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Review & Thoughts - Stew Smith's Pushup & Pullup Programs

A while back I made the determination to start incorporating more body-weight (calisthenic-based) exercises into my regularly scheduled lifting program. And then the 'rona swung through and as the gyms were shut down I managed to get a pull-up bar installed in my garage and two kettle-bells. This seemed like an opportune time for me to hit my (arbitrary) goals of 60 unbroken, full-extension, strict form, push-ups and 18 dead-hang pull-ups. After a few weeks of 5-10 sets every two to three days I found myself maxing out in the high-40s/low-50s (on push-ups) and consistently hitting 14 pull-ups. Needless to say I was disappointed and decided to buckle down on hitting my goal.

After doing some research I found that the reviews were primarily positive and that no one had come out saying that either program had harmed their progress; in fact the more searching I did the more it seemed as if enthusiasts were completing both programs simultaneously. Convinced that the worst thing that could happen would be ten days of upper body soreness I decided to give both programs a go.

Provided is my training log from this experiment:

10 May: Testing Day
Push-up max: 41, per the program my daily target is 164 push-ups.
Pull-up Max: 13, per the program my daily target is 65 pull-ups.

Day 1, 11 May
Set structure: push-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, pull-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, repeat.
Push-ups: 40, 25, 27, 20, 20, 20, 12
Pull-ups: 12, 11, 10, 11, 8, 8, 5
Day 2, 12 May
Set structure: time, push-ups (to failure), 8min rest, pull-ups (to failure).
Time(s): 1155, 1400, 1900, 2030, 2140 (ran out of time and had to get my #'s in).
Push-ups: 36, 35, 20, 25, 25/16/7
Pull-ups: 11, 11, 8, 11, 8/6/4/3/3
Day 3, 13 May
Set structure: push-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, pull-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, repeat.
Push-ups: 35, 22, 20, 25, 22, 21, 19
Pull-ups: 12, 8, 6, 8, 8, 8, 8, 7
Day 4, 14 May
Set structure: time, push-ups (to failure) immediately into pull-ups (to failure).
Time(s): 0900, 1140, 1510, 1700, 1810, 2000
Push-ups: 25, 25, 25, 25, 30, 25, 9
Pull-ups: 10, 10, 10, 9, 10, 10
Day 5, 15 May
Set structure: push-ups (rpe 9-10), pull-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, repeat.
Push-ups: 25, 20, 22, 22, 16, 20, 20, 19
Pull-ups: 12, 10, 9, 10, 8, 8, 8
Day 6, 16 May
Set structure: time, push-ups (to failure) immediately into pull-ups (to failure).
Time(s): 1300, 1400, 1700, 1730, 1830, 1900
Push-ups: 25, 28, 25, 25, 30, 31
Pull-ups: 12, 11, 12, 11, 11, 8
Day 7, 17 May
Set structure: push-ups (rpe 9-10), pull-ups (rpe 9-10), 90s rest, repeat.
Push-ups: 33, 21, 21, 22, 18, 21, 20/8
Pull-ups: 14, 10, 10, 8, 8, 7, 8
Day 8, 18 May
Set structure: time, push-ups (to failure) immediately into pull-ups (to failure).
Time(s): 1400, 1520, 1730, 1815, 1900, 1930
Push-ups: 25, 20, 30, 30, 29, 30
Pull-ups: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 7/3/5
Day 9, 19 May
Push-ups: 30, 30, 22, 23, 21, 21, 17
Pull-ups: 11, 10, 10, 10, 10, 8, 6
Day 10, 20 May
Set structure: time, push-ups (to failure) immediately into pull-ups (to failure).
Time(s): 1435, 1545, 1800, 1945, 2030, 2200
Push-ups: 25, 30, 30, 30, 31, 18
Pull-ups: 10, 12, 11, 10, 11, 8/3

Day 11, 21 May: Rest Day
Day 12, 22 May: Rest Day
Day 13, 23 May: Rest Day, got horribly sunburned while landscaping so I took an additional day for my back.
Day 14, 24 May: Rest Day

Day 15, 25 May: Testing Day
Push-up max: 32, net change of -9.
Pull-up Max: 14, net change of +1.

So… what the heck. Where did I go wrong? I have a few ideas about this and I wanted to share them on the one website where it seems like most people give a damn about their fitness. A few things to note first:
1. I kept my protein intake high throughout the program.
2. I didn’t do any crazy workouts during this phase. Things were kept simple: stereotypical cardio sessions, abs, and goblet squats.
2a. Water intake was more than adequate and I was never insanely dehydrated.
3. The sunburn didn’t stop me after the first day. (Thank you aloe-vera).

Were I to revisit this program later I would incorporate more stretching and push-up variations during my workouts. I think my soreness stemmed from the sheer volume that I accumulated throughout the program and it didn’t help that I failed to add in any additional recovery items (such as supplementation or, as I noted, stretching).

Final thoughts? The program isn’t worth it’s salt or, at the very least, it wasn’t worth it for me. There were plenty of days when I was so sore I truly thought I should stop and as such I now know that my gut feeling was right. I should’ve just taken the time to keep up with my own programming and seen what results I could’ve achieved.

On a positive note I will say that I noticed significant tricep and upper-back hypertrophy.
Hope this was worth the read.
-E

I’m no expert but I bet if you wait 2 or 3 days,no serious training, and max again, you will find your numbers improved. Give it a shot, post results here! I’ll be curious to see.
Edit: just saw there were plenty of rest days tacked on! Maybe you had an off day. Give it another shot tomorrow with focus, loud music, and iron will! GL!

Push ups : Try continuously increasing your daily volume. Train most days.
Am a Running based athlete not a strength guy. Dabbled with weights as cross training. Age 60+ hence the crap numbers below. Lost gym access due to virus and decided to focus on body weight work - push up, squats, abs.
Improved max push ups from 15 to 35 in 6 weeks. Expect 40 pretty soon.
Increased volume from 60 daily to 120-150 and hit progressive improvements in PB in synch with volume increases.
Have no particular model for how I phase the work outs. Just aim to hit cumulative numbers per day. Can be 5 or 6 sessions throughout the day. Or when doing a session of 5x50m sprints just do 10 after every rep. Never go to failure in a given session. Never go higher than say 2/3 of max number of reps in a given set. So at the moment doing sets of say 20.
Avoids soreness or burn out - just seems to work somehow in the cumulative fashion. Never saw this in a programme but seems pretty obvious.