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Recently I stumbled upon the 4minute pushups test, which challenges you to do as many pushups as you can within 4 minutes (you can pause anytime as long as the clock keeps running).

I'm wondering what would be the best strategy for doing this (maximizing the number of pushups). One strategy would be to go do consecutive pushups until failure, rest for some time, then do some more. Another strategy would be to evenly distribute the pushups. For instance, if plan to achieve 100 pushups, then I could do 4x(25 within 1min), or 10x(10 within 24seconds), or 100x(1 within 3.6seconds).

EDIT: To clarify my question: I'm interested in the optimal distribution of breaks and work within the 4mins in order to maximize the achieveable number of pushups. I think this question can be generalized to:

Given a time range, how do I distribute work and breaks over time in order to maximize the total volume?

For instance, I've read somewhere that long distance runners try to run the first half of a race within 51% of their target time, which means that they run with almost constant intensity. If this applies to the pushup challenge, we should do half of the pushups in half of the time. Applying the same reasoning again, we should do 25% of the pushups in 25% of the time, and so on. Eventually this would lead to pausing after each pushup (because then the pushups are perfectly distributed over time).

Of course, another strategy would be the one suggested by Moses in his answer (starting with a high number of consecutive pushups and a long rest, than a smaller number and a shorter rest, and so on).

I'm wondering if there is one strategy that is known to be superior to others.

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What kind of a pause? Most tests that I know of require you to "rest" while in a pushup position, you don't just get to sprawl on the floor. –  JohnP Apr 19 '13 at 15:24
Leaving pushup position is allowed. –  zero-divisor Apr 19 '13 at 15:29
I think the "best" strategy is one that mirrors your training. For example, @Moses identifies lift big, rest big and follows that strategy for the test. Someone who does a lot of interval training might go for a more evenly distributed 20s on, 10s off (or something) continued until 4m are up. –  ChargingPun May 6 '13 at 19:17
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1 Answer

After reading about this I decided to give the challenge a try, and can say it was surprisingly difficult. Maintaining strength for 4 minutes requires a ton of endurance and training. That being said, I was able to do very well because I have done a ton of training similar to this and it left me incredibly well prepared. To be specific, I was able to succeed for three reasons:

  1. I have a great baseline of strength because of the barbell strength training programs I have been through.
  2. I have already trained my body for similar challenges, e.g. the hundred pushup challenge.
  3. I have used the "greasing the groove," technique developed by Pavel Tsatsouline to further increase my ability with regard to push ups.

I cannot overstate how important these points are. Having a baseline of strength is the most important thing you can do to improve your ability to do push ups. Once you establish that baseline, you will then need to start training your body with specificity and frequent practice so it can adapt to doing push ups in the 100+ range. Both steps are important, as are the order you approach them.

Once you have the physical strength and endurance necessary, then you can shift your focus to optimizing your approach. Follow these steps to optimize your 4 minutes:

  1. Set a target goal of push ups to do (mine was 120).
  2. Calculate how long it takes you to do a typical push up (I used 1.2 seconds).
  3. Calculate how much time you get for rest. This is total time - pushup qty * pushup time (mine was 240 - 1.2 * 120 = 96 seconds to rest).
  4. Determine how you want to structure your breaks (short and frequent, long and infrequent)*. I decided to split the challenge as follows: 60s work, 50s rest, 50s work, 46s rest, 34s to failure.

*Everyone has a different body, and what works for some may not work for others. I personally opted for long rests in this challenge because I never do HIIT or interval training, and exclusively do 60s+ rest in between heavy barbell lifts. This may not be the case for you, so do what your body tells you to do. In contrast the author of the t-nation article mentioned taking frequent breaks and not overextending. Different people require different approaches.

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So did you do the 120 or more? –  VPeric Apr 20 '13 at 7:59
@Moses: Thanks for your answer! Could you elaborate a bit more about your reasoning for structuring the breaks this way? That was my actual question :) –  zero-divisor Apr 20 '13 at 8:20
@VPeric I hit 120 with 5-10s left and essentially passed out from exhaustion. My reasoning is exactly as I described in the answer: my body is trained for high intensity high rest workouts. I lift big, then I rest big. I don't train my body to function under short rest intervals like in HIIT, so I choose to make the rest volume high where I felt it would help me the most. As for structuring the actual program, that depends entirely on your ability to know your limits. I know how many push ups I can do, and have a general idea how many I can do when exhausted, so thats the structure I used. –  Moses Apr 22 '13 at 5:56
@Moses: I've edited my question in order to clarify what I mean. –  zero-divisor Apr 22 '13 at 21:39
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