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I'm a 25 year old male. After doing the royal Canadian air force exercises for the past couple of months, I'm now a bit stuck with the pushups on the third chart. I successfully completed chart two and began chart three, but I never managed to do the minimum amount (15) of pushups. Rather I've been able to do an average of 12-13, and only one reaching 14. Research on this stack seemed to indicate that I reached a plateau, so I cut back to doing only nine with the intention of slowly going back up, but that seems to have caused me to regress even more. My muscles are also sore for much longer than previously.
So I would like to know.
What am I doing wrong? and How do I fix it? these are the charts (look at exercise 4) chart 2

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  • 2
    You might want to include the details on your routine. You're mentioning the "Canadian Air Force exercises" and "third chart", but you shouldn't expect everyone who reads this to have to dig that up themselves. The question should be fully self-contained.
    – Alec
    Jun 12 at 13:44
  • Thanks, I'll update it when I get the chance to upload the pdf.
    – M Stein
    Jun 12 at 13:46
  • I added pictures of the charts but am not sure that they loaded clearly. Either way chart 2 has regular push-ups and chart 3 has the varient.
    – M Stein
    Jun 12 at 18:22
  • How many sets? And how many days a week do you do push-ups?
    – Andy
    Jun 12 at 19:16
  • One set, 6 days a week.
    – M Stein
    Jun 12 at 19:18

4 Answers 4

5

In order to do many push-ups you need both strength and muscular endurance. Training daily and with more than 12 reps is good for endurance but bad for strength. You need to get stronger. This is your limiting factor. Once you can do more than say 40 push-ups muscular endurance becomes the limiting factor. You do this by training more seldom, so that your muscles can recover, but heavier.

2 months a go I did I did 5 set of push-ups 2 x a week and was stalling at 14 push-ups for weeks. If anything my number of push-ups was decreasing. Then I stopped doing push-ups. Instead I switched to 3 sets of narrow grip bench press 1 x a week and 3 sets of overhead press 1 x a week. When I started I could benchpress 5 x 62.5 kg. Now I can do 5 x 75 kg. Yesterday I tried how many push-ups I could do: 19. And that is without doing any push-ups in the 2 months. But I have gotten 20 % stronger by doing mostly sets of 5 (sometimes 4, 6 or 7 also).

Instead of doing bench press here is something else that I think should work:

do 3 sets of push-ups 2 or 3 days a week (you need to experiment to find what works best for you, start with 2 days a week). One day you do ordinary push-ups. The other day(s) you make the push-ups heavier. You can do this in several ways:

  • putting your feet up on a sofa
  • wearing a weight vest
  • wearing a backpack with a weight plate or books
  • using resistance band

Your goal should be to make the push-ups so heavy that you can only do 3 sets of 5 reps. 4-8 reps is ok, but 5 is best.

Also make sure that you eat enough protein: 1.6 g / kg bodyweight each day and ideally spread out trough the day.

Also so that you do not develop muscular imbalances and poor posture you should also train your back. For instance by doing inverted rows (you can even do them under a dinner table) or 1 arm dumbell rows. For each set of a push exercise you should do at least 1 set of a pull exercise (rows, pull-ups, chin-ups etc).

