I'm no stranger to the gym, I have been doing some type of workout since my high school days. I was one of the top powerlifting competitors at state finals in my region every year. After graduation, I joined the Navy and again, even on a rocking ship, I was always in the gym. After that, I have been an automotive technician and wanna-be race car driver. So I resorted to the push-up to keep me some-what in shape, no gym fees or drama. I would follow this "Navy Seal Workout" on bodybuilding.com.
You can see here that the above program gradually increases your total number of reps each week either through adding another set or adding 5 reps to each set. This is essentially training you with volume increases. I found this to be an easy progression since I wasn't hitting my max at any point, however, it does get difficult during the second 9 weeks when you're doing up to 400.
Then one day at work I pulled something in my lower neck/upper back, I was having super painful muscle spasms and had to go to the doctor. No one knew what exactly I injured and they assigned me lots of physical therapy, none of it helped and I still have soreness and random days where tight knots form in my traps. I HAVE to stretch my traps every day now to minimize discomfort, you can see the stretches for this muscle on yoganatomy.com.
After dealing with this issue for 2 years I finally decided to slowly start strengthening my body again, I had lost most of my muscle mass by this time and had put on 10lbs. I wanted to avoid the traps specifically, but do something to regain my strength. So naturally I went back to the push-up, full range of motion but I started very light. I started doing 20 every morning, the next week I did 25, then 30, etc. I maxed out at 45 and stayed there for several weeks, so I decided to add sets to do 100 every day. The first set was 45, then 30, then 25, resting 2 minutes between sets. I was sore for the first week but recovered and the 100 became easy as well. I believe I did the 100 per day for a month before I got bored and wanted more challenge.
Went Too Hard
Now that I was feeling extra confident, I decided to start doing 100 before AND after work. That 200 per day lasted about a week before I started getting a serious burn sensation in my shoulders. I took a week off, then recorded myself doing pushups to check my form. I was sagging my back. To correct this I watched a bunch of videos on how to do a proper pushup and decided to add an audio aid for proper cadence. At the same time, I stumbled across a video of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the '80s talking about how he "trained to failure". So naturally, I incorporated that as well. The cadence video is below:
The plan: Max out 4 sets and only rest 2 minutes. I did my first set of 40, then 20, 20, 20 equaling 100 reps total. I continued with this method but only did the workout every other day, I wanted my body to get a full rest day to maximize results. Here is how the rest of the month went:
Day 7: 40-25-20-20=105
Day 9: 40-25-20-20=105
Day 11: 44-29-20-20=113
Day 13: 44-27-20-25=116
Day 15: 45-30-20-20=115
Day 17: 45-25-25-20-115
Day 19: 50-30-20-20=120
Day 21: 50-30-25-20=125
Day 23: 55-30-25-20=130
Day 25: 55-30-25-20=130
Day 29: 55-30-25=25=135
Day 31: 60-30-25-20=135
Well...sadly there wasn't much of a difference in how my body looks. When I examine the before and after pictures you can see just a bit more definition in my chest, shoulders, and back. The more obvious gains came in the form of strength, my max went up 20% and my following sets (endurance) gained 5%.
These are strength gains I never saw when just shooting for a number like 100 or 200 per day. The "reps until failure" technique is vastly more difficult, and it had me shaking and breathing harder than I ever had before doing pushups. So in conclusion, pushups alone are not enough to keep your whole body strong and if you want to get the most out of your pushups (maybe any workout) shouldn't you be pushing yourself to the extreme edge, while maintaining proper form?
I don't know how long it will take to grow muscle mass with pushups, I'm not even sure you can. I feel stronger, but the visual gains aren't there. I know you need heavier weights and fewer reps to build muscle, so does that mean you need equipment for mass as well? Can you wear a weight vest and do pushups and get the same result?
I've decided to purchase dumbells and start testing the results of progressive overload for muscle growth, stay tuned as I will update soon with the results I've noticed.
Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and experiences.