Daily Pushups, Pushups, Situps, etc… Why???

Daily Pushups

This one drives me crazy.  Far too often I see this comment followed by the question — “why aren’t I getting stronger in my PT?” This question is about adding PT everyday into a workout program for hundreds of repetitions each day!

“Stew, I have been doing 500 pushups and situps along with 100+ pullups everyday for the past few months. I saw some great increases but now my increases have stopped and starting to turn into decreases on some days I test. What is going on? I thought it was OK to do calisthenics everyday?”

Every day — really? In a row? Is that what you are doing? Not upper body every OTHER day?

This is a great question because I get it all the time and I am tired of answering it to be honest.

pullupdown.jpg - 7810 BytesNow you have inspired a full length article post to clear up what is happening to people who like inventing their own workouts without any regard to recovery or basic physiology for that matter. One thing you have to realize is that calisthenics is resistance training and these specific exercises work the same muscles as some of the most common weight machines /​ free weights do.  Also, consider pullups and dips as the HEAVY weight version of calisthenics as you are placing ALL of your body weight onto these major muscle groups.  Yes you actually can build muscle with calisthenics — and GAIN WEIGHT TOO! So — these exercises require rest for you to truly grow ESPECIALLY at the volume you are doing each day. At 500 /​ 500 /​ 100+ reps a day, you should only do that every other day MAX. In fact, I would only get that kind of volume once a week as you really are taxing your muscles /​ muscle endurance with this many reps. Here are my weekly recommendations:

1st Upper body Workout of the week: (Monday) — Sub max effort reps so DO NOT fail at any sets. If you think you are going to fail, stop 1–2 reps before that failure feeling. You can still do several sets and get a pretty high volume of reps, and failing each time is up to you as it is not necessary every set. I like a Super Set Circuit for this type of workout. For instance do several sets 10–15 sets of 5–10 pullups /​ dips and 10–20 pushups per set. Rest a minute with a water break /​ light stretch or active rest with a set of abs of your choice.

2nd Upper body Workout of the week: (Wed) — Pyramid Workout -  This workout has a warmup, max out (1 set), and a cool down built in and works really well of building and maintaining a foundation of PT fitness for testing or training purposes. See the Pyramid Workout.

3rd Upper body Workout of the week: (Saturday) — Notice the two day recovery for this ONCE a week max failure set workout. Here is a tough workout that will help those stuck at 15+ pullups /​ 80+ pushups get into the 20+ /​ 100+ range in a two minute time period for PST, PAST, PFT purposes. Do a set number like 100 pullups, 200, pushups, 300 situps in a max rep set round robin circuit. Your goal is to get the 100,200.300 in as few sets as possible resting 1 min after each max rep set of pullups, pushups, situps (2 min max time on each). Your goal is to also fail at each set or make the time limit of 2 minutes.

So for more information about the three heavy weights of calisthenics (Pullups, Pushups, Dips) check out why it is important to learn about recovery as these exercises do work you harder than you think:

Pullups will work the grip, back, biceps just as pulldowns, bent over rows, and bicep curls will. Pullups are equivalent to nearly 100% of your body weight on your back /​ bicep muscles and all of your bodyweight on your grip muscles.

Dips are the same tough heavy weight exercise as pullups but focus the muscle groups of the chest, shoulders, and triceps at nearly 100% of your body weight. This is very similar to doing bodyweight bench press or even military press as far as muscle stresses. These exercises are considered the heavy lifting exercises of the calisthenics and require rest for recovery.

Pushups will actually only put about 40–50% of your body weight on your chest, shoulders, and triceps so it is less of a heavy weight exercise equivalent. BUT, it still requires the same amount of rest as you would need during a weight lifting day of bench press, military press, and other pushing exercises.

Hope this helps you create better workouts that will allow you to recover. Because if you do not recover from your workouts you will not grow or get stronger.

NOTE: There is ONE way I do teach daily pullups and pushups in my pullup-​​push-​​workout and my pushup-​​push-​​workout.