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  • Thanks for the answer. I'm going cut down on the day I do push-ups so that I have more time to recover. But I'm not as keen on adding weights or adding reps. If I have to I will, but that makes it harder to track my progress.
    – M Stein
    Jun 13 at 18:21
  • @M Stein: When I did push-ups I always did as many as I could on the first set so that I could measure my progress. So I would do maybe the following 5 sets: 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 reps in a workout. I think this is a bad idea. "Going to failure" introduces too much soreness in the muscles. I should probably have done 6 x 10 reps instead. And done this 3 x a week. Instead I think should have measured my max once every 2nd week. You can search for "high volume calistenics".
    – Andy
    Jun 13 at 20:20
  • what do you mean by "going to failure"? And are you recommending doing my max on the first rep, and then as many I can on the following? Also how long should I wait between reps.
    – M Stein
    Jun 13 at 20:42
  • @M Stein: "Going to failure" = doing as many reps as you possibly can. No do not do your max on the first rep. Do less, since doing as many as you can makes your muscles too sore. Only set you should do as many as you can is the last set. So first set you should only do 10 even though you could do 14.
    – Andy
    Jun 13 at 21:04
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    Whilst I like your answer, @Andy, I do not agree that strength is the limiting factor here. S/he is performing 12-13 repetitions, which is already moving into the territory of strength endurance. Gaining strength may certainly help, but endurance is what is needed. As a personal anecdote, the first dedicated training I ever did was precisely as described: one set of push-ups to failure, every day. After one year, at the age of 17, I was doing more than one hundred consecutive push-ups—chest the the ground, full arm extension. I never did any other type of training, and I was relatively weak.
    – POD
    Jul 3 at 3:58
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By increasing the number of repetitions that you can do in a row. For example, if you can currently only do 10 pushups in a row, try to do 11 or 12 the next time you work out. Once you can do 12 without difficulty, move on to 13, and so on. If you're having trouble progressing beyond a certain number, try doing inclined pushups (on your knees instead of your toes) or decline pushups (with your feet elevated on a chair or bench). This will increase the resistance and make it harder to do more repetitions.

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If you can do 12-13 push ups, it's already good enough. Sometimes, doing a lot of reps for a exercise becomes more about stamina and will power and less about muscles.

You might want to put a 2.5 kg plate on your back and try to do some pushups again. You'll probably still be able to do 10 pushups.

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  • Part of the problem was that I was regressing, doing 14 one day and only 12 the next. Also, what do you mean by 12-13 push-ups being good enough? I'm trying to level up.
    – M Stein
    Jun 13 at 18:16
  • @MStein You need to find out are you not able to reach 15 pushups because your muscles are weak or it's more about mental frame. If you are able to do 14, your chest is already in good shape to move on. It's a good thing that you are trying to level up. But why not try to level up by increasing resistance a.k.a weight instead of just doing more reps. Put some weight on your back, if you can't get 2.5 kg plates put use some books. I am a fairly fit person, can probably do 50 if someone paid me for it, but after 8-10 pushups I get bored and exhausted. I would rather increase weight vs reps. Jun 14 at 17:57
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Quit working out completely. Rest. No exercise beyond walking for perhaps two weeks. Drink water, eat a well-rounded diet. If you normally restrict your caloric intake, give it a break and eat an average amount of calories for a person of your gender and age.

Take a vacation from work or school, or plan this break to correspond with your next vacation.

Don't even THINK about pushups or exercise. Don't think about how great you're going to do pushups when your break is over. If you start to think about working out, gently nudge the thought out of your head and think about music or a movie you really like, or something else that is pleasant but not adrenaline-inducing.

Sleep and sleep extra. If you ever get out of bed and still feel a little tired, sleep more.

Sit, relax, do things you enjoy. Have a meal with a loved one. Play a board game with some friends. When you're sitting or lying down, periodically take stock from foot to head, and try to relax all of your muscles. Let gravity pull them down and let your chair or couch or bed do its job.

You have already banked an improvement, you need to rest to collect, there is no other way. You never get stronger during exercise, but always during the rest period after exercise, and sometimes (once or twice a year, maybe) you need to double down on the rest for a bit of time.

When your break is over, return to your exercises, but don't bash into them. Ease in -- do 60% of the stuff you usually do, work your way back to 100% over a few days -- there is NO hurry.

You will be able to do more pushups and it won't even be very difficult.

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    It's a bit unreasonable to assume that someone who is plateauing on a measly 6 sets of pushups per week is overtrained and needs two weeks of not only total cassation of exercise, but also a break from work. Jun 13 at 4:34

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