Training Push-ups, Beyond Grease the Groove
Grease the groove is a strength/muscular endurance training method that has you doing multiple, sub-maximal sets throughout the day, on a daily basis. The idea is to get in lots of volume, with lots of easy sets. It is a way to get a ton of volume with little fatigue. For example, you might drop and do 15 push-ups, 20 times during the day, at random intervals. It works for both strength and muscular endurance, but it is much more appropriate for muscular endurance training, like training to improve your maximum push-ups. It works. I have employed grease the groove myself and with lots of trainees who were preparing for military and other tactical fitness tests. Though I have used it quite a bit, I have always felt like there was something missing. Honestly, I can’t believe that I did not think of this earlier, but the missing element is peaking. It is so simple, but so effective. I have employed a version of this peaking technique with pull-ups and found it to be very successful, so applying it to push-ups should have been obvious, but sometimes I miss the obvious. Peaking provides a simple max fatigue stimulus that you can only get from a max set, but you can’t peak all the time. Here is how it is applied:
Start with grease the groove push-ups. Appropriate repetitions for each set is about half of your maximum number of repetitions. So, if you can perform 50 good push-ups, you will be doing sets of 25. An appropriate overall volume is about 3-4 times your maximum repetitions in one set. In this example, that would be 150-200, daily, in sets of 25, spread throughout the day. For example, 6 sets of 25, spread throughout the day with the first set in the morning and the last set in the evening. You should do this every day, but taking one day off per week is OK if you need it. Now, here is how you progress.
- Keep your overall repetition number the same (i.e., 150 reps per day total).
- Every week, increase the number of repetitions per set by 5. Old guys like me may need to increase every two weeks instead. But keep total reps the same. In our current example, we would move from 6 sets of 25 to 5 sets of 30.
- Continue this pattern until your per set repetitions are 3/4 of your previous maximum repetitions. In our current example, this would be 38 repetitions, so we would round up to 40 to keep on a base 5 increase. When we were able to do sets of 40, for a total of 150 repetitions and repeat that day after day for at least a week, we are ready for some peaking.
- Peaking workouts are simple. All you do is once per day you drop and do a maximum number of pushups. Do as many as you can with good form, one set, once per day. That is all. Continue to do this until your progress stalls for a week or more. Then start over with the grease the groove approach, with your new pushups max.
Let’s make sure this is clear with an example. Again we are going to use an example of a person who can do 50 good push-ups. We are aiming for 150 repetitions total each day.
Week 1: 6 sets of 25
Week 2: 5 sets of 30
Week 3: 4 sets of 35 (only 140 reps, so add in a set of 10 reps)
Week 4: 3 sets of 40 (only 120 reps, so add in a set of 30)
This gets us to the goal of sets with 3/4 of our original max. If we can pull off week 4 no problem. We move to peaking. Just drop and do ONE set to failure each day and record the number you get. If this seems like it is not enough work/volume, don’t worry. The goal is not to accumulate lots of work and volume. The goal is to get more push-ups. If your push-ups # is improving, stay the course.
Day 1: 64 reps
Day 2: 65 reps
Day 3: 68 reps
Day 4: 70 reps
Day 5? 70 reps
Day 6: 68 reps
Day 7: 70 reps
Day 8: 69 reps
Day 9: 70 reps
Looks like we have stalled, but we improved our push-ups by 20 reps. At this point it is time to go back to grease the groove. Our new max is 70, so we would start with sets of 35.
Week 1: 4 sets of 35 (plus one set of 10)
Repeat the cycle. If you find your shoulders getting sore, insert one off day per week. Even two off days per week is OK for old guys like me.