping with an easy 1-mile run or 10-minute bike ride to work up a sweat and feel the body warm up for the harder work sets that follow.
Repeat 3 times
Bench Press: 10 reps with a weight you can barely do 10 reps with Push-ups: 5-10 immediately after bench press Dumbbell rows: 10 per arm Sit-ups or plank: Pose 1 min
The goal is to go straight into push-ups right after the bench press, without a break. This simulates how the last 5-10 push-ups of a two-minute fitness test will feel. Focus heavily on good form and stop when you feel yourself beginning to tremble uncontrollably.
You’re done at this point and will waste a lot of energy shaking during a push-up test. It’s best to drop onto your chest and finish than try to get that last rep or two when you’re so shaky. Depending on the fitness test, you need this energy for subsequent exercises such as sit-ups, planks, pull-ups or running.
After the push-up set in the section above, do an active recovery with dumbbell rows and sit-ups or plank pose. Then, before you do the pull-up challenge outlined below, go for a quick jog on a bike for a mile or 10 minutes.
This next set requires a 10-20 pound weight vest to make pull ups harder, but they are quickly followed by normal pull ups once you reach your pull up weight.
Repeat 4 times
Weighted pull-ups: Max Pull-ups: Max, but try normal grip and switch grip to pull-ups to get a few more reps on that set
If you still have pull-ups and push-ups in you, try the pull-up and push-up pyramid you did as a warm-up exercise, but in reverse. Do one set of push-ups and pull-ups and each set after that, reducing the next set by one rep until you’re down to one pull-up and one push-up.
There is no need to do more than 10 to 1 in reverse order. Think of this as a cooldown set with light stretches between sets for about 30 seconds.
— Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness writer who is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit him Fitness e-book store if you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected]
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