Contrary to popular belief, you can build muscle with bodyweight exercises like the Push-Up. In this exercise, your body actually becomes a weight as gravity pulls you to the ground. Your upper body must work against this force, creating muscle. However, to continually build strength with bodyweight exercises, you must increase your rep count, since adding more weight to your sets is not an option.
Just like regular weight room work, if you don't keep challenging yourself with bodyweight exercises, you will not make strength improvements. Test yourself with the 60 in 60 Challenge, a Push-Up workout that will improve your strength and have you ripping out reps in no time.
60 in 60 Challenge
The 60 in 60 Challenge is simple: do 60 Push-Ups in 60 seconds. Do that, and then progress to advanced adaptations. Push-Ups are a lower intensity movement, especially compared to an exercise like the Bench Press. That means you can perform them more often, which will also boost your muscle-building potential. If a slow progression is used (like the one below), 60 in 60 can be conquered in no time.
Begin performing Push-Ups, stopping at the onset of fatigue—no repetition should be difficult. As soon as a rep becomes difficult, stop. Take note of how many reps you performed (we'll use 21 as an example). Rest two to three minutes, then perform another set of 21 reps. Rest and perform another set. Using this example, Monday's workload is 3x21.
Do three sets of half the number of repetitions you did on Monday (10 in our example—always go with the lower number when halving an odd number). Complete 3x10, with two to three minutes rest between sets. This will feel easy, but it's supposed to—it's a recovery workout.
Perform three sets, adding one repetition to Monday's workload—3x22. Rest periods stay the same.
Repeat Tuesday's workout.
Perform three sets, adding one repetition to Wednesday's workload—3x23. Rest periods stay the same.
Attempt 60 Push-Ups in 60 seconds. Set the clock and go for it. If you find yourself struggling, stop and try another day. You don't want to overload yourself since you're following an intense Push-Up workout schedule.
Today is your off day. Rest up!
The second week follows the same format. On Monday, add one repetition to the sets done on Friday (3x24). Tuesday is half of Monday's workload (3x12). On Wednesday, add one repetition to Monday's total (3x25). Thursday is a repeat of Tuesday (3x12). On Friday, add one rep to Wednesday's total (3x26). Saturday, either rest or attempt 60 in 60. Rest up on Sunday.
Once you hit 3x35, you should be able to get 60 in 60. Replace Friday workouts with a serious 60 in 60 attempt. Perform one set, doing as many reps as possible in 60 seconds. On the following Mondays and Wednesdays, continue adding one rep each day. Tuesdays and Thursdays remain at half the volume of Monday, but Saturday becomes a rest day. More strength means more stress, and more stress demands more recovery.
When you can consistently hit 60 in 60, challenge yourself even more. If there's no weight room in sight, get creative with Push-Up variations and repeat the process. Check out STACK's post on five muscle-building Push-Up variations for inspiration.
Also, be sure to train your entire body. In addition to the 60 in 60 Challenge, practice Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Squats and Single-Leg Squats. There are plenty of options out there to build muscle, even without weights.
Anthony Mychal is a writer, athlete consultant, teacher and coach. He has a B.S. in health and physical activity and an M.S. in health and physical education; and he studied under James Smith and Buddy Morris at the University of Pittsburgh. In his free time, he publishes a blog with his musings on athletic preparation at anthonymychal.com.