How to do more pushups and pullups

I love it when people see my before picture, then they look at me, and then look back at my before picture.  They seem to do this for well over 5 minutes.  Dropping over 100 lbs was cool, but it was time to improve on other things.

We have a trainer named Cynthia at my gym that I seem to be more impressed with every day.  She has 3 grown boys in their twenties, yet she can do more pullups than most men.

I’ve never sat there and counted, but one time I grabbed a protein shake just before she got started on her first set and I enjoyed my shake, read a Men’s Health article, called my mother and played Angry Birds, and she was still going at it.  Ha-ha, I’m kidding.  I train a lot of females, so it was Women’s Health.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit.  I honestly don’t have any idea how many she can do, but it seems she can knock out pullups with very little effort.  It’s really impressive.  I was actually challenged.  This was the “thing” I wanted to improve on.

At the time, I could only do 4-6 pullups, breaking good form usually around rep 4.  Laugh all you want, I still dropped over 100 lbs.  Eh, I can only go to that so many times…

How I Improved My Pullups

Back when I first started as a trainer, I thought the way to improve the pullups were to hop on the assistance pullup machine and use less assistance each week until you complete pullups with no assistance.  That might work, but thankfully, I incorporated a more strategic plan.

I started to implement what was called “pullup negatives”.  You basically do some pullups in a bad mood.  Ha, good one.  Seriously, you can use a platform or a bench, and you jump up and grab the pullup bar.  Then, you take about 5 seconds to lower yourself.  It took me some patience.  5 seconds is a short time when holding your breath, however, when you are lowering yourself from a pullup bar, it seems to be forever.  I did that 3 times.

I either supersetted that with an easier exercise (like the plank) or simply rested for a minute between sets.  After that, I would add a set until I was completing 3 sets of negatives.  I also made sure I was doing db rows in my program.  I knew that would help strengthen my lats.  I varied the rep range.

Some days, I would do 6-8 reps, and some days I would do 10-12.  The next thing you know, I was able to do 7 pullups, and with good form.  I was happy.  But then I visioned Cynthia using a set of 7 pullups for a warm-up.  Then I got sad again.  But with some persistence, I have gotten to where I can knock out about 10 pullups on a good day.  I still have some work to do, but not bad for an “old” 37-year old Dad.

The Next Challenge – Pushups

On a good day, I can typically knock out around 55 pushups in a row.  That wasn’t always the case.  About 2 years ago, I just flat out decided on a whim that I wanted to improve the number of pushups I could do.  So, for 6 weeks straight, I didn’t lift a single dumbbell for chest exercises.  I did a variety of pushups 3 days a week.  You name it, I did it.  I did elevated pushups, Spiderman pushups, medicine ball pushups, close grip, etc., etc.   Some days I would go easy, and some days I would go until I left about 1 rep in the tank.

Two things happened:

1. I was able to do 40 pushups in a row
2. My chest was more chiseled then ever before, just in time before the beach

I was impressed with the 40 pushups, but I was more impressed with how I looked in the mirror.  I wasn’t a fitness model or anything like that, but in 6 weeks, my chest look more defined then it did then 3 months straight of using dumbbells.  My core was even tighter.  Even with the flub from my big boy days, you could see my upper abs starting to pop through.

My love for pushups was born.  55 pushups in a row isn’t bad, but one day, I bet I could do 75 if I keep working on it.  To this day, myself and my clients have some variety of pushups in their programs.  I don’t even care if they are beginners.  They will perform incline pushups or kneeling pushups.

This is one reason why – one of my monthly coaching clients came into the gym office in a tank top and showed off her tricep definition.  I was proud of her, and after she walked off, I opened up her workout spreadsheet and sure enough, she has pushups all over her program.

Long live the pushup.

Pushups and Pullups for the Ultimate Body Change

My go-to plan just before my summer vacation includes 4 weeks of a variety of pullups and pushups.  It’s amazing how it sculpts my arms and shoulders better than anything else.  And get this – the other gym manager asked me how often I do bicep curls and pushdowns.  I told him I couldn’t remember the last time I did them.  I assumed it had been months.  He was floored.  To be honest, I was, too.

Fine then… long live the pushup AND pullup.

Mike Whitfield
Certified Turbulence Trainer