But here is the difference — these programs only last 10 days of daily pushups or pullups. Then you rest three days and you test on day 14. Your maxes usually increase by 50–100% depending on what you started with on day 1.  I only recommend these two programs 1–2 times a year as people who have tried it back to back to back were disappointed with results of anytime longer than 10 days.



  1. eldon says:

    All of the Army PT tests are endurance testing.
    IE There is strength required to do one push up, but two push ups require endurance.

    I proved this by doing 50 push ups and 70 sit ups when I was 59 years old.
    I did just by practicing 3 to 4 times a week. Plus running.

    I got so I could give myself a PT test 2x per week without a rest between events and still score well enough to get 350 points for my age.

    • Stew Smith says:

      I agree — it is all about endurance and muscle stamina to ace a fitness test of this type. Daily Pullups /​ Pushups at the volume and full range of motion described in the article also affects the joints of the elbows /​ shoulders (tendons) more than running daily affects the knees. 3–4 times a week is fine with running even PT — 7 days a week — not so good even for teenagers.

  2. Dennis says:

    Stew, I was in the Army for 25 years. During that time I did PT like everyone else did during that time. During my last year of service, my body started to break down physically. I had an anterior/​posterior spinal fusion on my L4-​​S1 discs. I have 3 rods in place in my lower back, to help keep my discs in place. I also have degenerative discs disease in my neck from C3-​​C7. I was wondering if you would have any ideas that I could use to stay in shape? I can\‘t ride a bicycle or a stationary bike, because of my sciatic nerves would flare up and I would have a hard time of walking or standing for the next 2 days. Because of my lower back surgery I am afraid of trying to do push-​​up or sit-​​ups or anything that would require me laying down. I can walk but am limited on the pace and distance, before my body will start hurting. Plesae help!

    • Stew Smith says:

      Those are tough injuries — sorry to hear both lower /​ upper back areas are that injured on you. BUT it does not mean you have to become sedentary. I would seriously consider swimming, aqua-​​jogging, treading water. These can be great fullbody workouts and work the heart and lungs like no other. With these type of injuries you should think about zero gravity workouts.

      Have you tried the elliptical too? It might be better for you than the bike /​ running. As you build a foundation — try a few weight machine exercises as they help you isolate certain muscle groups and might help you build some muscle /​ burn more calories than just cardio alone.

      • Dennis says:

        Thanks for getting back in touch with me Stew! I live in San Antonio, Texas and would you believe that there is only one military location that has a swimming pool out of 3 military installations. All of them expect for one, is closd for the winter! I know what you are thinking! It doesn\‘t get that cold here. I don\‘t want to try Gold\‘s Gym, because they would be too expensive. I have also tried elliptical machine as well. But with the back and forth movement, it hurts my back afterwards. Even though I am 2 years post surgery on my lower back and I don\‘t really plan on seeing if my back to can hold up to the stress of jogging or running, so I haven\‘t even tried that. I did all of that stuff in the military. I was wondering if you would know of a good aerobics workout program that I could try? I figure I could go at my own pace. Thanks!

        • Stew Smith says:

          Sorry to hear that. Swimming is one of those perfect exercise options for people with back pain. I would focus then on lightly strengthening your back using simple plank poses. Start off on your knees and elbows and slowly build up to up pushup position. It is an isometric flex that really works. With some strengthening maybe you can handle more of the other events like walking, biking, recumbent bike, elliptical. (??)

  3. Gout in ankle says:

    This is very similar to doing bodyweight bench press or even military press as far as muscle stresses.

  4. Thomas says:

    Is it ok to do this: mon-​​fri one day walk 3 miles then 3 sets of push ups/​sit ups next day 3 mile walk then 3 sets of pull ups/​crunches. Alternating days and then finally resting on sat and sun?

  5. Thomas says:

    Feel free to email me.

  6. Andre says:

    Ok I have a serious problem I can only do 5 regular push ups. What would be a safe and effective way for me to build up to 50 push ups?

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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at stew@stewsmith.com.

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