Push-up Program

The key to passing the push-up event on the US Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is to routinely exercise your muscles to the point of muscle failure. It’s a very simple rule, but one that a lot of soldiers have difficulty following. Why? Because pushing your body to the point of muscle failure hurts, and people don’t like to do what is painful. In order to fight your natural aversion to pushing yourself as hard as you need to, you need commitment and incentives. Commit to your workout plan, let your buddies in your unit/office know that you’re doing, post it on your website, whatever. Then, find an incentive for rewarding yourself for consistency. The incentive can be whatever you like, a glass of good scotch, watching your favorite TV show, whatever. Just be sure to reward yourself immediately after the workout.

The APFT allows you to do as many push-ups as you can in two minutes. You can rest during the two minutes, but your knees can never touch the ground. Most people rest by sticking their butts in the air, taking some pressure off of their pectoral muscles. The standard for a correct push-up is very simple, you must keep your back straight throughout the movement and your arms must break a 90 degree plane when you go down. I usually have my chest touch the ground on each push-up to ensure it counts, but that is not necessary. To keep your back straight, suck your stomach in and keep your head up. It’s a good idea to have someone watch you occasionally during your push-up workouts to make sure your form is proper.

When taking the APFT, concentrate on doing a large number of push-ups at first, and then take a rest when you’re very close to muscle failure. Then push out ten more push-ups, then rest again. Then press out seven more, then rest, then five more, etc.

Most push-up workouts you see online have you do a certain number of push-ups three days a week. While I agree that push-up workouts should occur no more than three days a week, at least during the muscle growth stage, I think that doing a certain number of repetitions and then stopping is not necessarily the most effective for the APFT. Instead work on pushing yourself to muscle failure several times during a workout. The way I like to ensure I do that is by doing push-ups for time, not for repetitions.

So, during a typical push-up workout, I’ll do as many push-ups as I can in 45 seconds, then take a one minute break. During the next set, I might hit muscle failure after 30 seconds. I’ll rest, without letting my knees touch the ground, and then do a few more until the time runs out. I’ll take another minute long break, and then do 45 more seconds of push-ups. During the third set I might hit muscle failure after only 20 seconds, but again I won’t let my knees touch the ground and will continue trying to do more until the time runs out. I’ll typically do four to five sets every other day. This workout does not take a lot of time and will enable me to quickly reach the point where I can max the APFT.

The table below contains what I feel is a solid plan for improving your push-up capabilities. The difficulty increase is pretty steep, so don’t be discouraged if you need to repeat a week. Consistency is the most important thing, so make it a goal to always do this workout on the assigned days.


Week 1 4 Sets 30 Seconds Each
Week 2 4 Sets 45 Seconds Each
Week 3 5 Sets 30 Seconds Each
Week 4 5 Sets 45 Seconds Each
Week 5 4 Sets 60 Seconds Each
Week 6 5 Sets 60 Seconds Each
Week 7 6 Sets 75 Seconds Each
Week 8 7 Sets 75 Seconds Each


To keep your push-up workout fresh, you can mix up the type of push-up you do on each set. For instance, set one can be wide armed push-ups, set two diamond (hands close together, forming a diamond shape), elevate your feet for set three, and finish off with a set of normal push-ups.

Here is a great video demonstrating the proper push-up technique: